After tasting select wines from barrel last year, I said that 2010 would be a polarizing vintage for Oregon’s Pinot Noirs. Those who crave delicacy in Pinot Noir, who prize pretty aromas and flavors, will love it. Others may find it wimpy and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Now that I have blind-tasted out of the bottle more than half of the 2010s I expect to review, I still believe that. Time after time I hesitated after writing a tasting note that described the charms of pretty fruit character, delicate structure, and a welcome sense of transparency to it all. Lovely wines, but I wondered, did they have the depth, the length, the complexity to qualify as great? These elements make a wine truly memorable.
The answer, more often than not, was yes, although more than a few of the wines came up just a bit short on those factors. A check of my results so far indicates that enough of them have what it takes for 2010 to be remembered as a great vintage. Too bad yields were much lower than usual, so there are fewer cases to grab.
So far I’ve rated 135 of 265 Oregon 2010s 90 points or higher (“outstanding” on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale), a figure that includes about 180 as-yet unpublished reviews. If you’re keeping score, that's a batting average of .509. Keep in mind, too, that some of the best hitters, the wines that get the extra six months to a year of age before release, haven’t come to the plate yet.
Compare that with 2008, a vintage I rated 97 points overall, with a batting average of .553. Most agree 2009, a vintage that was picked during unusually high heat, was a step back in quality. But it still clocked in at .464, nearly half the wines reviewed rating 90 points or higher.
Six wines rated 95 points or higher (“classic”) from 2008, none from 2009, and so far three from 2010. I would expect that number to rise as I taste some 200 more wines over the next year or so.
Most telling is the difference in personality among these vintages, Since we’re deep into the baseball playoffs, let's continue in the sport’s vernacular. 2008 hit for average and for power, depending on the situation, the tools of a Hall of Famer. 2009, a muscular slugger, swung for the fences but could also lace one into the corner for a triple, a potential All-Star. 2010, even without power, is a getting-on-base machine. It can bunt, bloop one past the retreating shortstop, out-run an infield hit, or use speed to turn a triple into an inside-the-park home run. Not a potential MVP, but someone you love to have in your lineup.
Oregon’s variable climate, which had tended toward warmth through most of the 2000s, took a turn to cooler temperatures starting in 2007, a vintage that looked great until it was diluted by untimely rains.
The long, moderately cool growing season of 2008 led to an extended harvest period in which vintners could pick the grapes at their leisure under clear skies and moderate temperatures. They made exactly the kinds of wines they wanted. Alcohol hovered in the high 13 percent range. Those who aimed for lightness picked earlier. Those who wanted more density waited. It paid off either way. The wines have stunning flavors and tight structures, clearly destined to benefit from age.
Rains threatened 2009 just before the grapes fully ripened, but then the sun came out and it got hot. Very hot. For several weeks. Vintners scrambled to pick, before grapes became raisins. In the bottle it’s a highly variable vintage. There are plenty of successes (see the batting averages, above) but a significant number of 2009s ended up over-the-top.
A cool summer in 2010 limited yields, reduced further by worse-than-usual bird damage just as the grapes were ripening. Rain threatened the vintage, but then the skies cleared. It never got hot, as it did the previous year, and the extended hang-time produced ripe flavors in advance of sugar development, resulting in wines that clock in right around 13 percent alcohol yet still have ripe flavors. A big rainstorm in late October put an abrupt end to a small but remarkable vintage.
That’s quite a contrast, from a rich 2009 to a delicate 2010. (And 2011 looks to be even more delicate. Picked for the most part under intermittent rains, cool temps kept 2011 from being ruined by rot. Out of barrel, the wines are promising.)
In the end, it's all about what style you prefer among the 2009s and 2010s, the vintages you're likely to find on shelves and wine lists in the coming months. So, if you like your PInot Noirs with richness and power, grab a 2009. If you want transparency and delicacy, go for 2010. Better yet, try them both. It’s possible to find pleasure in both camps.
Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — October 16, 2012 4:55pm ET
Steve Trachsel — Poway, Ca. — October 16, 2012 5:26pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 17, 2012 3:38am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 17, 2012 3:40am ET
Ramona Peterson — Chicago, Ill. USA — October 24, 2012 7:50pm ET
Jim Doak — Portland, Oregon — October 25, 2012 3:25pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions