2014 Underwood Pinot Noir – Oregon Value

If I was to ask you to name a Pinot Noir producing region, what comes to mind first? For most Pinot Noir fans, the most likely answer is Burgundy. And why not, its wines are considered to be among the world’s best, which however also puts them as some of the world’s most expensive wine.

Finding an inexpensive but good quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy can be quite the challenge. However, luckily for fans of the heartbreak grape, there are a number of other regions producing good quality inexpensive Pinot Noirs.

One of those regions just happens to be the Willamette Valley in Oregon and like Burgundy, the valley is almost exclusively known for its Pinot Noir production. According to the 2015 Oregon Vineyard and Winey Census report, the valley accounts for 82% of the Pinot Noir production within Oregon, with 14,417 acres planted. The next closest grape in terms of planting was Pinot Gris at 2,463 acres.

However, there are noticeable differences between the two regions, most notably is the fact that Pinot Noirs from the Willamette valley tend to be somewhat more fruit forward than their Burgundy counterparts. This is most likely due to the different soil conditions between the two regions and the differences in climate.

Now when I mentioned other regions making inexpensive Pinot Noirs, I didn’t mean to indicate that wines coming out the Willamette Valley are necessarily cheap, because they are not. A good quality Oregon Pinot Noir is most likely going to run you $35 – $50, which may seem steep to a lot of folks. However, when compared to a Grand Cru Burgundy, which can start at $50 you can see where an Oregon Pinot Noir might be considered quite the value.

Given what I know about Oregon Pinot Noir, I tend to be skeptical when I see them for less than $25/bottle. So when I first tasted the 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir, I was quite impressed by the character shown in this wine, especially at a $20 price point.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir
Oregon – 2014 Underwood Pinot Noir

Right off the bat, I picked some intense notes of cherry and raspberry on the nose, along with a slight floral  note in the background. In comparison to other Pinot Noirs, I found the aromas for this wine to be quite a bit more pronounced and up front. In the glass, the wine showed a clear, pale, ruby color.

Underwood 2014 Pinot Noir in a glass

I found this to have a slightly more structured body than a lot of other Pinot Noirs, there seemed to be a slightly more tannic presence along with a finish that just seemed to linger longer than usual. There was also delightful acidity to the wine that helped to give it that slight boost in the body.

On the palate flavors of black cherry and cranberry coupled with vegetable notes. Interesting note on the flavor of the wine, while writing up my tasting notes, I happened to read the back of the wine label that highlighted “cola” as one of the predominate notes of this wine. As soon as I read cola, that was all I could taste and think of.

Back of the label
2014 Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola

I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine, it showed much more complexity than I was expecting especially at its $20 price point. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after reading up on the history of the winery. According to the wineries website, the winemaker Ryan Harms, set out to make a Pinot Noir that was accessible but not expensive.

A good indication of this desire is shown in the wineries newest offering, their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rose, and sparkling wine in a can. I’ve yet to try the Pinot Noir in a can but the word from friends and associates is that it’s pretty good and shows very similar to the Pinot in the bottle.

At the end of the day I can confidently say that if your hunting for a good quality value Pinot Noir, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Underwood Pinot Noir.

Cheers,

LB

New Review: Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache

I have a wine problem!

I’ve fallen into a tendency lately to focus on only a few select wine regions when it comes to tasting, buying or drinking wine. When reviewing my tasting notes from the last couple of months I noticed this trend. A quick peek in the cellar confirmed my suspicion.

Perhaps calling it a problem is not accurate, but it is a concern. If you limit yourself to wine from only certain areas, you run the risk of missing out on some potentially great wine being produced elsewhere.

A perfect example of this is the 2012 Old Vine Grenache from Yangarra Estate Vineyard from the McLaren Vale region of South Australia. I don’t tend to drink a lot of wine from Australia not because it’s not good, but just because it’s not a region I tend to think of.

So when I got the chance to sample some of this wine a while  back I jumped at the opportunity. This was possible a chance to add a new wine and a new region to my repertoire. I was impressed enough with I had tasted to pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard - 2012 McLaren Vale Grenache

 

Yangarra Estate Vineyard.

The winery is in the McLaren Vale region which is located on the southern tip of South Australia near the city of Adelaide. It sits on the eastern side of the Gulf St. Vincent and tends to benefit from a Mediterranean style climate with abundant sunshine and cool evening breezes.

The first vines were planted in the vineyard in 1946 and originally the grapes grown were used by local winemakers to beef up local wines from surrounding wineries.
In 2000 the vineyard was purchased by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke (Jackson Family Wines proprietors) and they began the process of developing the vineyard into what it is today.

The vineyard encompasses 100 hectares and is divided into 35 individual blocks. Currently, plantings include Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro, and Carignan, and white grapes such as Roussanne and Viognier.

The Old Vine Grenache vines are located along the western side of the vineyard, in sandy soil with a layer of clay underneath. The sandy top soil acts as a reflector for the daytime heat but also releases heat captured during the day in the evening.

