2011 was a challenging vintage in Oregon, primarily from the standpoint of perception. Industry outsiders (including some critics) condemned the vintage before it was finished fermenting; after all, it was the coldest vintage AKA the latest harvest on record. It’s amazing what some of those premature judgements can do for the public perception of a vintage; 2011 was damned.
Contrary to those perceptions are the wines themselves. We’re not saying all 2011s were great, or even good. But not all 2008s were great (nor good), likewise with 2012s, and let’s not even start with 2013 and 2014. Some vintages show better upon release, like 2014, and some are more awkward and gangly than we were at age 15, like 2011. And the at-large wine public, which for the sake of argument includes most critics, tends to view skeptically cooler vintages that don’t show well early in their release schedules.
Most Oregon Pinots get better with age — not necessarily a decade, as even a couple years can make a huge difference. Ideally, wineries would hold their bottlings for a couple years and release them when they begin to shine. Great for the wine, terrible for the wineries’ balance sheets!
One of our favorite Oregon wineries, Matello/Goodfellow Family Cellars, did exactly that with their 2011 Whistling Ridge Vineyard Pinot noir. We didn’t even know it still existed (save for a couple cases in the library) until we attended a monumentally eye-opening tasting in early March. The format was Oregon and Burgundy, where Oregon was represented by Matello/Goodfellow and Burgundy was selected by Kurt Heilemann, the delightfully salty manager of Portland restaurant Davenport. Kurt has a deep Burgundy cellar and the knowledge and opinions to match. He put together four flights with five wines each: 2013 whites, 2012, 2011 and 2005 reds. In each flight, one Matello/Goodfellow wine was included. Only Kurt knew which wine was which.
A dozen of Portland’s top sommeliers and wine buyers were invited — our “task” was to identify which wine in each flight was from Oregon. It was far from easy — most tasters couldn’t distinguish Oregon from Burgundy. The Burgs were nearly all Premier Cru, and a fair bit more expensive than the Oregonian counterparts.
Andy and I were wowed by shared characteristics and also the distinctiveness of the Oregon wines. To us, Oregon shouldn’t taste like Burgundy — it should taste like Oregon. All related notions aside, it’s deeply impressive that the Matello and Goodfellow wines were of the same class as the Burgundies. That is, after all, the global standard of Pinot noir and Chardonnay.
We loved Matello Whistling Ridge Pinot noir 2011. It showed tremendously well within the flight of 2011s:
Chandon de Briailles Clos du Roi Grand Cru
Serafin Gevrey Chambertin Les Corbeaux 1er Cru
Voillot Volnay Les Champans 1er Cru
Chevillon Nuits-St.-Georges Les Roncieres 1er Cru
We opened a bottle on its own a couple weeks later, for a dinner party. We loved it, everyone loved it. A close winemaker friend called it as a 2012 Yamhill Carlton Pinot noir and boy was he surprised to find it was an ’11! Open the Whistling Ridge, let it unfurl, sip it on its own, savor it with any number of dinners. Think about how a couple years can dramatically evolve a wine and how Pinot noir puts on weight with age. This 2011 is damned good.