• Alexander Smith

Final thoughts on Oregon and California + My Top Wines!

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

Just over a month ago I was in Oregon and California on a whirlwind trip in search of the best wines these states had to offer. With just under 10 days to cover this large land mass, time was against me. I had a strategy though to maximize my trip and taste over 100 top West Coast wines.

In Oregon, the majority of the wineries I had on my list were located in Willamette Valley. I visited: Domaine Serene, Patricia Green Cellars, Beaux Frères and Evening Land. I picked up some other bottles along the way, and was confident of the variety of wines tasted. I focused mainly on Pinot Noir, to which I found a huge diversity, as I have previously discussed. From Burgundy, to fruit-driven to oaky, Oregon has it all. I also came away impressed by the importance all wineries were putting on the environment, sustainability and respect to the land which the vines grew on. Canned Pinot Noir? In Oregon, yes! I was expecting something horrific, yet it was surprisingly balanced with good fruit structure. One big disappointment, There was a winery who blended Syrah and Pinot Noir? It just did not work.

With the above in mind, my Top 3 Oregon wines are:

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Palissage 2017 - 96 points - I was impressed to see such a difference in the concentricity along with certain floral and deep red fruits characteristics on the nose, on the palate I found freshly picked ripe strawberries, lavender, spring herbs and forest floor, a little more earthy than other Beaux Freres sites, the palate was joyful yet with complexity and a long elegant finish. One for the cellar and probably their best bottling.

Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Coury Clone Hyland Vineyard 2017 - 95 points - One of my favourites from today's flight, quite burgundy in style yet had that Volcanic soil which gave the palate that fruit-driven yet crushed rock texture, the palate was firing on all cylinders with spicy tart red cherries, strawberries, herbs along with an acidity that was higher than normal really made this wine stood out. This really showcased the Coury clone, which is not used enough in my opinion.

Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir La Source Seven Springs Vineyard 2016 - 95 points - A classic, this Pinot is grown at the top of the Seven Springs vineyard. Bold creamy fruit fills the palate with wild herbs, crushed stones and soft tannins along with good acidity. This is a joy to drink now but should be saved for at least 5 years. Alcohol is always kept in check due to the coolness of the Eola-Amity Hills.

Oregon is a very young wine producing state, yet within 50 years it is already producing top level Pinot Noir whilst focusing on quality and sustainability.

After spending less than a week in Oregon, I was on the road and headed down to California. I travel to California around once a year, and on this trip I really wanted to showcase the different styles of California. California was put on the map during the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and has not looked back since. The variety of wine on offer is quite daunting at first, and so I decided to focus on 4 'styles': Joseph Phelps (Cabernet Sauvignon), Littorai (Pinot Noir), Ramey (Chardonnay) and Ridge (Zinfandel). These four producers really showcase what California had to offer. Compared to Oregon, California has been around for a while, and their wines are just reaching new heights, by continually challenging themselves in the vineyard, as well as in the winery. California is world-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, however the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are now being produced at a similar if not a higher level.

With the above in mind, my Top 4 Californian wines are:

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2016 - 99 points - Not to be released to the public until the 1st Sept 2019. This is a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc. The nose was explosive with lush and fresh black and blue fruits of blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry, along with aromas of black pepper, and wild herbs. The medium to full-bodied palate was gushing with those big bold and fresh fruits. Even at this stage, you know this is something special. The tannins are velvety in texture, with chocolate, cedar wood and allspice. This is so drinkable now, but wait just wait 15 years and you will be very happy you did. Best since 2002?

Littorai Pinot Noir One Acre 2017 - 97 points - My favourite of the Littorai range, this was very very lush with plush blackberries, cherries and figs, on the palate I found plenty of fresh fruit along with spice and a full yet velvety texture along with softer polished tannins and refined acidity. The finish was long and elegant. This is the highest in altitude of all of the Littorai sites.

Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2009 - 96 points - I am blown away by how well these wines age, I tasted twice from two separate bottles with both showing the same high score. On the nose there were aromas of baked fruit, burnt sugar, a little butter tart, caramel and campfire marshmallows, the palate was rich with baked fruits, sweet spices and an undertone of acidity along with a smooth smooth finish. This still has another 5 years of life. Sourced from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa-Carneros, aged in 50% new French oak for 19 months.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2016 - 95 points - Wonderful nose of dark cherry, black plum and blackberry, on the palate an array of black and red fruits along with cranberry, blackberry and bramble jam, yet this is not jammy. No this is elegant and refined. There is a little cardamon and liquorice as the fruit fades. This is rich and layered along with wonderfully integrated tannins and a smooth finish. It is not often that I get excited about Zinfandel, but this one is pretty special. I am intrigued by how it ages. A blend of 69% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane and 2% Mataro. Aged in new and used American oak for 14 months. Drink now over the next 10 years.

All of the above wines showcase the diversity which exists in California and at such a high level. I am already excited to go back, and I hope that everyone can pick up some of my top wines!

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