The vines are freestanding, with no support system or wires, allowing the fruit to spread out evenly and to allow greater airflow.

In keeping with a desire for quality, the grapes are handpicked and received via a belt elevator. They are then destemmed and sorted, the tubs of whole berries are tipped into open fermenters in an effort to avoid maceration.

The grapes are cold soaked for up to 6 days and allowed to undergo wild fermentation. Finally, the wine is put into old French barrels for 12 months prior to blending.

2012 Old Vine Grenache

Right off the bat, the first thing you notice is the color of this wine, a deep burgundy color with just a slight ruby rim. Upon the first pour, you notice right away aromas of cherry which slowly give way to notes of plum and bay leaf. After the wine had a chance to breathe the cherry notes started to change to almost a black cherry like aromas. Also, the bay leaf faded to the background and was replaced by a slight leathery note.

Red Wine

Taking the first sip, I noticed right away a significant acidity to the wine, it had quite a mouth puckering effect with a somewhat tannic almost harsh finish. I let the wine sit for about 15 mins before I tried it again and that had a significant effect on it. That initial acidity was replaced with a smoother almost velvety feel in the mouth and was able to pick up some flavors of white pepper, blackberry and plum.

The longer the wine sat the better it got, that original harshness faded and the flavors and aroma really started to open up. This is definitely a wine that will benefit from a good long decanting, allow it to breathe and mellow before serving.

All in all, this was a good wine and I quite enjoyed it. It might even get me to take a peek down that Australia aisle once in a while.

Cheers,

LB

Traversing the Okanagan Valley: The Beginning

In 2011 my wife and I decided to take a trip out to Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, specifically the city of Kelowna. As part of that trip, we went on a wine tour. It was the first time I had ever been to a winery and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Right away I was hooked, I was immediately interested in the whole process. From growing the grapes to harvesting them to turning them into wine.

We came back out to Kelowna again in 2012 and 2013, both time with the intent on visiting as many wineries as we could. We took a break from the area in 2014 & 2015 but decided to return to the Okanagan again this July.

Instead of visiting Kelowna this time, we decided to head a little further south to Penticton and Oliver. We had a great trip, visited a number of amazing wineries, drank some fantastic wine, and conversed with a lot of passionate and knowledgeable individuals.

wineroute
Which way to the wine?

The Okanagan Valley

The valley itself is one of 5 provincially recognized wine producing regions in British Columbia, with the others being: The Similkameen Valley, Vancouver Island, The Gulf Islands, and Fraser Valley. There are several other emerging regions that are starting to develop a name for themselves, but these are the five predominant regions at this time.

It begins around Kelowna and stretches for over 250 km south towards Osoyoos and the US border. The valley accounts for almost 80% of the total wine production within BC and includes over 170 wineries with over 8,000 total acres of vines.

The valley is divided into a number of local regions and as you travel south through the valley you’ll run into these regions along the way. It’s these small regions within the Okanagan Valley that make it such an interesting wine and winery destination.

The sub-regions are:

  • Lake Country/Kelowna
  • Peachland/Summerland
  • Penticton/Naramata
  • Okanagan Falls
  • Golden Mile Bench
  • Osoyoos

Each region is blessed with its own unique micro-climates and soil conditions. Some areas benefit from cool breezes that blow in from nearby lakes, which help to offset the summer heat. Others receive the benefit of excellent irritation, the result of vineyards planted on hillsides.

soil
Soil type examples at Le Vieux Pin winery.

The different benefits that come from the different climates and growing conditions have reflected the diversity of the different wines being produced within these regions. I’ll use Pinot Noir for an example, you’ll find examples of Pinot Noir being produced from each of these regions. But, what you’ll also find is that the Pinot Noir is different from each region. Not different in a bad way, but simply different based on the growing conditions.

You may find a Pinot Noir produced in the Summerland region to be light bodied with quite fruit forward. While in Oliver you may find the Pinot Noir to have a heavier body with spicier notes and less fruit forward. Then if you were to try a Pinot Noir from Naramata you might find it is somewhere in the middle.

 

Our Trip

The Okanagan valley has a tremendous amount to offer. There’re several lakes for boating, swimming, and water sports. Beaches for family outings or to sit and relax on. Fruit farms and orchards dot the highway throughout. It offers great hiking and biking trails, as well as numerous campgrounds. The valley also boasts a number of music festivals throughout the summer.

For me however, it was all about the wine. This was my chance to visit some of the wineries I had been hearing about for some time now.

Yet, I’ve only just broken the surface of what the valley has to offer in terms of wine and wineries. Of the over 170 wineries in operation, I’ve only visited roughly 20% of them. I’ve still got some work to do.

Since we spent a lot of time in the past in and around Kelowna, we only focused on the Penticton/Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, and the Black Sage Bench/Osoyoos areas.

In total, we spend about 3 & 1/2 days exploring these three areas and it wasn’t even close to being enough. It was extremely difficult deciding on which wineries to visit and where to go. I relied heavily on recommendations from folks on Twitter and from articles I found on online.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll go into more detail about the regions we visited and what they have to offer.

Cheers,

LB