Riding high

Almost everyone agrees that Oregon pinots are good. Many people think they are also expensive and some people think they are just plain too expensive.

It’s true that some consistently outstanding producers price their wines well above the norm, perhaps putting them out of reach of the value-oriented consumer. But as the old saying goes, everything is relative.

The best of Oregon can, without question, compete head-to-head with the best from Burgundy these days. So let’s take a look at the prices for some of the finest from Burgundy’s acclaimed Cote de Nuits.

All are grands crus, the highest rank granted a wine in France. That is, the individual vineyard has been awarded its own appellation of origin.

Just 28 red burgundies bear this designation, and only a few are entirely in the hands of a single producer.
As a result, wines from the same year, and essentially the same place, vary widely in price. It all depends on the skill and reputation of their producer.

Among 2010 grand cru burgundies, Bonnes Mares retails for $220 a bottle in the U.S., compared to Chambertin Clos de Beze at $260, Clos de la Roche at $170, Clos de Tart at $500, Clos de Vougeot at $105 and Le Musigny at $475.

Conspicuously missing from that list are any of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines. That’s because the 2010s haven’t yet been released.

For the interest of all but certain multi-millionaires, however, that scarcely matters. Among the 2009s, La Tache is averaging $3,000 a bottle and its big brother, Romanee-Conti, is topping out at $14,000 a bottle.

Oregon has the occasional challenging season, but nothing like Burgundy.

At harvest in Burgundy, the weather is notoriously inconsistent. And that inevitably affects the quality of the wine from year to year.

In 2010, Burgundy was beset by rains right up to harvest. Some wines turned out well, but at least half of all burgundies had to be chaptalized as a result. That is, sugar had to be added to raise alcohol level.

In 2010, it was touch-and-go right up to the end in northwestern Oregon. But as the season came to an end, a string of warm days brought full ripening, saving the season. And in any event, Oregon doesn’t chaptalize.

Looking at a dozen of Oregon’s most highly regarded pinot noir producers, it’s interesting to note how they have refused to compromise on price, as a matter of course. Here’s what they are charging for 2010s unless noted otherwise:
Adelsheim 2009 Winderlea, $105; Temperance Hill, $68; Archery Summit Estate, $150; Arcus, $100; Beaux Freres 2009 Beaux Freres Vineyard, $90; Bergström Vineyard, $50; Brick House Evelyn, $60; Domaine Drouhin Laurene, $60; Elk Cove Roosevelt, $75; Lemelson Jerome, $50; Sotere 2009 Mineral Springs, $50; WillaKenzie Terres Basses, $65; and Ken Wright 2009 Canary Hill six-pack $370, which works out to just under $62 a bottle.

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it does exemplify what top producers consider a fair price for top quality in the current marketplace. It reflects the price being paid by knowledgeable buyers who appreciate fine wine.

Of course, most of the above, like most of their competitors, offer a portfolio of wines at varying price levels. The above examples simply mark top-end pricing, the benchmark for comparison to Burgundy’s grand crus.

It shows that everything really is relative. “Expensive” is in the eye of the beholder.

An old saying has it that you can’t pick you relatives, but you can pick your friends. As it happens, you can also pick friendly Oregon pinots and be assured you’re getting a bargain, relatively speaking.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at kklooster@newsregister.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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