Wine Review: 2009 Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir

9 01 2012


One of my favourite labels in recent memory, and a great bottle to boot.

As I mentioned last post, although buying and drinking Burgundy is my top mission for (at least the first half of) 2012, in order to go about it the right way and actually learn something, I’m going to be deferring much of my Burgundy tasting/writing for a few weeks while I source wines and firm up a drinking plan.  Since I tasted a 2009 Bourgogne Rouge last week, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to follow it up with what is effectively its New World equivalent:  a 2009 Pinot Noir from Oregon, from the Burgundy-inspired rising stars at Evening Land Vineyards.  Even though Evening Land’s first vintage was in 2007, less than five years ago, it has quickly gained attention and critical acclaim for its lineup of true-to-the-land wines from the classic Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  I had known them as an Oregon producer (I tried two of their Oregon Pinots in WSET class) and was quite surprised to discover that they actually make wine in 4 different Pinot/Chard heartlands around the world:  Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills, and Burgundy itself.  While I’m sure that other wineries must do this too, I can’t think of another one off the top of my head that produces wine from different countries under the same name and label.  Colour me intrigued.

Evening Land is a great post-Burgundy review choice for another reason:  they group and classify their various wines in quasi-Burgundian fashion.  I outlined last week that Burgundy wines and labels are hierarchically classified based on the grapes’ region/sub-region of origin, going from largest to smallest in terms of surface area.  At the low end of the spectrum are the wines coming from the largest area, basic Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc that can be sourced from anywhere in Burgundy.  These are followed by village wines (from vineyards surrounding a particular village), then single vineyard wines ranked Premier Cru or Grand Cru based on the quality and history of the vineyards in question.  While these designations don’t exist in Oregon, Evening Land does something similar with all its wines, which it evidences by label colour:  Blue Label wines are their regional bottlings, their “base Bourgogne”; Silver Labels are their village wines, sourced from smaller areas within their Blue Label regions; Gold Labels are their Premier Crus, from high-quality single vineyards; and White Labels are at the top of the heap, similar to Grand Crus in terms of the quality and distinctiveness of the source vineyard land but different in that they’re generally from specific sub-sections of the Gold Label vineyards instead of wholly separate areas.

This particular bottle, although a regional blue label, is still from a fairly localized spot:  the Eola-Amity Hills sub-region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  The Willamette, which spreads out to the immediate southwest of Portland, is by far Oregon’s most famous and established wine region, and in the last couple of decades certain parts of it have stood out enough to merit their own AVA (American Viticultural Area, the name of formal wine appellations in the US) designation; Eola-Amity Hills, which is right in the centre of the Willamette, due west of Salem, earned this distinction in 2006.  OK, I promise I’ll get to the wine now, but sometimes a bottle needs a good introduction…in wine appreciation, context can be everything.

Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (Seems sort of clumsy after the elegance of the label. No need for a font change, guys.)

The grape making up the Blue Label was plain to see as soon as the wine hit the glass, as Pinot Noir’s textbook transparent but rich ruby colour was on full display.  The best way I can describe the nose is “red”:  an ocean of red fruit starting with raspberry and moving to sweet cherry (maybe even cherry Nibs) and strawberry, with intriguing background aromas of eucalyptus, linament, vanilla and dill/celery.  While perfectly pleasant, it did not prepare me for the tidal wave of electricity that immediately hit home on the first sip; the wine was just imbued with a sense of instant energy that almost made it vibrate on my tongue, like liquid Pop Rocks.  Even after I swallowed I could feel it pulsate and linger…crazy cool.  This inner life was tamed and contained by a delicate sense of balance that resulted in a wine that was deft and fairly light-bodied, but still fleshy; it didn’t taste thin at all, but it also didn’t taste overdone and jammy.  It treaded that fine Pinot line that too often is either avoided or crossed in bottles of this varietal, making it a fine middle ground between Old World austerity and California opulence.  It displayed an exuberance of fruit that still marked it as a New World wine, but also featured a clear streak of minerality on the finish that kept it from going overboard.  Just like the nose, I got big strawberry and cherry flavours on the palate, as well as darker fruit like saskatoon berry, capped off with a touch of cedar, a touch of caramel and baking spice, and even a little lime, all kept in check by persistent but gentle tannins.

Oh, and did I mention that it was freaking delicious?  I’m not a huge Pinot Noir guy, but this one is VERY easy to come back to for another glass.  I also bought a bottle of Evening Land’s “village level” Silver Label Pinot (both available in Calgary only at MetroVino on 7th Street and 11th Avenue SW), which I was told amps up the complexity and shows better after a little age; after tonight, I’m looking forward to it more than ever.  If I ever needed confirmation that Oregon has found its signature grape, I just drank it.

90- points

$30 to $40 CDN



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