The Best of the 2005 Vintage

Tough Choice for Winemaker Steve Doerner

Cristom Vineyards winemaker, Steve Doerner, has been asked to sit on a very prestigious panel of winemakers and journalists at the International Pinot Noir Celebration that will be held this summer. Wine Importer and visionary, Terry Theise, and New York Times wine critic and beverage wazir, Eric Asimov, will moderate a discussion about the ‘architecture’ of Pinot Noir. The central theme of this discussion will be about experiencing a wine beyond its obvious components of tannins, fruit, acid, and alcohol. They asked Steve to present one wine from Cristom that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Steve chose 2005 as a good example of a vintage where his winemaking style is fully realized and where the wines produced have transcended his predictions. We had tasted many of these wines individually over the past year or so but hadn’t ever put them together and looked at the whole range of wines. So with the goal of choosing the ‘best’ example (something Steve is loathe to do) we convened a tasting panel yesterday at Cristom.

Quick snapshot of the 2005 vintage

The 2005 growing season was preceded by an unusually dry winter that set the stage for a dry spring where the vines were thirsty for moisture. Indeed the rains did come, in the form of dodgy (read cool and irregular) spring weather that led to uneven flowering, uneven crop set and eventually lower yields at Cristom. An ‘average’ summer with an average number of ‘growing degree days’ followed the cooler spring, leading us to harvest with all the ingredients for making classic cool-climate Pinot Noirs. The fall temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s and there were some substantial rain events that produced up to 2 inches of rain in 2 days. Vineyard manager, Mark Feltz, and his crew harvested with great precision in response to the weather. Steve was excited about the quality of the fruit from the beginning and had good expectations for the vintage.

The tasting

2005 Mt Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Mt Jeff has less whole clusters and less new oak than anything else that we make at Cristom. The wine is at a fully-mature stage, showing a decidedly old world bouquet of earth, spice, and a range of sweet spices. The wine is lively and bright on your palate with a very pleasant ripeness at the center. We liked this wine and would have enjoyed it over dinner but it wasn’t the wine we were looking for today. Drink now to 2015

2005 Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

More savory and darker than Mt Jefferson. The Sommers had red fruits and star anise on the bouquet. It had a wonderful velvety texture on the palate. We all liked this supple wine for its approachability. Drink now or hold for a few more years.

2005 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills

This wine jumped out of the glass from the first impression. It had a healthful, tonic-like quality that gave us the feeling that it could potentially be a cure for cancer. Wow, hints of goudron (French for bubbly road tar in July), camphor, and fresh red forest berries. Seriously complex on the palate with a delightful bottle bouquet coming into play in this 6 year old Pinot Noir. We all loved the wine right away. It had the ‘hints of corruption’, per Steve, that contribute to complexity in a wine. It was the wine that you love to have on your palate and really couldn’t think about spitting for fear that you might miss something. Notably persistent in the finish. Drink now or hold for 5 more years, when the color will start to fade and more secondary aromas will develop on the bouquet.

2005 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills

Darker than Eileen in color with a potpourri of sweet spice on the bouquet. It showed the purple flower and talc aromas that seem to be Jessie’s hallmark. The deep ripe fruit flavors are complex and remind me of a moist forest floor. It was rounder on the palate and not quite as complex as Eileen but it was a beautiful example of a mature Cristom Pinot Noir. Drink Now or hold for another couple of years.

2005 Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills

Deeply colored with a bouquet of mineral, earth, animal and spice. It also shows some wet stone and mineral notes. Very complex on the palate and had that extra layer we were looking for in today’s tasting. It had a brightness and vitality about it that did not give any clues about its age. The rim was still fairly dark and we got the idea that much more would be revealed about this wine with more cellar age. Marjorie was the front runner for a couple of us…but it was a tough call and in the final analysis, Steve is going to present the wine so he needs to be most comfortable with the choice.

2005 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills

Round and deep, mineral scented with dark ripe fruit bouquet. Complex but not super-dimensional like Eileen or Marjorie. Louise has fantastic mouth-feel and texture and it’s beautifully balanced with a long finish that echoes for about 2 minutes. True to this vineyard site, it was velvety and supple and would make our best ‘steak pinot’.
Drink now or hold for another 5 years to see what secondary flavors develop.

The Results

We all knew that we liked the 2005 vintage and we all had considerable experience with tasting the wines since the harvest. What surprised us was how little of their age they revealed. The wines were consistently dark and not showing garnet or brick on the edges. We got the sense that much more nuance would develop as these wines hit the 10 year mark. Yet, it would be hard to say that the wines were not very pleasurable to drink right now. Mt Jefferson Cuvee was the most advanced and was the only wine that we advise drinking in the shorter term.

Eileen Vineyard is Steve’s choice for showing this summer at the International Pinot Noir Celebration. He really liked the extra layer of flavor and he was drawn to the deep, dark, tarry aromas in the bouquet. Since we know how the tasting this summer will be presented, we set the wines in glasses for a half an hour to see how they held up. Sure enough, they did just fine and didn’t lose any nuance. We’re going to suggest that they not be decanted and they be served at ‘castle temperature’, which is my suggestion for all of our Pinot Noirs.

Tasted any of our Pinot Noirs lately? We’d love to hear from you.

Best regards,

John D’Anna

Director of Marketing and Sales