A look back at some great wines

It's a great time to reflect on some of the wonderful wine experiences of the past year, from Willamette Valley pinots to Applegate zinfandels to releases from Spain, Italy and Portugal. Let's explore just the tip of this enological treasure trove:

  • Oregon pinot noir. Continuing its stunning success in 2011 was the 2008 pinot noir from the Willamette Valley. I have been selling wine in Oregon since the summer of 1980 and remember only two vintages with such profound fruit as 2008: 1983 and 1985. Wine writers, professionals and commercial judges around the world agree this vintage is profound. The list of stunning releases goes on, such as Shea Cellars, Cristom and Domaine Drouhin, to name just a few. 2008 was and continues to be a great ride, and I urge you to give this vintage a try — especially if you have yet to experience Oregon pinot noir at its best.
  • New releases from the Applegate Valley. Turning heads are the zinfandel and dry riesling from Troon, the marvelous merlots from Deavitt and the award-winning offerings from Bob Denman at Slagle Creek.

The highlight of the reds from this area was Slagle Creek's 2007 claret, which won a gold medal and Best of Show at the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. I was one of the commercial wine judges at the event, and the claret was the super star against more than a hundred competitors. This is a world-class wine with grapes grown in the Applegate Valley.

I have written about the fine efforts at RoxyAnn with the talented John Quinones at the helm. Its new release, the 2009 petite sirah "port," is one of the great treats in dessert wines.

Wines from abroad. We saw some very reasonable and superbly made red and white wines in 2011 from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Argentina. For less than $15 were lovely examples of such venerable grapes as malbec, tempranillo, nero d' avola, grenache, syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. I was pleasantly surprised by the very clean white releases as well from Spain, Portugal and Italy.

I firmly believe the $10 to $15 wines from abroad constitute the best values in wine today. The winemaking has become very close to first-rate with the old nemesis of microbial problems nearly vanished. The increase of quality in this price range in the past 10 years has been incredible. It was not long ago that there was more than a little risk in buying lower-end wines from across the seas as well as in the United States.

I think we will see an explosion of fine wines from family-owned producers this year, both here and abroad. I predict the dollar will get stronger as the euro weakens, and as a result, imported wines will become more of a bargain. This will be good for the consumer but not for the American producer. I have seen the trend before in my more than 40 years of retailing wine, and I think we are at the edge of such a turnaround.

With the wonderful viticultural practices as well as what is happening in the cellars in both the New and Old world, I predict better wines for the dollar spent across the globe. A great future lies ahead for all of us.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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