Wine Review: Cloudline Pinot Duo

2 03 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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OK, yes, I totally had a glass of the PG before taking this picture.

The flourishing Pinot Noir vine of Oregon’s wine history is largely rooted in a man named David Lett, the founder of Eyrie Vineyards, the first person to plant Pinot Gris in the United States and the trailblazer who cemented Oregon’s place as a safe haven for Burgundian varietals.  Known as Papa Pinot, Lett entered his 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir in a prestigious 1979 blind tasting competition in Paris called the Wine Olympics, which featured hundreds of entries from around the world.  Absolutely nobody outside of Oregon in 1979 thought of it as a wine region, let alone a globally competitive one, but that started to change when the Eyrie Pinot placed in the top ten, beating many top Burgundies along the way.

One person who noticed the result was Robert Drouhin, third-generation head of Burgundy’s renowned Maison Joseph Drouhin.  The following year, unbeknownst to Lett, Drouhin set up his own Burgundy/Oregon rematch, pitting Eyrie Vineyards blind against a field of some of his top wines.  The Eyrie Pinot came in second in the group, just a hair behind Drouhin’s legendary 1959 Chambolle-Musigny.  As if that wasn’t feather enough in Oregon’s cap, Drouhin then proceeded to buy the cap too.  He visited Oregon, noted that its cooler, more temperate climate was a more welcoming environment for Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than neighbouring California, had his daughter Veronique come work harvest with the Letts and others in 1986, then purchased land himself in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills to grow the Pinot that had impressed him so much.

FullSizeRender-244At the time, the Dundee Hills were virgin territory for grapes, but they have become central to the Oregon wine scene.  In 1988, with Veronique Drouhin as winemaker and Robert’s son Phillipe as viticulturist, Domaine Drouhin Oregon produced its first vintage, and in 1989 they built a permanent winery facility, where they remain a fixture in the state.  The Drouhins’ display of faith in this nascent Pinot and Chardonnay region gave Oregon a dash of instant credibility, a Burgundian blessing that underscored the promise of the land.

That’s one of my favourite wine stories.  Why tell it here?  Because Cloudline Cellars is a Famille Drouhin venture, established as Dom. Drouhin Oregon’s standalone entry-level second label in 2002 by the family and its US importer.  Cloudline is a negociant label, meaning that it sources grapes from growers across the Willamette Valley as opposed to using only Drouhin estate fruit, but Veronique remains as consulting winemaker, and the US Pacific Northwest features numerous grower-owned but winery-free vineyards of remarkable quality.  In an indirect way, the bottles below are proof of Papa Pinot’s lasting legacy.

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I’ve been drinking Cloudline wines for a while, because Oregon’s one sore point as a wine region is its difficulty in providing value-priced wines ($25 and under), which this label was specifically set up to address.  They are as good as anyone in the state at tackling that issue.

2013 Cloudline Pinot Gris

I am inherently suspicious of Pinot Gris, partly due to my deep dislike of all things Pinot Grigio (same grape) and partly due to the fact that it seems to be the North American wine region questionable default white of choice all too often.  This one, however, rocks.  A pale, almost waxy, straw colour, it is shockingly aromatic for what is all too often a muted grape, launching bright lime, sweet pineapple and floral aromas out of the glass along with hints of bergamot, cantaloupe and a touch of muskiness, but steeled by a pervasive sharpness that is almost never a PG feature and lends sharpness to the whole profile.

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Also often lacking from Pinot Gris is a sense of intrigue or urgency on the palate, but the Cloudline came to play with an immediate raciness that captured my attention.  Lemon drop, orange zest, quartz, honey and anise flavours spin and twirl on the tongue, but the stoniness and acidity on this wine are its most impressive qualities, elevating this Pinot Gris from a pleasant sipper to something more.  There are not a lot of $20 Oregon wines out there, but this one offers a substantial interest factor for what can often be a pretty straightforward grape.

$20 to $25 CDN

87+ points

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Combined Cork Rating: 2/10 (Actually really love the Stelvin, but the cork is almost at home-winemaking-kit level. “Oregon Pinot Noir”??

2014 Cloudline Pinot Noir

This is the only entry-level wine duo I can currently think of where the white release is older than the red release.  Pinot Noir is without question the hardest grape to do well inexpensively, and the degree of difficulty is increased in Oregon, which produces great juice, but almost always at a price.  This one is a beautiful transparent ruby and is intensely perfumed, in a juicy, almost candied, New World way:  sweet cherry and Nibs candy hit the nose first, followed by raspberry, milk chocolate and spice, with wisps of underbrush struggling to crack through the glossy exterior.  The texture of this Pinot is probably its apex, soft and lush yet light and energetic, a tricky balance of pillowy mouthfeel, buoyant fruit and grounding acid.

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Red and blue fruits predominate the palate, swirled in with black pepper, Scotch mints, Nerds, cinnamon and dust.  It comes across as a little bit disjointed and a little bit put together, a delicious if not totally harmonious effort.  Still, it’s a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from a top-flight producer for $25, which is basically the Tooth Fairy; for its price point, point of origin and pedigree, it flies.

$20 to $25 CDN

87 points

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