I make no apologies for the fact that I’m a lover of Burgundy. To generalize, the region’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays tend to have a focus and finesse defined by village-specific terroirs, subtle fruit, and moderate levels of alcohol. They are endlessly fascinating.
California has a warmer climate, and so it produces more powerful, fruit-driven wines in places like Sonoma and the Anderson Valley. These wines are often relatively high in alcohol – sometimes too high for the delicacy and grace that I look for in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. That said, there are some excellent wines of balance and restraint to be found among the California wine masses.
Somewhere in the middle is Oregon, which, after Burgundy, has become perhaps the world’s second most important region for Pinot Noir. It is emerging as a notable producer of Chardonnay as well (a number of Burgundy producers have established Oregon outposts).
I’ve thought about all of this recently as I sampled several Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, mainly from small producers that I wasn’t familiar with. While they represented a range of styles, one troubling trend is that some were too big and bold for my taste – wines from Oregon that might as well have been from California. I have thought for some time that Oregon needs to be careful of what might be called a stylistic “California creep” in its wines.
One that defies this trend is Youngberg Hill’s 2015 “Jordan” Pinot Noir from the McMinnville area. Jordan is the name of a four-acre vineyard block (and the name of one of owner Wayne Bailey’s daughters) that faces south and benefits from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean 25 miles away.
Youngberg Hill has practiced organic farming methods for 15 years and is moving toward biodynamic growing. Its Jordan Pinot Noir is a model of lean elegance, opening up beautifully to reveal tastes of crushed cherries, blueberries, plum, and earth, along with cedar, spice, and a touch of vanilla. Refreshing acidity and moderate alcohol (13.7 percent), make this complex and balanced $50 wine almost effortless to drink. We enjoyed it with roasted filet mignon with a mushroom and red-wine sauce.
Youngberg Hill also produces a first-rate Chardonnay, a relatively new addition to its lineup. The 2016 “Aspen” Chardonnay, $40, is balanced with muted oak, minerals, and notes of pear, pear skin, and touches of cinnamon and herbs.