A controversy over the 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs is the best thing that could happen to this exciting region.
Oregon isn't my beat, and I don't get to try as many wines as my colleague Harvey Steiman. But I've tasted enough of the 2012 Pinot Noirs to believe this is a monumental, game-changing vintage, one that is likely to give many Pinot lovers pause to take a closer look at these exciting wines.
It's also shaping up to be a divisive vintage because the wines are so different than what is typically produced in Oregon. Imagine people suggesting this is a California-style vintage (the wines are riper, richer and darker), or that Oregonians are abandoning and redefining their concept of what constitutes true Oregonian, or cool-climate, Pinot Noir.
Oregon wines are tasted in our Napa office. Since tasting room No. 2 in Napa is right next to mine, at the end of the day we often compare notes, sharing special wines. Harvey's been excited about these wines all along, and the moment I tried the first 2012s I realized the level of depth and fruit complexity rose above the level that Oregon Pinots achieved in the past. The 2012s are a style that appeals more to me. They have more body, finesse, polish, range of flavors and immediate charm than the trimmer, more restrained style more typical of Oregon Pinots. I'm of the view that the riper vintages are always the best, even if his one doesn't reach the ripeness levels of Oregon's 2009, 2006 or 2003 vintages.
Is this a vintage that will redefine Oregon? Perhaps. But the years on both sides—2011 and 2013—are sufficiently different to consider what’s really happening, and that has all to do with the weather. Then again, according to Harvey, 2014 looks like another riper-style vintage.
I’m looking forward to comments from readers who have experience with Oregon Pinots and this vintage, and how it stacks up with other years. I expect it will be provocative, but that’s exactly what Oregon needs—a lively debate about the quality and style of its Pinots.