Thursday, April 15, 2010

Del Rio Pinot Noir making headlines

Check out Matt Kramer's article on Oregon Pinot Noirs, highlighting Del Rio's 2008 Pinot!

Vintage makes a difference in these two Oregon pinot noirs
By Matt Kramer, March 27th, 2010

Few subjects are more aggravated than the matter of vintage. The word itself is simply a synonym for a single growing season: A vintage is the year the grapes were harvested.

The phrase "a vintage year" has the connotation of something exceptional and fine. This is because vintage-dating a wine is actually a recent practice. Well into the 20th century, most wines from most places were either sold in bulk from barrel or bottled with no more information than a brand name invented by a bulk bottler. For a wine to display a vintage date was exceptional, in every sense. Today, of course, the great majority of fine wines sport a vintage date.

But not all do. For example, most French Champagnes are sold as nonvintage bottlings. Wines such as Spanish sherry never have a vintage date, as the complex blending process of that wine precludes a single-vintage version. So why are vintages so vexing?

Partly because generations of wine lovers were told that some vintages are better than others -- which is to say the growing season was better. Here in Oregon, just ask any grower or wine buff about the growing season difference between the 2007 (rainy during picking) and 2008 (cool spring but glorious fall) vintages. Does the difference reveal itself in the wines? It sure does.

Del Rio Vineyards "Rogue Valley" Pinot Noir 2008: One of the complaints -- justified -- of southern Oregon winegrowers is that vintage information about Oregon wines is skewed to the Willamette Valley. As anyone who's traveled the length of Oregon knows, the climate (and terrain) of southern Oregon is considerably different from that of the 100-mile stretch of the cool, moist Willamette Valley.

The 2008 vintage, however, was an equal-opportunity growing season for north and south. Both zones suffered a cool spring that affected flowering. That, in turn, reduced the crop size by as much as one-third and also set back the likely harvest date. (Grapes need 100 days to ripen once the tiny berry is formed.) Both zones saw a triumphant harvest thanks to glorious late fall weather with warm days, cool nights and little rain.

In short, 2008 is a handy, one-size-fits-all vintage: It turned out great everywhere -- not least, in the bottle. Evidence of the exceptional quality of the 2008 vintage is found in the 2008 Del Rio Vineyards pinot noir from the Rogue Valley. Southern Oregon has a spotty track record with pinot noir, in part perhaps because it's warmer than the Willamette Valley.

Pinot noir likes what growers call a long "hang time" where the grape acquires more flavor components in the fall while barely increasing in sugar content, thanks to cool weather. Southern Oregon's sunny, warm weather reduces the opportunity for such long hang time for the ultra-sensitive pinot noir grape. However, in 2008, the fall weather obliged and pinot noir performed, at least as evidenced by this lovely example from Del Rio Vineyards in Gold Hill. Del Rio Vineyards is one of Southern Oregon's largest vineyards, with 180 acres planted with 15 varieties. Many of these grapes are sold to other Oregon wineries.

Del Rio Vineyards "Rogue Valley" Pinot Noir 2008 is a superb pinot noir brimming with the signature berry and wild cherry flavors of the variety along with a distinctive, attractive earthy note. This is a wine, by the way, that really comes alive when served in a large wine glass, as there's a lot on offer, as it were. The winemaking is deft, with the barest touch of oak and a delicacy rare in southern Oregon pinot noirs, as well as an alcohol level of just 12.8 percent. This is worth seeking out. $26.95. (Distributor is Young's Columbia.)

Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2007, Monchiero: It's no secret that vintages matter in Europe's many wine-growing districts, especially in the cool reaches of Germany, France and northern Italy. In these locales, it's the classic vintage story: When they're good, they're really, really good.

That, in a delectable nutshell, is all you need to know about this exceptional, traditionally made (read: no oak) 2007 Barbera d'Alba from the small family producer Monchiero. Lush, dense, utterly ripe -- 2007 was a warm vintage -- yet buoyed by barbera's intrinsically high acidity, this is a benchmark barbera. Oh, and there's one other tasty thing: the price. Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2007 from Monchiero sells for $12.95 a bottle. I cannot recall recommending a barbera this good, at that low a price, in at least a decade. Get it while you can. (Distributor is Casa Bruno.)

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