Seven of Hearts – Part Two: Exploring Burgundy and Pinot Noir
Today we’ll explore four different Pinot noirs which we tasted in their Carlton tasting room with owner and wine maker Byron Dooley. As mentioned, Byron’s focus is to create wines that reflect the old-world French styles of Pinot noir from Burgundy. So let’s start by briefly exploring this famous French region.
First and foremost, I love maps, and this is a useful one showing most of Burgundy.
Divided into five major districts - Chablis (not shown above), Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais – you’ll find mostly Chardonnay and Pinot noir being produced. Gamay is grown as well, but primarily in Beaujolais, famous for those bright red, bubble-gum first wines of the year released in November. Chablis and the Mâconnais are renowned for their Chardonnays, but you’ll also find Chard alongside Pinot in the Côte d’Or (meaning golden slopes) and Chalonnaise. The terroir of any of these regions is characterized by many things including the climate, weather, soils, and growing conditions.
The climate of Burgundy is classified as continental and the region experiences harsh winters and hot summers. Weather is largely moderated by the range of mountains to the west, the Massif Central. This range offers protection from inclement weather leading up to harvest season. Regarding soil you’ll find predominately calcium rich clay, lime based marl, and granite. Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Gamay are focused on these respectively.
Vineyard location is a driving force behind these wines, and over the centuries they have been bought, sold, bequeathed, and divided. For this reason, much of the wines are produced by co-op cellars or négociants who accumulate smaller plots from owners and combine their harvests under one label. Naming convention reflects where the fruit was sourced, and varies from region wide Burgundy AC, to Districts, and Communes. This is comparable to how we indicate Oregon wine versus that from the Willamette Valley or from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.
Focusing on the Pinot noir, wines possess rich fruit characteristics in youth (strawberry, cherry, plum) and are considered age worthy (some 15-20 years!), allowing more complex floral, smoky, vegetal, mushroom, earth-driven attributes. Because Pinot noir is a thin skinned grape it is sensitive and difficult to grow. Also, with low tannin levels, stems are sometimes included in vinification to give additional structure. The region’s climate is responsible for a wide range in quality year after year. We’ll see this and more plays an equally large role in Oregon Pinot noir at Seven of Hearts.
2007 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Appearance: Clear, pale strawberry red to clear rim
Nose: Clean, light intensity, cherry-vanilla, light earthiness
Palate: Dry, light body, medium-low acid, short finish, light cherry cola/cough syrup, rhubarb, strawberry
This was the first Pinot noir Byron poured us. It is a blend of two different vineyards from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. One vineyard is from the southern end and planted on Nekkia soil, and the other is located at the northern end of the region planted on Saum soil. It definitely is lighter in style but had almost a sweetness in the fruit flavors. There was a nice balance between the fruit and the oak, though the finish was not extremely long given lower acidity and tannin.
2008 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Appearance: Medium-pale cranberry red to clear rim
Nose: Clean, dark fruit, ripe cherry, smoky – like cured meats, soft spiciness
Palate: Dry, medium-low tannin, dark cherry, medium-low alcohol, strawberry, spice, subtle finish
This is the same AVA as previous wine, though the quantities from the two vineyards are slightly different given the harvest. With more of a smoky character this wine offers a little more personality than the 2007, perhaps because 2007 was not seen as a great vintage? The fruit was a bit more intense, and it was an interesting comparison between the two vintages. As a side note, Byron pointed out that more cluster fermentation was possible in this vintage, which may have helped impart some of the more smoky characteristics on the nose.
2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley AVA (Eola-Amity Hills and Yamhill-Carlton)
Appearance: Clear, medium-pale cranberry to clear rim
Nose: Clean, medium intensity, cranberry, cherry, vegetal, red fruit
Palate: Dry, medium body, medium alcohol, medium-low tanning with soft grip, full red fruit, cherry, raspberry, ripe strawberry, medium-light finish
Though this wine is labeled as being Willamette Valley Byron informed that the fruit was only soured from two vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA and some from his Luminous Hills Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton AVA). Given state wine laws however, you cannot list a specific appellation/vineyard name on your wine unless a certain proportion comes from that location. Additional tannin gave this bottle a little more structure, and I could definitely see it aging well. Probably the best balance between fruit and vegetal/earth attributes.
2007 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills AVA – The Cost Vineyard
Appearance: Medium-pale, cranberry-amber color, slightly faded rim
Nose: Clean, earth, dark fruit, bold aromas, toasted, medium high intensity, caramel, cooked milk and sugar
Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-low tannin, smoky, spice, light red cherry, cranberry, soft finish
The last Pinot noir in this flight (though we’ll have two more featured tomorrow which are estate grown, second labels) this bottle is soured from a particular vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Presenting a nice balance between fruit, earth, and oak this wine showed some really interesting characteristics (the caramel especially).
I think each of the four wines we sampled here definitely pay homage to the classic wines of Burgundy – fruit and earth, finesse and structure. Though I also think they exemplify the beauty of Oregon Pinot noir – offering easy to drink, fruit forward wines that are not bold or over the top. Pinot is a delicate but fickle grape. However it does well growing in both the Côte d’Or and the Willamette Valley, where wine makers are working to reflect the best wines they can. Seven of Hearts is doing a good job striking a balance between old and new world.
Ryan Reichert is originally from Northeast Ohio and recently relocated to the Willamette Valley where he works as the Tasting Room Manager at Trisaetum Winery in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. He has received both his Intermediate and Advanced certifications from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and is also a certified French wine enthusiast and Spanish Wine Educator. Ryan strives to learn all he can about wine and to share his passion with everyone. You can read more of Ryan’s work at http://www.oe-no-phile.com where he posts about many wine related topics.
About the Author: Ryan Reichert
Ryan Reichert is a Portland-based wine writer and educator. Enthusiastic about sharing the best of Oregon wines with everyone. Creator of Northwest Whites, focusing exclusively on Pacific Northwest white wines. Managing editor for "Palate Press: the Online Wine Magazine, an international wine publication.