After a vintage like 2008, when everything went right and there was excellence across the board, 2009 presented problems for Oregon vintners. They had to be nimble to respond to a hot summer and early September rains that put considerable pressure on the vineyards. In a compressed vintage, the ripeness could easily get out of hand.
Now that I have tasted more than 150 wines (and published reviews of some five dozen, with at least as many more to come), I am beginning to get a handle on how the wines came out. It's not easy, because it's all over the board. I am tasting light, zingy, delicate wines from some producers, and dark, rich, plush ones from others. I expect the rest of the wines I taste to fit a similar profile.
Quality seems to be as uneven as the styles are in 2009. That's understandable, considering how quickly winemakers had to make decisions on the fly as vineyards reached ideal ripeness overnight and some developed overripe character the next day. Every vintage is a moving target, of course, but in 2008 it was like the ducks in the shooting gallery were moving at a glacial pace, easy to knock them off one at a time. In 2009, they were in high gear, whizzing past, making it an easy vintage to miss.
That accounts for the range of styles in 2009. How else to explain why the same vintage could produce these two wines (both of which rated "outstanding," 90 to 94 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale): Sineann's Resonance Vineyard bottling, plush and generous, full-bodied yet graceful, adds all kinds of mineral and green tea flavors, my top-rated wine of the vintage published so far. Patton Valley's West Block, on the other hand, is bright and tangy and full of raspberry flavors, absolutely lovely but bells and whistles? Not quite. Both are from the Yamhill-Carlton District, and on the same side of the U-shaped appellation, but they are worlds apart in style, one rich, the other tangy. Usually they are closer. Seems to me Patton Valley wanted to make sure the grapes got picked while they still had fresh character while Sineann hit the sweet spot for a ripe, rich wine.
That's a contrast to the 2008s, when so many wines achieved that rare balance of ripe, fresh, complex, gorgeous flavor on a delicate frame. Most of the 2008s clocked in at 13 to 14 percent alcohol. That was the magic of the vintage, which did what Pinot Noir can do so beautifully—deliver big flavor on a delicate frame.
So far, most of the 2009s are topping 14 percent alcohol easily, some over 15. In true Oregon fashion, the good ones are showing deft balance, but the best wines are not what anyone might call delicate.
Significantly, I am finding that the larger-volume Oregon and Willamette Valley blends, as opposed to the single-vineyard and reserve bottlings, are on the lighter end of the spectrum. They come up short on the depth of flavor I found in the 2008s. Adelsheim, Argyle, Willamette Valley Vineyards and WIllaKenzie, for example, which usually clear the bar at 90 points (or higher) with their larger-volume bottlings in a good vintage, dipped a tick or two below that level with their 2009s in my tastings.
Argyle Willamette Valley, for example, shows silky texture and finesse, but the pretty strawberry fruit is more charming than complex and distinctive. Adelsheim's bottling, light and tangy, just missed the top tier on my scorecard, and WillaKenzie's Estate Cuvée was a bit too modest in scope to get as close. All three wines reflect what's missing from 2009 that 2008 had: depth.
On the other hand, all three wines—and many of the other 2009s I tasted—are also elegant, and well worth drinking. It's a good vintage in the classic situation of good vintages that are overshadowed by the great ones preceding them. 2009 might be easy to forget, but smart wine buyers should not miss it. Just go for the wines that fit what you like in Pinot Noir. Someone will have it in this vintage.
Paul-kendall De Lancellotti — newberg,oregon — July 1, 2011 12:30am ET
Gib Masters — Oregon — July 1, 2011 9:13am ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — July 4, 2011 11:12am ET
Alfredo Apolloni — Forest Grove, Oregon — July 27, 2011 11:42pm ET
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