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What am I tasting?

Tasting Note

Posted December 01, 2017 Sleek and polished, with lovely raspberry and fresh violet aromas that open to harmonious dark cherry, stony mineral and black tea flavors, picking up speed toward refined tannins.

And the answer is...


Varietal

This mystery wine shows a measure of delicacy and elegance, but also a refined structure that might just point us in the right direction. Let's take a look at our choices.

Syrah is first to go, which is among the darkest and most full-bodied red wines. Our mystery wine's description doesn't match up to big, bold Syrah. Carmenère too can safely be eliminated. Known for its supple berry flavors, similar to Merlot (Carmenère is native to Bordeaux, but it's rarely found in France today), Carmenère also tends to be more herbaceous and vegetal than our wine, so we can move on.

Malbec is typically known for its savory spice character, and it's another wine that falls into that big and bold category. Our mystery wine's description seems to fit a lighter style, rather than the full-bodied Malbec. Also, Malbec's fruit profile leans more toward dark berry and plum flavors.

Our final two options are Valdiguié and Pinot Noir. Valdiguié is a soft, easy-drinking, profusely fruity and aromatic wine, with minimal tannins. It's a close match, but we're looking for something with a little structure.

Our wine hits all the Pinot Noir hallmarks: It's polished, with raspberry and cherry flavors complemented by tea and floral elements, finishing with refined tannins.

This wine is a Pinot Noir.

Country

Pinot Noir has a presence in most major wine regions, and it thrives in cool climates. It doesn't have a prominent stake in Argentina, however, so we can cross that off our list first. Despite having what many would consider a cool climate, eastern Washington is also one of the world's driest wine regions: It sits in a rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, creating desert-like arid conditions. Washington is best-known for its Bordeaux varieties.

A few emerging cool climates in Chile have shown promise with Pinot Noir, particularly Casablanca, but for the most part, the country's sweet spot remains with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère.

Oregon Pinot Noir is generally known for its delicacy and elegance; it's generally considered more Burgundian in style, in contrast with the richer, more concentrated versions that California is known for. It's a tough call, but knowing that California Pinot Noirs tend to be bigger in style and our wine is more sleek and polished, Oregon is the better fit.

This Pinot Noir is from Oregon.

Age

Our core flavors point to a wine that is still in its youth, so it's unlikely that our wine falls into the two older age brackets, but there's also that tea note, typically an indicator of some age, to contend with. Let's dig a little deeper.

Most red wines see some oak aging, normally ranging from nine to 24 months. Beyond its structure and medium body, our wine doesn't give us any indication that it's been substantially oaked. But minimally oaked Oregon Pinot Noir can steer toward a lighter body and fruit profile, showing off cranberry and red currant flavors, with higher acidity and more pronounced earthiness, so we know we've seen at least a year of oak aging.

Let's take a look at recent vintages for Oregon Pinot Noir. 2012 was a tremendous year with ideal conditions, but our wine's fresh violet aromas would likely have evolved after five years. The 2013 vintage was marred by rains that turned the wines light, with uneven quality. Both 2015 and 2014, however, were hot years that nevertheless yielded balanced, excellent Pinot Noirs. Our wine is a perfect fit for either year, but knowing that the 2015s have been tipping slightly more toward elegance, our wine's polish suggest it's from the younger of the two vintages.

This Pinot Noir is from 2015, making it two years old.

Appellation

Since we know we're in Oregon, we can eliminate Chile's Casablanca Valley, Washington's Columbia Valley, Argentina's Río Negro and California's Santa Lucia Highlands.

Oregon's Yamhill-Carlton District is on the northern end of Willamette Valley, with vineyards dotting rolling hills on low ridges. The region stays warmer later in the afternoon than most other Willamette AVAs, allowing for advanced ripening.

Rogue Valley is the southernmost winegrowing region in Oregon, and generally the warmest. There are a few cool microclimates, but the vineyards, which are situated mostly between 1,200 and 2,000 feet, are better-suited for more full-bodied reds.

In Oregon, virtually all of the better Pinot Noirs come from Willamette Valley, and this wine precisely shows Yamhill-Carlton's style: mouthfilling and fruit-forward, framed by mineral notes and floral accents. The wines of the Yamhill-Carlton District tend to be deeper in color and flavor than most Willamette Pinot Noirs, but still show the nuance and subtlety of the region.

This Pinot Noir is from the Yamhill-Carlton District.

Wine

This is the Bergström Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Shea Vineyard 2015, which scored 93 points in the Oct. 15 & 31 double-issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $62 and 500 cases were made. For more on the Pinot Noirs of Oregon, see editor at large Harvey Steiman's tasting report, "Oregon's Vintage Trifecta," in the March 31 issue.

—Aaron Romano, associate tasting coordinator

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