A couple of weeks ago, I was out in Eugene, Oregon, in the Southern Willamette Valley for the Wine Media Conference. Near the end of the conference every year, we taste several wines in rapid succession, with the winery giving a quick 10 minute overview of the winery and the wine. This year, it was a bit different since, well, everything is different these days, but the spirit was the same and the wines were fantastic.
2019 Longevity “Pink” Pinot Grigio, Livermore Valley, CA: Retail $26. While 99% (or higher) of the Pinot Gris/Grigio produced come to market as a white wine, the grape is actually a dark pink when it is harvested (“gris” means “grey” but I don’t think that is the case—see picture below). This Grigio, however, makes up part of that 1% as it is made in the Ramato style, which allows for a limited amount of skin contact to give it some color (it comes from “rame” which means “copper” in Italian). A light pinkish orange in the glass and the wine is quite floral and even a bit funky on the nose with some red berry fruit coming through. I have to admit that I was rather surprised by the palate with its great fruit and acidity, lasting all the way through the finish. It is unfortunate that many overlook the Livermore Valley and solely focus on the more familiar Napa and Sonoma Valleys to the north. As witnessed here, there are some fine wines being produced just a few miles south of San Francisco. Excellent. 91 Points.
2020 Troon Kubli Bench Amber, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $35. 64% Riesling, 27% Vermentino, 9% Viognier. I spent most of my ten days in Oregon either on the Troon property or within close proximity of Craig Camp (Troon’s General Manger), Nate Winters (National Sales Manager), or a bevy of wines provided by the winery. It would be difficult to choose a “favorite” in the Troon lineup, but this is clearly one of my favorite orange wines with a great golden color with tropical notes and, yes, orange peel. The palate is unctuous and rich with incredible body and an incredibly lengthy finish. Whoa. I have tasted a few vintages of this wine and now several bottles of the 2020, and this wine has only improved. The reason? The new (2017) ownership at Troon has invested incredible amounts of time, effort, and financial resources to transform the farm into perhaps the model for biodynamic farming and sustainable agriculture. With only 50 acres planted, the production by almost any standard is small, but the wines are across the board fantastic, with this beauty near the top. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Benton-Lane First-Class Estate Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. Barrel fermented in French oak (20% new), this has both a classic Chard color (golden straw) and nose of lemon curd, vanilla, pineapple, and a hint of caramel. The fruit struggles a bit to assert itself on the palate due to the ample acidity, but it eventually works itself out by the rather lengthy finish. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 Brooks Ara Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $38. Where to start? As the Willamette Valley seems to be pivoting to the more marketable Chardonnay to the detriment of Pinot Gris and Riesling, Brooks’ white program remains keenly focused on Riesling, the passion of founder Jimi Brooks. When I showed up to try this wine at the Wine Media Conference, I was not only surprised to see Brooks pouring one of their top Rieslings (with a teeny production of a mere 225 cases), but I was shocked to see that it was Brooks CEO and friend Janie Brooks who was pouring the wine! After reminiscing a bit ( I visited back in 2016 and wrote an article that gained a bit of recognition) I was able to focus on the wine, which is always one of my favorites in the Brooks portfolio. Lovely nose with great fruit (yellow delicious apple, ripe peach), touches of freshly cut hay, an herbal quality (basil?), and just a touch of petrol. Whoa. The palate is just lovely with that apple, some dried apricot, plenty of viscosity and heft, and oodles of tartness (the 2g/l is barely noticeable). As always with this wine, the Ara is at or near the apex of American Riesling. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2020 Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25 ($15 at my local supermarket). Under screw cap. You know it is going to be a fun tasting when three out of the five pourers you would consider a personal friend, which is what I would certainly consider Chris O’Gorman, the Director of Marketing at Rodney Strong. If there were some way to figure it out, I would be willing to bet that in the last three years, I have consumed more Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir than any other domestic still rosé (yes, there were a few qualifiers there). This has also been one of the more consistently Excellent wines in the five years that I have been conducting my World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé. Cotton Candy pink in the glass with a lovely nose composed of great fruit (strawberry, watermelon, rhubarb), a floral (red rose petal) aspect, and even a hint of wet rock. The palate is quite lovely with an initial burst of fruit followed by a balancing tartness that both compliments the fruit and whets the appetite. I could drink this all day long and all year ‘round. At around twelve bucks (when you buy six) at my H-E-B (I love my H-E-B)? Back up the Tesla. Outstanding. 93 Points.