Wine Review: 2007 Boedecker Cellars Stewart Pinot Noir

3 08 2011

Just smell this wine once...then keep on smelling.

Oregon!  By now you know that Washington State, especially Washington State Syrah, has a big piece of my wine-loving heart, but my affections actually spread further across the Pacific Northwest, even though Oregon’s wine scene is considerably different from its northern neighbour’s.  Most of Washington’s wines are grown in the southeast part of the state, which is in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain range and is almost desert-like:  dry and hot during the day and quite a bit cooler at night.  The heat allows thicker-skinned, warmer-weather grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to ripen fully, while the nightly colder spells give the resulting wines a little restraint and keep them from becoming alcoholic fruit bombs.  Oregon is totally different, with a climate that more closely resembles what you’d expect from the northern Pacific coast (and I lived in Victoria BC for three years, so I know):  cooler, more continental, less sunny and quite a lot rainier.  The big powerful red grapes would struggle to ripen fully here, but their more delicate, thinner-skinned, colder-climate brethren absolutely thrive, especially Pinot Noir.  In my (only partially-informed) opinion and (fairly limited) experience, I would venture to say that Oregon has more promise as a Pinot Noir region than anywhere else on Earth other than Burgundy, France, the grape’s ancestral homeland — it’s better suited for the grape than established Pinot zones like California; more impressive than other up-and-coming areas like Central Otago, New Zealand or Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula, Australia; and more intriguing than long-time European growing zones like Germany or Austria.  Oregon has only been noticed as a serious wine region in the last 50 years, but its affinity for Pinot Noir has seen it gain an astronomical amount of international respect in a very short time.  It has since started branching out with some of the white grapes from Alsace, France (Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc), but Pinot Noir is its meal ticket and its justified claim to fame.  I’m not a huge Pinot fan, but (possibly because I don’t find myself drinking $150+ Burgundy all that often) Oregon’s renditions of the grape are probably my favourite.

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (A black screwtop (boo!) but with art (yay!) that's vaguely superhero-esque...not bad!)

This particular wine comes from the most well-known wine region in Oregon State, the Willamette Valley (counterintuitively pronounced with the accent on the second syllable instead of the first:  Will-AM-ette.  Go figure.), which is located just south of Portland.  The producer, Boedecker Cellars, is a husband and wife team dedicated to making traditional-style, sustainable, quality-driven Pinots (Noir, Gris and Blanc); the Stewart Pinot Noir is named after Mr. Boedecker, while a second Pinot from the winery, the Athena, is named after his wife.  The only place to find Boedecker wines in Canada is Highlander Wine & Spirits in Calgary, where the Stewart and Athena both retail for around $30.  However, I was lucky enough to show up one day when they were on sale and nabbed this bottle for $20 (note to Highlander:  do this again soon), a truly astounding price for this kind of wine.  That sound you hear is me patting myself on the back.

The Stewart is immediately identifiable at a glance as a Pinot Noir:  it has a dead-giveaway pale, transparent ruby/salmon colour that is rarely found in any other red wine.  If your glass of red is thin and light and you can read writing through it, there’s an 85% chance it’s a Pinot Noir.  And if your Pinot Noir smells like this one, you’ve stumbled on a winning bottle.  The nose of this wine was an absolute show-stopper and just made the whole bottle for me; it’s one of those noses where you get something new every time you go back to try to figure it out.  I smelled my glass at least 50 times, I got expert input from my wife, and I came up with the following mix of aromas, which is assuredly nowhere near complete:

  1. Something Fruity:  Strawberry predominates, but there’s a definite Ocean Spray cranberry juice note as well.  The fruit is the first thing that jumps out of the glass, but by no means the last…
  2. Something Tangy:  Not an overly technical description, but there’s something sharp that gives a bite to this nose; I got dill (smells like pickles!), pomegranate, and celery root.
  3. Something Earthy:  Earth, obviously, but also leathery notes like smelling moccasins, a clear floral aroma, and something like the way a pile of leaves smells in the fall…dead leafy?  Autumny?
  4. Something Medicinal:  I don’t say this at all in a bad way, but the wine smelled a bit like children’s cough syrup, or like Cherry Hall’s:  a little candied fruit, a little menthol, a little linament. 

That might all seem fanciful, but I hope that you get a chance to buy and smell this wine sometime — if you do, and if you look for it, I think you’ll catch quite a bit of this checklist.  This wine is a textbook reason why you miss so much if you don’t take the few seconds necessary to swirl and smell your wine.  How can fermented grapes end up smelling like that??

Once I actually got around to tasting the Stewart, it didn’t disappoint, although it was hard-pressed to live up to a nose that dynamic.  There was a nice mix of red fruit (with strawberry still the dominant presence) and secondary notes (mint, anise, undergrowth, and a sort of brambly mushroomy-ness) held together by slightly mellowed acidity and subtle yet ever-present tannins, drifting to a fairly long, tangy finish.

I could smell this wine for days.  Quality Pinot Noir like this doesn’t show up on shelves very often for $30, let alone $20, so if you’re near a Highlander, pop in, grab it and give it a shot, then let me know what you think.  In my pre-PnP days I tried the Boedecker Athena Pinot as well, but it definitely didn’t have the same impact on me as this one did; in this battle of the sexes, the Stewart is the winner.  Road trip to Portland, anyone?

90+ points

$25 to $30 CDN 

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27 01 2012
Calgary Wine Life: Meet Matt Browman @ Highlander Marda Loop — Calgary Is Awesome

[…] Pacific Northwest and have benefitted greatly from Highlander’s offerings of Oregon’s Boedecker Cellars and Washington’s Mercer Estates and especially Gramercy Cellars, one of the most […]

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