Cru Class: Oregon
Cru Class is a chance to dive deep into the heart of a specific wine region within an intimate and comfortable environment taught by people who are passionate about the wine, topic, region, etc for the night. This is a chance to try wines of a higher caliber than our usual Wine101 and really engage each other with great conversation about what we are all experiencing from within that glass in front of us. Where a Wine101 class may skim the surface of what the general concept of say what Napa CabSauv is all about, Cru Class will take you deeper within that region and show you how Howell Mountain Cab is drastically different than the dust bowl of Rutherford. Again, not all varietals are the same even within the same region and especially as the U.S.'s AVA system gets more developed and these AVA's scream for their identity. We're catching up to Europe.
Fresh off his trip to the WIllamette Valley in Oregon, Geoff Troup returned to host our June Cru Class featuring the top three of Oregon's wine bounty. I've never been to Oregon, so I have to live vicariously through Geoff's experiences out there which from the sounds of everything expressed was a great time and learning experience. If you wanna learn about wine either open a bottle and drink or visit the area the wine comes from. Being in wine country gives you a sense for what's going on. The vibe from the winemakers, the sun hitting your skin, touching the vines in the vineyards, the smell in the air is as much a sensory experience as tasting the fruit of their labor from within your wine glass.
I mean...look at this picture!! Who wouldn't want to be at that vineyard right now? Winemakers here are farmers, down to earth and true salt of the earth with a sense of place and direction from which they create their individual expressions of the land around them. There's really no big corporate presence here yet. Cell phone service is scarce. You're in wine country. Let's get drinking.
First up is the 2015 Maysara Single Vineyard Pinot Gris. Pinot Grigio/Gris is the same grape with totally different stylistic approaches which took us on an interesting discussion of how we've never seen an Oregon PG labeled "Grigio" much how every vineyard in the early 2000's labeled their Syrah as "Shiraz". The nose on this thing is so fun-key which is one reason why we chose it. It's literally like fresh cut dried out dusty grass with a slight pungency that never goes full blown cow manure, On the palate it's layered with tropical fruit, tangerine, medium acidity that never becomes too abrasive and slowly engulfs your entire palate. Fresh chevre hits the spot with this one, but it is perfectly fine on it's own. 10% of this wine was fermented in concrete egg looking vessels. Take notice as more winemakers are beginning to experiment with this here in the US.
Next pour comes from Willamette Valley Vineyards with their Estate Chardonnay. Oregon is very similar to Burgundy, so what more of a natural fit is it to grow Chardonnay along with Pinot Noir? This Chard is creamy with a tremendous balancing act between oak, acidity, butter and brown pear. So much control going on in your mouth as this wine doesn't stray one way or the other to become your stereotypical Sunday afternoon poolside cougar juice Chardonnay. If that's your jam then I feel you. Time and place for everything.This Chard is my jam.
First Pinot of the night is Panther Creek Winemaker's Cuvee. Look at the color of this wine!! Velvety body with good acid component, mild earthiness and smoke. The title of "winemaker's cuvee" is kind of like a coffee shop creating a house blend. In this case the winemaker is pulling grapes from several of their vineyards to create this style. Each vineyard offers some additional character to the wine which can be tweeked from vintage to vintage in order to keep some consistency.
The highlight of the class was being able to try three single vineyard wines from Ken Wright each one so distinct and different in every aspect.
2015 Latchkey Vineyards Pinot was the clear winner unanimous with everyone. Spicy cranberry, fresh red berry fruit shines here, vibrant with good grippy tannins and supporting acidity
2014 Guadalupe Vineyards Pinot had a little hint of classic PN funky barnyard wrapped up with that fresh raspberry fruit on the finish
2014 McCrone Vineyard went in the crushed rose petals and raspberries direction on the nose. Palate was tart, but with zippy acidity, elegant non the less.
Not part of the class and not available/for sale in CT was the Willamette Valley Vineyards Gruner Veltliner that Geoff brought for us to sample. You can compare and contrast this Gruner to that of those grown and created in Austria or even northern Italy for that matter, but you have to understand that this is Oregon's interpretation of the varietal much like the Tempranillo I tried a few months ago. It was not Rioja or Spain in any sense. Neither varietal was trying to do an interpretation of what they "should" be, but rather both were their own thing given new life in the Willamette valley of Oregon.
Get out there and try something new in your glass!