Although they aren’t exactly a secret, Oregon wines haven’t reached the notoriety of those from Napa Valley in the United States – at least not yet. However, with Wine Spectator ranking Domaine Serene’s recently released 2010 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir as the world’s No. 3 wine in its annual Top 100 list based on quality, value and availability, Oregon wines probably aren’t going to fly under the radar much longer.
Most people go through predictable phases in their appreciation of wine, starting with sweet wines and eventually progressing to increasingly complex dry wines. For many, the evolution of their wine tastes eventually leads them to Pinot Noir, at least when it comes to red wines.
Pinot Noir is a particularly fussy grape that needs just the right soil and climate conditions to fully express itself in wine. For that reason, it, perhaps more than any other red grape, shows its terroir in the wines it produces. In Burgundy, where the most famous, most expensive and arguably the best Pinot Noir wines come from, the terroir leads to complex array of aromas and tastes that include everything from cherries and red berries to notes of earthy mushrooms, spices and tobacco, together with its signature minerality and firm acidity.
Pinot Noirs from California, where the climate is generally warmer, tend to be fruitier, less earthy and have a higher alcohol content than their French cousins, making them crowd-pleasing, food-friendly wines.
Somewhere in between the styles of Burgundy and California, is Oregon Pinot Noir. Located at the same latitude as Burgundy and grown in mineral-rich soils, Oregon offers the best of both worlds to the Pinot Noir drinker who loves the way the grape can expresses its terroir, but who also prefers a little more fruit flavors than Burgundy typically offers.
The Domaine Serene winery, which was founded in 1989 by Ken and Grace Evenstad in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley, produces perfect examples of how Oregon Pinot Noir wines made in an Old World style can be exquisite wines unto themselves, as evidenced from the accolades these types of wines receive from critics around the world.
During a visit to the Cayman Islands in February, Domaine Serene’s Luis Reyneri led a sampling of five of winery’s offerings at a lunch for restaurant-industry professionals hosted by Luca and Jacques Scott Fine Wines & Spirits.
Modern-day winemaking in Oregon is relatively young – less than 50 years old – and it was Pinot Noir that really made wine drinkers stop and take notice of the state as a wine-growing region. As for its white wine grapes, Oregon is known for its Pinot Gris, which is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, and to a lesser extent, its Riesling. But Oregon also produces high-quality Chardonnay, which shouldn’t be surprising given that the same Burgundy-like characteristics that make Oregon good for growing Pinot Noir exist for Burgundy’s other major grape, Chardonnay.
In California, Chardonnay tends to fall into one of two categories – either buttery and oaky or fruity and crisp. What Oregon offers in its Chardonnays is a minerality more associated with Burgundy. Domaine Serene goes even further to create Chardonnays that are definitely more like Burgundy than California, including using cloned grape vines from France.
“We also only use French oak in our oak program, so that’s another testament to the quality,” Reyneri said, noting that Domaine Serene’s Chardonnays are made to evolve and improve for up to 10 years.
Sampled over lunch were two single-vineyard Chardonnays, the 2008 Côte Sud [Retail: $46.99] and the 2009 Clos du Soleil [Retail: $53.99].
Reyneri said that when he usually attends tastings or lunches, the wines are typically from recent vintages, so he was excited to be able to have some older Chardonnays at the lunch.
“They take on nutty flavors as they get older,” he said.
The 2008 Côte Sud, which is aged before bottling for 14 months in French oak barrels, displayed flavors of spice, apple and pear, as well as minerality, giving it characteristics of good white Burgundy.
The Clos du Soleil, which was a year younger, was a little livelier, showing vibrant fruit flavors to go with a rich texture.
“I love the crisp acidity and the very long finish,” Reyneri said. “Both of these Chardonnays have good acidity and great balance. They are perfect food wines.”
The wines were served with one of Luca’s signature appetizers, vitello tonnato – thinly sliced veal carpaccio with creamy tuna sauce and fried capers. The acidity of the wines was able to cut through the creaminess of the tuna sauce on the veal, making for a good pairing. The Chardonnays would also pair well with grilled or pan-seared mahi mahi, buttery or creamy seafood pasta dishes, roasted turkey breast, and even coconut-based curry dishes.
Elegant and powerful reds
For the main course of lunch, Luca served duck, one of the classic food pairings with Pinot Noir. Pan-seared and served medium, the duck was tender and delicious. Paired with two of Domaine Serene’s Pinot Noirs, it was even more delicious.
The 2009 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir [Retail: $47.99] is one of Domaine Serene’s Signature Blends. It is 100 percent Pinot Noir, but blended from grapes from each of its vineyard sites. Yamhill Cuvée a friendly-but-elegant Oregon Pinot that displays rich, textured fruit flavors, hints of spice and good acidity that will allow it to pair with many different foods.
The show-stopping wine of the afternoon was 2008 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir [Retail: $61.99], one of Domaine Serene’s two flagship wines. It was the 2010 vintage of the Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir that garnered 95 points from Wine Spectator magazine and a ranking as the world’s No.3 wine in its annual list of the Top 100 wines based on quality, value and availability. The 2008 vintage may not have achieved that lofty status, but it was excellent nonetheless.
“2008 is probably the best vintage in 30 years,” said Reyneri. “A lot of people don’t know that. It’s a real treat to drink, not only because of a great vintage, but also because I love how 2008 is evolving right now.”
Produced from a blend of cloned vines from three locations – Pommard and Dijon in Burgundy and Wädenswil in Switzerland – this powerful and complex wine with intense aromas and flavors is a statement about how good and how unique Pinot Noir from Oregon can be.
Pinot Noir is known for being one of the most food-friendly wines, and Domaine Serene’s wines would be a good match with salmon, seared fresh tuna or tuna tartare, roasted pork loin and for festive holiday meals with many different menu items.
Oregon isn’t known for producing Rosé wines, but if they were all like Domaine Serene’s blend “r” [Retail: $32.99] maybe it should be.
This proprietary blend of grapes – the aroma suggests Pinot Noir must be one of them – is deep carmine pink in color, hinting at the depth of flavor of the wine.
Aromatic and full of fresh fruit flavors, “r” was delicious paired with Luca’s velvety chocolate and aubergine mousse with raspberry purée. This dry wine is ultra-versatile, able to pair with everything from seafood to poultry and even some spicy foods like jerk chicken and jerk pork. It would also be a good choice for drinking around the pool, on a boat or at the beach.
“I think it’s a beautiful wine for every month of the year,” said Reyneri. “And I think it is perfect for the Caribbean.”