Domaine Serene shattered a big price barrier when it released an ultra-premium Oregon PInot Noir, Monogram 2002, at $200 a bottle earlier this year. Next up is a white wine from Pinot Noir, made to sell for $60.
Domaine Serene hits several home runs every vintage with its Pinot Noirs, including the mainstay Evenstad Reserve. I rated the current vintage (2003) of this $52 wine at 92 points. But I didn't review Monogram 2002 because the winery would not send me a bottle, and I could not buy one off the shelf anywhere. But they would open a bottle for me if I came to visit.
So, on my trip to Oregon this week, I stopped by the winery to taste the 2005s in barrel with winemaker Tony Rynders, and he uncorked a bottle each of the 2002 and 2003 Monogram. And a surprise--the new white Pinot. It's called Coeur Blanc, and it is not a pink blanc de noir but a serious, dry, barrel-fermented white wine from estate-grown PInot Noir grapes.
Having tasted them, I can say that the wines are beautifully made. Monogram 2002 is harmonious and graceful for a big wine, which is the hallmark of Rynders' style. The wine has a strong tannic bite, but the gorgeous plum, currant and meaty flavors come together in the mouth, even as the tannins swarm. The 2003, to be released next year, is riper, rounder and more elegant. It has lovely cherry and plum fruit, hinting at rosemary and spice on the supple finish.
"The whole idea here is long aging potential," says Rynders. "I chose the barrels that I thought would go the longest."
But do they justify the price? I don't think Monogram 2002 is any better than the winery's Mark Bradford Vineyard 2002 bottling (93 points, $75). I am worried about the Monogram 2002's tannins. But the 2003 might well be the best wine in the winery's stable.
Good as those are, I am more intrigued by the Coeur Blanc because it is so different. The idea came from a northern Italian vintner who makes a dry white wine from Pinot Noir by pressing the grapes, barrel fermenting them like a white wine, and letting them age on the lees like a Chardonnay. The Evenstads let Rynders try it in 2004 with some Pinot Noir from their Côte Sud vineyard, and the result is a rich-textured, minerally white wine that is unlike anything else I've tasted in Oregon. The 2005 has more zip to it, layering in some bright pineapple fruit. It's still in barrel.
"I used Pinot with fairly large berries," Rynders explains, "looking for less color from the skins and more juice."
How does the wine compare with Domaine Serene's Chardonnays (which are among Oregon's best)? That's not a fair comparison. Coeur Blanc isn't a Chardonnay, and it deserves to stand on its own. I like it.
For the first vintage of Coeur, 2004, Rynder only made 75 cases, most of which will probably go to a coterie of Las Vegas sommeliers who flipped over the wine last week. But the second vintage will total 300 cases, enough to go around. Monogram tops out at 400 six-bottle cases. The 2002 is already sold out, and there's a waiting list for the 2003.
Both Monogram and Coeur Blanc are clearly designed to send a message, which is that Oregon can make wines that deserve the same high-ticket prices California cult wines get. It's the same message Domaine Serene's ostentatious château-style winery sends. Where most Oregon wineries make do with relatively utilitarian premises, Domaine Serene's Mediterranean splendor perches in the midst of its manicured Dundee Hills vineyards.
Even Archery Summit, which came out with Oregon's first $100 bottling a few years back, tucks most of its winery into the hillside it occupies off a dirt road. True, you enter through an automated gate, but what you see is vineyards and a simple building. It's positively Burgundian.
Oregon made its reputation for Pinot Noir by pushing the quality envelope relentlessly, and by aiming for refinement and elegance when some of its neighbors to the south in California were seeking extreme ripeness. Even when prices started to climb past $50 a bottle, the best Oregon wines often looked like bargains when compared with wines of similar quality from Burgundy or California.
Partly, they did it by not pretending to be too fancy. Although I like the wines, I wonder if Domaine Serene's grandeur will change all that. Maybe that's the point.
Greg Malcolm — St. Louis, Missouri — September 22, 2006 1:59pm ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — September 22, 2006 6:43pm ET
Tim Sinniger — Bend, Oregon — September 22, 2006 11:34pm ET
Errol R Kovitch — Michigan — September 23, 2006 10:35am ET
Kathleen Malloy — September 25, 2006 10:38pm ET
Charles J Stanton — Eugene, OR — September 25, 2006 10:50pm ET
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