Where do the finest, most expensive, highly coveted pinot noir wines originate?
If you said “Burgundy,” move to the head of the class. If, however, you declared “Oregon,” consider yourself very close. Two regions in California — the Russian River Valley and the Carneros — offer some fine examples of pinot noir. But Oregon holds the title of Numero Uno.
I was reminded how good Oregon’s pinot noirs really are when I recently sampled a trio of single-vineyard Pinots — along with a champion chardonnay — from the prestigious Willamette Valley in Oregon. These were wines from Left Coast Estate, and they made quite an impression.
Red Burgundies are made from the temperamental pinot noir grape, just as white Burgundies come from the easier to handle, but no less stunning, chardonnay grape. Reds, especially those from the incomparable Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, rarely are seen outside of upscale restaurants, high-end metropolitan wine shops and in the vaults of uber-wealthy collectors.
Just to give you an idea of the values placed on these benchmark wines, the 2005 Romanée-Conti currently sells for up to $20,000 per bottle. Not a wine to uncork with a plateful of Johnny’s Barbecue.
They are so bloody expensive because (1) they are truly wondrous, and (2) there’s not much of a supply.
Wine of the Month
Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2015
The wine: Rich, full-bodied dry red table wine.
The grapes: 100% Nebbiolo.
The source: Langhe district of the Piedmont Region of Italy.
The verdict: Just about everybody knows about Tuscany. But there’s another premier wine region in Italy: It’s the Piedmont (or Piemonte) and it makes a truckload of good, very good and “Holy cow, that’s terrific” wines. This is a “Holy Cow” red. This brawny offering comes from the heralded vineyards of Vietti, a family-owned producer with a stellar reputation. And this Nebbiolo does nothing to diminish that rep. From the 2015 vintage the Perbacco is young and vigorous, with mild tannins and spicy flavors. I promise it will be much better in five years.
Suspecting you won’t wait, allow me to advise you to pair this wine with hearty fare, such as burly soups and stews, red meat and sharp cheeses. Your taste buds will be seriously grateful. And as impressive as it is, the Perbacco is a tremendous value.The price: About $28.
Oregon, however, is blessed with climate and geological conditions that produce some of this country’s finest Pinots. Are they as wonderful as the DRC Burgundies? Maybe not. But (1) Oregon’s wines are across-the-board enchanting, (2) there is an abundant supply and (3) the prices are far more sensible.
The three Left Coast Pinots I’m leading up to cost less than $50 apiece.
Left Coast Estate is a medium-sized — 490 acres — estate that focuses on the area’s terroir, or taste of place. It is sustainably farmed, with those practices certified by an independent, third-party organization. The estate’s land also is home to some ancient oak trees, some up to 450 years old.
USA Today voted Left Coast as Oregon’s Top Tasting Room of 2017. All the reds are 100 percent pinot noir from the Willamette Valley; the white is 100 percent chardonnay, also from the Willamette Valley.
In reviewing most wines I taste them by themselves and also with appropriate food. But since good Pinots are a taste-aroma sensation unto themselves, I examined these solo.
Left Coast Estate Cali’s Cuvee Estate pinot noir 2016
The back label tells us this wine was “Named for our left-handed daughter.” The fruit is grown in ancient sandstone soils amid prehistoric fossils. Typical flavors of black raspberry and dark chocolate are subtle but there. I detected a hint of cinnamon in the nose — but my nose is weird. Tannins are soft, and the finish is long and deeply appreciated. In terms of value wines, this one is great. Price: About $26.
Left Coast Estate Right Bank Estate pinot noir 2015
The Right Bank Vineyard is at the winery’s highest elevation. As a result the wine is slightly more complex than the Cali’s. This one has big shoulders, and is heartier than the Cali’s. Close your eyes and take a deep sniff. You’ll think you have a glass full of dark cherries mixed with soft-smelling earth. Broader tannins reveal this wine will age well for several years. It’s rich, mellow and quite satisfying. Price: About $48.
Left Coast Estate Truffle Hill Estate pinot noir 2015
This is the big boy of the bunch. Truffle Hill is viewed as the finest growing area on the estate because of its sun and wind exposure and rich soils. I wish I could say I discovered a truffle nose, but sadly I did not. There are truffles in this vineyard, however. What I did discover was a pinot noir that knocked me over with its quality. There is that Burgundian sense of soil, with rich yet restrained fruitiness. Wine writers like to slather all manner of adjectives on wines they admire. I just say: Man, this is one superb Pinot. Price: About $48.
Left Coast Estate Truffle Hill Estate chardonnay 2017
Don’t drink this one for another year — at least. I did, and I hope I get the chance to try the same vintage in 2020, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. chardonnay is back on the top of the list of America’s favorite wines. And this one is an object lesson in why that is so. Still did not smell truffles, but the aroma of crisp apples with an undertone of pears makes this a luscious sipping wine. It’s barrel-fermented so expect the usual oaky-vanilla nose. Price: About $28.
Good news: These are excellent wines, and all will benefit from some aging. Bad news: Although all are distributed in the Peach State, they may be difficult to find. Ask your wine shop to get some for you. You’ll be a happy sipper.
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.