V I N T A G E S 2 0 1 8 - 2 0 2 0
This year, I have had the privilege of tasting over 600 wines from all around Oregon, mostly in the Willamette Valley, while reviewing and writing about several hundred of them. Oregon continues to stand out as one of the best places in the world to produce age-worthy, thought-provoking, and absolutely delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that competes on the world stage. I hope you find my recommendations useful, and as always, you can reach out to me directly if you have any questions, want recommendations, or just to say hello (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Most of the Oregon wines I tasted were from the 2019 vintage, which was a much cooler vintage than the hot and dry year of 2018. The grapes tended to have thinner skins and a higher juice content, and there wasn’t a rush to pick through harvest. Some of my favorite wines are from the cooler vintages in Oregon, like in 2011, so I am very excited to see how these gorgeous wines age over the next 10-20 years.
Unfortunately, the 2020 vintage from the Willamette Valley was a devastating one to say the least. Most wineries didn’t even attempt to make Pinot Noir, and those that did had a tough go during fermentation. Unfortunately, most of the Pinot Noirs are not great (some are good) and feature a flabby palate, lack of depth, scorched earth notes, and a dissipating finish. It’s not to say that some wineries did not find success with the vintage, with Domaine Divio being a standout on their 2020 Pinot Noirs. Most consumers may not notice much difference between vintages, but be aware these Pinot Noirs need to be enjoyed now as they will not age well, and there is a potential for more smoke taint to become evident with time in the bottle. The upside is that 2021 is looking like another captivating vintage with wines that will be ready to drink immediately upon release. My wife Taylor and I tasted through about one hundred barrel samples, and we were shocked about how great these wines are developing.
Luckily for all Oregon wine lovers, the 2020 white wines and some white Pinot Noirs are showing incredibly well and could be some of the best Chardonnays the valley has seen in years. This all depends on when the fruit was picked, but for the most part, they remained unscathed. Feel confident in buying and cellaring a vast majority of the 2020 Chardonnays from the Willamette Valley, and I believe you are going to love them.
I have always told people in and out of Oregon that the Willamette Valley is great for Pinot Noir, but it is exceptional for Chardonnay. In almost every tasting, the Chardonnays pulled me in, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go. There is just something about the terroir and weather of Oregon wine country that creates remarkable wine that will eventually place Oregon Chardonnays on par, or ahead of, the best Premier and Grand Cru Burgundies.
The best examples show wonderful purity of fruit, stony minerality, amazing aromatics that explode from the glass, tension throughout, and a finish that goes on for minutes. They are that good, and a few producers are knocking it out of the park. Some of the best examples included Chardonnays from Domaine Divio, Domain Drouhin, Domaine Serene, Antica Terra, 00 Wines, White Walnut, Morgen Long, Audeant, Bergstrom, Cristom, and Hazelfern.
Moving to the Pinot Noirs, the 2019s are leaner, more linear, and have a touch more acidity and balance than the 2018s. There is a lovely purity of fruit that drives the core of the wines and just enough tannin structure to keep things interesting. If 2018s were too big and bold, and the 2017s were too tight and lean, the 2019 Pinot Noirs are going to be right up your alley. Some of the best examples that we tasted were from Domaine Serene, Shea, Bergstrom, Antica Terra, Hazelfern, Audeant, Cristom, White Rose, Alexana, Sunu, Haden Fig, and Evesham Wood.
Let’s not forget the incredible progress that Oregon has made with sparkling wine. More and more wineries are producing some sort of sparkler made in the traditional method, and they are getting better and better each year. Some of the bottles that see extended tirage are over a decade old and will be delicious for another 1-2 decades. The standouts are Lytle Barnett, Soter, Argyle, and Corollary.
OUTSTANDING PRODUCERS & SPECIAL RECOGNITION
Winery of the Year - Cristom
Boutique Winery of the Year - Hazelfern
Sparkling Program of the Year - Lytle Barnett
Winemaker of the Year - Maggie Harrison of Antica Tera
Winery to Watch - Hundred Suns
Winemaker to Watch - Seth Long of Morgen Long
Most Beautiful Wineries with Great Wine - Alexana, Domaine Serene, Resonance, White Rose and Open Claim