There has been quite a buzz building over the 2008 vintage of Pinot Noir in Oregon, accompanied by some silliness about Oregon Pinot Noir “coming of age,” and/or proving a point about the quality of the wine there (slightly more than half is Pinot Noir). “Coming of age” is silly because a few decades isn’t that much in the evolution of vineyards, and a lot of the acreage planted is relatively very new, as are the wineries (in the last 20 years, vineyard acreage increased four-fold, and the amount of wineries went up five-fold, to almost 400); for fine wine, that’s just a blink. As for “proving the point” about the quality of Pinot Noir in Oregon, that’s been done as far back as the 1980s; the further points that have been proven since then are that Oregon’s climate can be challenging, and that an influx of new winemakers, whether starting a second career or just generally on a “back to the land” trip, can set the varied styles of winemaking on something of a zigzag course.
Last week, I got a chance to taste some of those Oregon Pinot Noirs, at the annual tasting of Northwest wines in London. Some are still a bit tannic, oaky and extracted, but most were fresh and lively, blessed with vibrant acidity and relatively low alcohol levels (under 14%, sometimes well under, and even below 12% in a few cases). For whatever reason, not everyone was there, but it was a good sampling. Standouts were two bottlings from Chehalem, “Reserve” and “Ichinnan,” the graceful Benton Lane “Estate,” a slightly funky Sokol Blosser “Dundee Hills,” bolder versions from Argyle “Nut House” and Soter “Mineral Springs Ranch” (both of which had a little more power, but didn’t lack grace—they needed a good 20 minutes to open up and reveal their virtues, as did Elk Cove “Roosevelt,” which seemed indistinct at first, but came around). I’d assume these last three would age nicely. I also liked the very light and pale Erath "Willamette Valley" and A to Z, which were delicious, very fresh and lively, though too light for food. Altogether, an impressive showing.