Willamette Valley’s 2008 Pinot Noirs looked golden from the start. Weather that year was ideal: Cooler-than-usual temperatures for most of the season helped preserve acidity and keep alcohol levels moderate, and harvesttime saw sunny skies and moderate temperatures that prevented overripeness. A smaller than usual crop led to intense flavors.
In my three decades of reviewing Oregon Pinot Noir, the dazzling 2008 vintage produced more out-standing ratings (90 or more points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) and more classic ratings (95-plus) than any year before it. I rated the vintage 96 points, topped since only by 2012.
A decade later, it was time to re-visit the several dozen 2008s stashed away in the temperature-steady cellar of our Napa office.
They are doing even better than expected. Tasted blind, 17 of the 32 bottles I reviewed scored higher this time around, some by as many as six points. Ten more scored exactly the same or within one point of its score on release. Tannins too firm for the flavors knocked four wines into the “very good” range, 85 to 89 points. Three had suffered from faulty corks and were not reviewed.
On release, the hallmark of 2008 was vibrant, ripe, fruit-centered flavors that played against alcohol levels mostly in the low-to-mid 13 percent range, a full percent lower than other ripe vintages. After a year or two in the bottle, tannins began to show a firm presence. That waved a caution flag for those looking for polish and suppleness. A decade on, those tannins are not an issue for most of the wines in this tasting. Nearly all the wines show the vitality and freshness of younger wines while developing the savory nuances of age.
All this is especially true of the top-scoring wines in this lineup, both at 97 points.
Supple, seductive and expressive, the Soter Yamhill-Carlton Mineral Springs Vineyard layers red fruit flavors with caramel notes as the finish lingers effortlessly against polished tannins. It has gained in harmony and completeness since its original rating of 93 points.
“The 2008 vintage is a benchmark,” says Tony Soter. “It has all the salient Willamette Valley characteristics and none of the jammy, warm weather flavors, [with] the character one might expect from wines with pretense to pedigree.”
The Maysara Pinot Noir McMinnville Estate Cuvée’s mineral notes cut through blueberry and cherry flavors, with fine acidity balancing a finish that just doesn’t quit. The wine has achieved a lovely sense of density since release.
“There were no extremes of weather in 2008. We could let the grapes hang on longer without compromising sugar levels,” says Naseem Momtazi, referring to the fact that a long hang time can increase alcohol. Momtazi handles marketing for her family’s Maysara winery and Momtazi Vineyard, planted in 1998 and 1999.
This was only the third vintage for Matzinger-Davies, the husband-and-wife team of Archery Summit’s then-winemaker Anna Matzinger and Rex Hill winemaker Michael Davies. Today their 2008 Willamette Valley bottling is a smooth-textured, open-weave rascal, offering juicy dark plum, boysenberry and smoke notes, with honeysuckle and wet slate hints emerging on the finish. Its 96-point showing reflects the extra depth gained since its 92-point score on release.
Also at 96 points, the Evening Land Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard outperformed its original 92-point rating. The vineyard’s signature stony minerality cuts through dark plum, blackberry and clove flavors, gaining momentum as the finish persists. It has fleshed out beautifully from the light and zesty wine it was on release, then overshadowed by ELV’s higher-priced La Source and Summum bottlings (which were not available for this tasting).
The Elk Cove Willamette Valley Mount Richmond (95) and Penner-Ash Yamhill-Carlton Shea Vineyard (95), both from sites in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, show suppleness and seductive textures and flavors, with the presence and stature to let mature flavors flourish for years.
The Elk Cove, from the winery’s largest estate vineyard (180 acres), layers black cherry, plum, floral and mineral notes. The Penner-Ash, from select blocks in the large Shea Vineyard, planted in 1989, offers cherry, pear, paprika and floral flavors, a sanguine note adding complexity on an open texture.
Several bottles under twist-off closures showed impressive development along with pristine flavors, including three magnificent beauties. The Argyle Eola-Amity Hills Nuthouse (95) delivers a sense of transparency to its gentle guava, raspberry and pear flavors. The Chehalem Dundee Hills Stoller Vineyard (94) expresses currant and savory character, gaining depth with each sip. And the Benton-Lane Willamette Valley First Class (94) packs currant, plum and toast flavors in a seamless package.
Bottles like these create the overwhelming sense that not only have these wines improved, they have years ahead of them.
Editor at large Harvey Steiman has been with Wine Spectator since 1984. ■