By Nicholas Harary
Customers ask me all the time, “Which American pinots most resemble Burgundy?” The answer is easy, Oregon.
There are general similarities: First, the best wines on either side of the Atlantic are rare. Second, both growing areas, although separated by thousands of miles, are more or less on the same latitude lines. So, the weather is similar, generally, much cooler than California, with a longer growing season which gives time for grapes to develop those secondary characteristics in wine.
These secondary aromas and flavors, sometimes savory, very often, are what people describe as “Burgundian.”
For me, what’s fascinating about Burgundy and the Old World in general, is the desire to focus on a deep sense of place. It doesn’t matter if it is wine, cheese or chicken, almost anything you eat in France is labeled by its geographic area. Closest thing we have are N.J. tomatoes – and we all know there is a difference!
Anyway, what’s most important to me is that Oregon winemakers are most like Burgundians because they focus on highlighting the characteristics that make vineyards distinct.
This is what I love about Oregon’s Bethel Heights – it’s so easy to taste blindly through the single vineyard lineups. Each wine is completely different, each speaking clearly to its place of origin.
When we tasted the lineup of the 2012 Bethel Heights’ single vineyard pinot noirs a few months ago, the Aeolian cuvee, I knew I found a fantastic American pinot noir.
In the case of the Aeolian, I was lucky enough to convince Bethel Heights to offer my Nicholas Wines customers an “exclusive” preview. There are only 10 cases to sell; the other few cases that will arrive later this year will be intended for select restaurant wine programs.
For me, it was easy to say yes; very few American pinots have this level of aromatic complexity and such a feeling of finesse. The wine is incredibly elegant, with racy, layered berry-fruit, wrapped tightly with fine-grained tannins, providing a smooth, fruity finish that begs for food and another sip of wine. Drink it, cellar it, this is the kind of wine that will be delicious at every point of its lifetime – true American vin de garde 2012 is a classic in Oregon, I haven’t tasted better better wines. There is a deep dark fruitiness to the Pinots but they remain tense, fresh, making me think in a few years, we all will look back and wish we bought more.
Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Aeolian 2012
Nicholas Wines Bottle Price: $48
Nicholas Wines 6-Pack Price: $270 or $45 a bottle
As one of the pioneers of the Oregon wine scene, Bethel Heights has been producing world-class pinot noir since 1977 in the windy hills of Eola-Amity. The geologically unique Van Duzer Corridor provides the only direct outlet to the Pacific in the Willamette Valley, keeping nights super-cool in the Eola-Amity Hills. Grapes take a long time to get ripe here; this slow development is what allows for the complexity and elegance commonly found in the wines of Bethel Heights. The 2012 Aeolian is an Oregon classic, with a deep, intense nose of blackberries tinged with sandalwood and a concentrated mid-palate, with flavors of black cherry and blueberry with hints of black pepper and Asian spice. The wine is vibrant and fresh, with plenty of structure making me think that it will age gracefully for a decade-plus.
Nicholas Harary is the owner/executive chef of Restaurant Nicholas, located in Red Bank. It is New Jersey’s highest-rated Zagat restaurant. Nicholas Wines is an online retail wine shop that commits to storing wine at 56 degrees and ships nationwide. Wines can be ordered by logging onto www.restaurantnicholas.com.