Source: Victor Panichkul Wine in the Valley, Statesman Journal
I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical when I heard that Wine Spectator had given a $12 Oregon pinot noir an 87 points and named it to its Global Values list in the Oct. 15 issue.
I resolved then and there that I had to taste this wine: Underwood Cellars 2011 Oregon Pinot Noir.
Whenever I hear or read about good values in Oregon pinot noir, the price bar that people usually measure the value by is $20 or less. Finding a good Oregon pinot noir at $15 is like finding a needle in a haystack. And calling around and searching on the internet, finding a good Oregon pinot noir at $12 is like searching for the holy grail. I actually got some laughs at the other end of the phone when I made a few calls last week to ask if some very large wine stores in Portland carried any Oregon pinot noir at $12.
One of the reasons why Oregon pinot noir has difficulty competing with California pinot noir on price point is that the weather in the Willamette Valley, our primary wine-growing region, is so unpredictable and makes it a much more difficult of a proposition to grow pinot noir grapes, which have thin skins, than wine growing regions in California, where, like Southern Oregon, the weather is warmer and there is more stable weather in early spring and fall.
Another reason is that a majority of our wineries are small and just don’t have the economies of scale that some of the California giants do. When the top three California wine companies (Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation) in 2011 produced 150 million cases, it makes the numbers from the top three Oregon wine producers (King Estate, 12th and Maple Wine Company, Wine by Joe/Dobbes Family Estate) pale by comparison for the same year at 536,200 cases. Those were the statistics published based on research by Wines and Vines and Oregon Wine Press.
But Union Wine Company, which makes Underwood Cellars, Kings Ridge and Alchemist, is quickly establishing itself as a winery that’s bucking the perception that you just can’t find an affordable decent wine made in Oregon. According to its founder, Ryan Harms, the company is all about making accessible and affordable wines in Oregon without having to sacrifice quality.
When I tried to find the Underwood 2011 Oregon Pinot Noir listed by Wine Spectator, I ran out of luck and had to settle instead for a bottle of the 2012. Both were priced at $12.
According to information provided by Union Wine Company, the Underwood Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir is sourced from a variety of vineyards in the Willamette Valley and the Umpqua Valley. For 2011, 60 percent of the grapes came from the Umpqua Valley and 40 percent from Willamette Valley and the wine was aged 7 months on 15 percent new French oak. For 2012, 90 percent of the grapes came from the Umpqua Valley and 10 percent from the Willamette Valley and the wine was aged 8 months on 15 percent new French Oak.
The 2012 that I tasted had a spicy aroma with notes of plum and the taste fruity all the way through the end with flavors of raspberry and cherry and a hint of vanilla. If you like fruity pinot noirs, you’ll like this wine. Most of the fruity pinot noirs that I’ve tasted start out dry in your mouth and their fruity flavors bloom mid-palate and then fade, but this wine tastes fruity through and through to varying degrees. We had this wine with a Morrocan-style barbecue pork and it tasted wonderful. It would be equally well paired with tomato-based pasta dishes and roast chicken.
The wine is very drinkable now and would age well for a couple of years, but I’d encourage you to buy what you can if you taste it and like it because at this price, it can’t last long. You know the saying: “All good things must come to an end.”
Victor Panichkul is Passion Topics Editor and an Oregon wine lover. Contact him at Vpanichkul@Statesman Journal.com, (503) 779-4463, at Facebook.com/ WillametteValleyWines and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.