Posted by: David Stewart | August 14, 2011

A Whine about Wine Prices in Oregon

It seems like summer has just started in the Portland area and we’re running out of summer weekends without something already inked onto our calendars. So we took off yesterday to explore a few local wineries and encountered the most expensive Oregon wine I have seen to date.

EIEIO – When we encountered them last April at a tasting, we were delighted by the humor of Jay McDonald’s marketing and I was very impressed by their 2008 Cuvee "Y" Pinot Noir. To ensure that the just-bottled wine showed well, it was hand-bottled to introduce air and accelerate aging. Desiring a more fair taste (and finding ourselves near Carlton), we stopped in to their tasting room and sampled the Cuvee "E" and Cuvee "I" as well as the "Y". Unfortunately this time in Carlton, I found the wines to be a little too green for my taste.

De Ponte Cellars – We tasted De Ponte for the first time in the lobby of the Allison Hotel which is pretty dialed-in to the local wine scene. The family has been making wine through three generations, and is unrelated to Niel DePonte, the principal percussionist of the Oregon Symphony. We met an Assistant Winemaker and granddaughter of the founders in the tasting room and chatted about their history. Besides Pinot Noir, they also have a 2010 Melon de Bourgogne, a $20 white wine which the French use to make Muscadet. The tasting room had an ’07 and ’09 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir for $38 which were nice and fruity, the ’07 tasting a bit hotter to me. The winner here was a $55 2008 Estate Pinot Noir which was delightfully spicy and even hotter than the ’07 (%14.3 alcohol).

Domaine Drouhin – When Oregon won its first international Pinot Noir tasting, France’s Drouhin family bought a big chunk of acreage in the Dundee Hills and begat a winery.  A barn of a winery in face.  The massive tasting room with its troops of pourers preside over a dramatic view of the vineyard and valley.  The 2009 "Arthur" Chardonnay ($30) was clean and fruity with very little manipulation. They were also pouring a 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($40) and a 2007 "Laurene" Pinot Noir ($65). I thought the Pinots were tight and mineral with very few aromatics. They will need some considerable time to mature in the cellar.

Archery Summit – I was very positively impressed by Archery Summit Pinot in a side-by-side comparison with Drouhin at an event last month. Later on, my friend Joe wasn’t nearly as impressed with the Archery wine, and I went back to check them out later in the event, and I suspect my earlier tasting was with a better bottle. No matter, we decided to check them out in person. Archery’s most broadly marketed wine is their Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir, which is a blend of all of their estates. Their 2009 vintage ($48) is a terrific wine with a lot more spice and heat than the equivalent wines at Drouhin, like polar opposites. But if $48 is your broad market wine (read: cheapest), then things are headed for the stratosphere. Sure enough, the single-estate Pinots started at $85 and took off from there. The high-end was a pair of Archery Summit Estate Pinot Noirs (2006 and 2007) for $150.

Now I grant you, there are more expensive wines to be had from Burgundy or Bordeaux. We tasted a $200 Napa Cabernet from Stag’s Leap earlier this year. You can spend $750 on a red Burgundy in downtown Portland. Is this where Willamette Valley wines are headed? I guess it’s only a matter of time.

And what did we end up buying? This was not a day for value wines, I guess. We did end up using a %20 discount at Ayres and restocked a little there. By way of contrast, their 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($24) is a wonderful wine, and their estate wines at $33 and $39 are fantastic. Since their low-end wine is over $20, I suspect we’ll see more price escalation as well.

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