Pinot in the City Showcases Willamette Valley’s Delicious Wares

Willamette Valley is the home office of American pinot noir
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Big Table Farm is a producer to look out for.

Vintners from a broad array of Willamette Valley wineries showcased their wines at New York’s City Winery recently. It has been 50 years since the first pinot noir vines were planted there, so the gathering had a festive quality. There’s an extraordinary amount of good pinot noir in Oregon — it’s what the state’s wine producers are known for. However, as the tasting clearly exhibited, it isn’t the only thing they do well. Over several hours, I sampled pinot noir in a host of styles as well as chardonnay, pinot gris, and more. It’s been a few years since I’ve made it out to the Willamette Valley, so I was glad to have this opportunity to taste through a cross section of the area’s offerings right here in New York. The bottom line is that Oregon, and the Willamette Valley in particular, has a lot of delicious wine coming out of it. Thoughts on a handful of my favorites follow.

Et Fille 2012 Pinot Noir ($24)

The fruit for this wine comes from a host of vineyards throughout Willamette Valley. Abundant red fruit aromas present on the inviting nose. The palate is stuffed with cherries and spices galore. The finish, which has above-average length, shows off some savory herbs such as thyme and bay leaf as well as a hint of earth. Fine acid keeps it all in check. This is a fantastic value for the money.

Grochau Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir ($33)

Grochau Cellars purchases their fruit from several vineyards under long-term agreements. The grapes for this offering hail from the Dundee Hills section of Oregon. Strawberry aromas are joined by bay leaf and hints of sage on the nose. Red raspberry and cherry join continued bits of strawberry on the even-keeled and fruit-filled palate. Cinnamon, clove, and minerals are all in evidence on the substantial finish. A really nice pinot noir for the price.

Ponzi Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir ($40)

The fruit for this wine was sourced from throughout the Willamette Valley. The minute this wine hits the glass you’re struck by the color, which quite simply has that perfect hue of red that says pinot noir. Savory herbs and red fruits fill the nose. Cherry and spice characteristics fill the palate, which is medium-bodied and mouth-watering. Cranberries, earth, and black tea elements are all in play on the ling finish. This is a textbook example of Willamette Valley pinot noir.

Big Table Farm 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($42)

This pinot was produced using whole cluster fermentation. It was bottled unrefined and unfiltered. Wild strawberry aromas leap from the nose. The palate screams of purity from the first sip. Continued red fruit flavors are joined by bits of clove and cardamom. Graham cracker crust, cherry, and continued pure fruit flavors inform the long finish. Firm, racy acid marks the wonderful structure.

Big Table Farm 2013 Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($45)

This chardonnay was aged in French oak of varying ages. It was bottled unrefined and unfiltered. Tons of Anjou pear and golden delicious apple aromas light up the inviting nose. The same fruits continue on the palate along with crème fraîche and lemon curd elements. It would be hard for me to overstate how remarkable the mouthfeel on this wine is. There is a clarity to the flavors of this chardonnay that is both stunning and gorgeous. The long finish keeps on giving well after the last sip is swallowed. It’s delicious now, but it has the structure to age, unlike many New World whites. Quite simply the best chardonnay I’ve tasted to this point in 2015.

Domaine Serene 2011 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir ($45)

This offering is produced from fruit sourced at each of the company’s vineyard sites in Yamhill. Red fruit and hints of limestone are apparent on the nose. The palate is medium-bodied with crushed red cherry and pomegranate flavors in evidence. Continued red fruits, spices, and minerals are evident throughout the finish. Terrific acidity makes this a great partner for a wide array of foods.

Big Table Farm 2013 Pelos Sandberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48)

The single vineyard offering was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Earth and mushroom aromas join red and black fruit aromas on the nose. An avalanche of spice notes are at play on the palate alongside warm red fruit flavors which appear in droves. The finish here is prodigiously long and impressive, with all of the above characteristics continuing, joined by hints of black tea. This is what pinot noir is supposed to taste like. As with the other two impressive offerings from Big Table Farm, the mouthfeel here is awesome.

Youngberg Hill 2012 Jordan Pinot Noir ($50)

The fruit for this pinot came from a single block on their estate vineyard. Red raspberry and earthy mushroom aromas are resplendent on the nose. The palate is full of sweet red fruits accompanied by spice. Minerals, bits of earth, and a light dusting of cocoa are in evidence on the finish. Somewhat firm tannins will recede with some air. Delicious now, but it will drink well over the next five years.

Dusky Goose 2013 Chardonnay ($55)

This represents their first vintage of chardonnay. Orchard fruits and spice leap from the rich nose. The palate is lush and round with loads of apple pear and lemon curd flavors. A ton of spices, continued fruit, and a hint of crème fraîche emerge on the finish, which has above-average length. This is a complex and lovely example of chardonnay. It is quite impressive for a premier vintage.

Dusky Goose 2010 Rambouillet Vineyard Pinot Noir ($90)

This single vineyard effort is produced from estate fruit. Rambouillet Vineyard is planted to three clones of pinot noir. Red cherry aromas lead the nose here. The supremely layered and complex palate is stuffed with continued red fruit characteristics, minerals, and spice. Earth, hints of anise, and continued fruit flavors are all apparent on the long, somewhat lusty finish.

This diverse array of wines barely scratches the surface in terms of what the Willamette Valley offers. Yes, pinot noir is their identity, and well it should be — they have the grape down cold, by and large. However, there are fine examples of chardonnay, riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, and lots more to be found. If you love pinot noir and other well-made food-friendly wines, Willamette Valley should be on your short list. 

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