The Battles between the Dundee Hills and Russian River!
I don’t know about you, but I love The Voice and never miss an episode! Last month at the Amsterdam show Wine Professional I organized my own battles! Even though none of the wines needed to go through any blind auditions, I put similar wines of two wineries which I both admire next to each other to compare them in front of a wine show audience! After the ‘taste-off’ they had to choose only one to advance..
That was incredibly difficult, as I had chosen two favorite European producers with wineries at the coastal American Northwest: Drouhin from Burgundy and Torres from Penedes.
A few remarks to start with. For those who haven’t been in neither California nor Oregon: despite Oregon’s reputation as America’s world-class chardonnay and pinot noir region, the state makes a shockingly small amount of wine compared to its mammoth Southern neighbor, California. In terms of climate: Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a distinctly continental climate while Russian River and Sonoma have moderate, maritime climates. Even compared to California’s foggiest vineyards, Oregon sees less sunshine than most Californian AVAs, which forces the grapes to ripen more slowly than in other areas. The soils in the Russian River and Sonoma are really very diverse, where Dundee Hills has a distinctive, red volcanic soil with marine sediments.
In style: the mild climate makes Oregon Pinots usually lighter in color, and more delicate in structure (more acidity, less alcohol and some earthiness). Sonoma coast Pinots, which ripen easily thanks to California’s constant sunshine, tend to be darker in color, richer, denser and have riper, darker fruit flavors. But that’s the theory.
For a great side-by-side comparison, we tasted Drouhin from the Dundee Hills next to Marimar Estate in Russian River. Both have been championing the grape in a restrained, Burgundian style that by the way has become synonymous with the Pacific Northwest.
We started off with the Acero Chardonnay of Marimar Estate, the 2016 vintage from the Don Miguel Vineyard in the Russian River. Acero is the Spanish word for ‘steel’ so this represents an unoaked version, from See, Rued and Spring Mountain clones on rootstocks 3309, Couderc and 101-14. The resulting wine is pure and fruit driven with impressions of stone fruit, peach, apricot, yellow apple and lemon grass on the nose with a round and pure flavor and refreshing acidity. I love Acero as it shows the (slightly exotic) varietal character of Chardonnay from this part of California (TSW89).
Battle of the Chardonnays!
In this first battle we compared Marimar Estate’s La Masia, Single Vineyard Don Miguel Vineyard to the Domaine Drouhin Oregon Arthur Chardonnay. Both vintage 2016.
DDO’s Arthur Chardonnay is named after Veronique’s son Arthur and is a blend of 50/50 ageing in barrels and stainless steel. Dijon clones. Arthur combines the minerality of Chablis with the depth of Puligny -if you will. The oak is restrained and the body is elegant. Great balance, good length, restraint style in every sense (TSW91).
The organic La Masia Chardonnay from the Don Miguel Vineyard of Russian River in contrast is richer, fuller, definitely more Meursault or Chassagne in style with more buttery notes, tropical fruit including pineapple and apple pie but also some floral, jasmin notes (TSW90).
I personally tended in preference to the DDO more lean and mineral style, but the wine show audience who tasted along in majority voted for the La Masia Don Miguel Chardonnay from Marimar Estate!
Battle of the Pinots!
The second battle was between the DDO Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2015, and the La Masia Pinot Noir from the Don Miguel vineyard in Russian River from 2016.
The DDO Dundee Hills Pinot delivers restraint cherrie and plum notes, balanced oak and great mouthfeel (whole cluster fermentation?). It is silky in tannins yet has a distinct freshness (orange peel) and hints of clove in the long finish (TSW91).
The La Masia Pinot Noir from Marimar -again organic- is richer, darker in colour, fuller bodied although still with lots of finesse, spices, plum and kirsch, chocolate and mocha, seductive (TSW92).
Although it was a close call my wine show audience again chose the Marimar wine to win this battle!
Battle of the best!
Marimar’s Mas Cavalls Pinot (Sonoma Coast) against DDO top Pinot: Laurène.. What a battle!! Both reserve style wines showing much more complexity, depth and finesse at the same time. Both exceptional wines, silky, yet structured, with abundance of red fruit, mainly cherrie, plum and fig, some nutty tannins, ripe and smooth. The Mas Cavalls a bit more muscular, spices, exotic and oaky (TSW94) than the more restraint, slightly more mineral style of the Laurène..(never more than 20% new oak here) (TSW94).
For me personally too close in quality to chose, although stylistically they are really different. However, my wine show audience (again) went for the Marimar Pinot!