Fine Wines from Oregon

In Event Reports, IWFS London Blog by ashepherdiwfs

This tasting of Oregon wines, mainly Pinot Noirs from 2018, was presented by Ian Shane. Willamette Valley in Oregon where the wines are from, is renowned for its Pinot Noir wines, thanks to unique climatic conditions and to talented and determined winemakers. It is the drainage basin of the Willamette River, which flows for 150 miles from north to south. Bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Range mountains in the west, and by the Cascade Range to the east, it is 60 miles at its widest point. It is the same latitude as Burgundy.

American Viticulture Area (AVA) is the United States designation of wine-growing regions. The Willamette Valley is its own AVA. The wines were all from Willamette Valley or one of its 11 sub AVAs, with distinctive sets of geological, geographical and microclimate factors.

In 2018, the growing season was dry, sunny and hot across the region. Rain fell in September when temperatures became cooler, and ideal harvest conditions prevailed. This was all helpful for the development of the fruit for potential greatness: dark fruit, balance and backbone, concentrated and powerful wines that can be tannic.

The 2018 Oregon Pinot Noir vintage is recognised in the IWFS vintage card as the highest category 7. This vintage is not easy to find now.

The tasting started with two whites.

David Hill Vineyards Block 2019, Sylvaner, Tualatin Hills AVA

The vines were planted at least 55 years ago. The wine was aged in 25% barriques and 75% stainless steel. We found it dry and aromatic, with minerality and good acidity, and some flavours of citrus fruit and crispness on the palate. 

The Eyrie Vineyard 2018, Chardonnay, Dundee Hills AVA

The second white, organic with no use of pesticides, and like the first white, was also made from old vines. It was judged one of the best Willamette Chardonnays this year by a number of experts – who differed in the various aromas and palates they perceived. It was more restrained than the Sylvaner with more complex aromas and palate, depth and finish.

On to the reds:

Oak Knoll 2018 Pinot Noir

A pleasant wine, with raspberry aromas and sour cherry on the palate; the tannins were not well integrated.

Montinore Estate Reserve 2018 Pinot Noir

This estate’s vineyards are organic. It achieved biodynamic certification 16 years ago. The Reserve Pinot Noir is created from blocks from different parts of the vineyards, fermented and aged separately, and assembled after maturation in used French and Hungarian barrels for 10 months. The winemaker described the wine as “Wafts of black cherry, plum and fig jam are laced with a hint of fragrant violet and subtle cedar notes. Cherry continues on the palate, mingling with loganberry and pomegranate.”

Most of us thought this wine was a step up from the previous one. The tannins were more integrated and it was more balanced.

Holloran 2018 Le Pavillon Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills

The grapes in this vineyard, Chardonnay and Riesling as well as Pinot Noir, were planted in 1972, which therefore makes it one of the oldest surviving vineyards in the Willamette Valley. It is farmed organically and biodynamically. We found it a vibrant wine with aromas of cinnamon and tastes of strawberry and raspberry.

  1. Christopher 2018 Basalte Pinot Noir

This winery is owned by Ernst Loosen, who is one of the larger producers in the Moselle wine region in Germany and well known in the wine world. The wine has been described as a New World wine vinified in Old World style. It was more powerful than previous wines tasted, full-bodied with length and balance. It was elegant and had a fine tannic structure. Again, the grapes were sustainably grown.

The last three wines are heavy hitters by reputation.

St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton District AVA

The philosophy behind winemaking at St Innocent is stated as “the function of wine is to complement and extend the pleasure of a meal….. St. Innocent wines tend toward higher acid levels, and more diverse and balanced flavours.”

The winemaker described the wine as “a very complex wine that will emerge over months to decades of ageing. The finish has a rich density while fresh fruit persists… balanced concentration and lively clarity.”

The wine showed concentrated fruit and acidity, lingering on the palate, and needed more time.

Ken Wright Cellars 2018 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley AVA

Freedom Hill is known as one of the top vineyards in Willamette Valley. A certified organic and sustainable wine from a single vineyard, it was aged in 100% French oak barrels for about a year. Powerful and structured, it was young to taste, needing at least another five years, and will age exceptionally well.

Ponzi 2018 Reserve Pinot Noir Laurelwood District

The Ponzi family were Oregon wine pioneers, establishing the vineyards in the late 1960s. The estate was acquired by Groupe Bollinger in 2021. The vineyards are certified sustainable and the approach low-intervention and natural. The wine is acknowledged as one of the best of the 2018 Pinot Noirs, gaining very high marks from wine judges.

It had the highest alcohol of the wines we tasted, at 14.3%. As for most of the reds we tasted, it will certainly continue to age well.

Our massive appreciation to Ian Shane for selecting and assembling these special wines and introducing them to us.

Rachel Burnett