This year, it is not only Oregon that is waiting for sunshine, but the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, as well. Fortunately, in Dry Creek the grape growers can wait for more sunshine. So far, though, one vintner described it as not only the worst vintage of the decade, but of many decades past. In the Willamette, where we met up with the Toveys on our way home to Seattle, the chances of catching up seemed grim. We will return to Dry Creek, but first I want to tell you about the The Pinot Underground.
If you have the bread it is easy to buy the big names in Oregon, but almost all of us are spending half of what we used to on a bottle of wine. Oregon has a reputation as a place where you can hardly get a bottle of Pinot for under twenty-five dollars and very little else for less than that price, too. But if you hunt and peck, you can find some great wine below that price point. Not everything in the underground is that inexpensive, but it is almost uniformly excellent wine.
Let's start with Panther Creek which is definitely above ground for everyone to see with a tasting room that is open virtually every day. Ken Wright, maker of Oregon's only "cult" wine, started here, but he has since moved on to God -like status at his two wineries in Carlton. His wines can be heavenly and it used to be that you could only obtain them by getting on the mailing list for which there was a long wait. Now for about $360 you can buy the minimum six pack of Pinot at the Tyrus Evan winery where he sells his non-Pinots from other Oregon wine areas such as Walla Walla. When I tasted four of the 2008 Pinots, I most liked the Canary Hill and Carter wines. These wines are not just above ground, they are in the Au Dela, in outer space, sometimes in terms of quality and definitely in terms of price. I you get on the mailing list you will be required to buy two six packs. I think the current mailing list price comes to $55 a bottle. You had better be a nasty banker or stockbroker to afford this one. BTW, Ken's Celilo Chardonnay is a fabulous wine with great minerality for about $30 a bottle and your don't have to fork over for a six pack
Panther Creek, on the other hand, offers vineyard designate wines at $30 to $50 a bottle and you don't have to buy a six pack. Not only that but they are on sale! Winemaker Mike Stevenson and Assistant Winemaker Bill Hanson make a half dozen vineyard designate wines and virtually all of them are superb. The 2007 Winemaker's Cuvee* is medium bodied and quite fruity - an excellent buy at $25 on sale. The 2007 Verde Vineyards* is also on sale at $25, while the Vista Hills*, Freedom Hill*, and Shea Vineyard* are all on sale at $35 and all are one swallow or one star wines, a score of 90 in Parker parlance. These wines have great fruit, bigger than medium body and are sure to please you.
Now, if you really want to go underground ask the very able Kendra if you can cop a few bottles of Stevenson-Barrie Pinot. Winemaker Mike makes this wine under his own label. While you can't taste it in the tasting room, trust me, it's great stuff. The 2007 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir** initially seemed well balanced with a nose of tobacco and leather. Over the course of four days it just kept getting better annd better - round softer, cherry smooth and cool. Initial note - OMG, WOW! The 2007 Freedom Hill** was bigger with an initial nose of smoke and leather. Over four days, the nose evolved into mint, herbs, cedar, and black fruit. This one could age for ten years, while the Shea will probably get better over another four years at the least.
In the same underground den, the other wine making denizen of Panther Creek Cellars, Bill Hanson, offers up four more beauties.The '09 Libra Pinot Gris is very crisp and fresh with a citrus nose and lemon/vanilla flavors. In the Italian Pinot Grigio style, it is the perfect oyster wine for under $20. The 2008 Willamette Pinot Noir** comes from the Eola Amity Hillls AVA and was fermented with the native yeast of the grapes. You might expect a wild thing, but in fact the wine is light and easy with fabulous black cherry fruit. The beautiful color is seductive and leads you right into nose of black cherry, forest and mushrooms. WOW! Definitely a couple of swallows and two stars and only twenty bucks. The 2008 Mystic Vineyard* is also in the Eola Hills. The brilliant garnet color is satisfying in itself. While there is little or no nose, this fairly big wine tastes of cherry, blueberry and plum. It was an amazing match with pate. Another swallow for this one - a great bargain at $25. Finally, 2008 Momtazi Vineyard* - fruit and licorice in the nose, spices, cinnamom, strawberries and cream in the mouth with lots of structure and backbone. This is a keeper if you want one for the cellar though it tastes great right now. Only $35 for such a big wine. BTW, it's biodynamique and sustainable, too.
These are all fabulous wines. Impress your friends with your impeccable taste and ability to cop rare wines at reasonable prices. Screaming Eagle move over. To order Panther Creek, Stevenson-Barrie or Libra wines, call or email, Kendra, Mike or Bill at 503-550-1963 or email Kendra@panthercreekcellars.com. Twitter @panther_creek or Kendra @winesentry.