Indisputably, one of the highlights of the Wine Dine With Us team’s trip through the heart of Oregon’s main winemaking region a few years ago was our visit to Cristom. It was a visit that almost did not happen. Somehow in the planning, one of us (that would be me!) overlooked the fact that we needed an appointment. Fortunately – and as is typical in the gracious hospitality of people in the region – the tasting room manager welcomed us anyway and poured us a sampling of some of the region’s most elegant and memorable wines.
On Thursday I had an opportunity to relive a bit of that trip when John d’Anna, Cristom’s Director of Sales and Marketing, came to Gordon’s Fine Wine and Culinary Center in Waltham for a tasting and seminar on Cristom wines. John, who was both engaging and energetic, talked about the winery’s viticultural and winemaking techniques, while leading the participants through a tasting of six of the winery’s stellar offerings.
Founded in 1992, Cristom produces only 10,000 cases of their carefully-made wines annually. It’s clear that winemaker Steve Doerner has a vision for his wines and John described some of the techniques that he employs. For example, Steve uses whole cluster fermentation for a portion of many of the wines. This method adds texture and structure, and gives the wines a more interesting mouthfeel. Whole cluster fermentation is popular in Burgundy, but is not used as often in Oregon. Also, while the winery’s top wines are single vineyard bottlings, blending wines made from grapes from different vineyards plays a key role in the two Pinot Noir cuvees, as well as the Pinot Gris we tasted. Steve strives for consistency year after year in the Mt Jefferson and Sommers Reserve Pinots. John likened the blending process to an artist creating a painting and that the different wines offer more colors with which Steve can work to produce the wine he envisions.
On to the wines…
2009 Cristom Pinot Gris
Cristom’s Pinot Gris is a blend of largely estate-grown fruit from the winery’s 5-acre Emilia vineyard, with some purchased fruit blended in. Fruit-driven with plenty of Asian pear, citrus, and melon. It is rich and mouth-coating with both a steely acidity and a creamy texture resulting from having been aged on its lees for 11 months.
Retail price $19.99
2009 Cristom Mt Jefferson Pinot Noir
While Cristom’s wines have great ageing potential, I think that the Mt Jefferson cuvee is perfect right now. A blend of fruit from twelve vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley, this cuvee has raspberry, spice, tea, and mushroom on the nose and palate. Medium plus acidity gives this wine a bright vivacity.
Retail price $32.99
2008 Cristom Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir
I found the Sommers Reserve less expressive than the Mt Jefferson and any of the wines that followed. Earthy, spicy, and brambly, and less of the red fruit found in the Mt Jefferson. Very nice mouthfeel with medium acidity and elegant, velvety tannins.
Retail price $44.99
2008 Cristom Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard
The Jessie Vineyard is planted on Cristom’s steepest site. The vineyard has five distinguishable soil types, which no doubt help to imbue this beautiful and intriguing wine with complexity. Black cherry, cola, meat, and fresh herbs. Perfectly balanced acidity, tannins, alcohol, and flavor with lasting finish that leaves an impression of sweetness at the end.
2008 Cristom Pinot Noir Eileen Vineyard
An unexpected bonus at the tasting was the addition of the Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir. This fruit-driven wine was, for me, more “New World” in style than the others. A core of red fruits, with herbal and chocolate notes, it is rich, ripe, and big with a bit of flash.
Retail price $52.99
2008 Cristom Pinot Noir Marjorie Vineyard
Planted back in 1982, the Marjorie Vineyard is Cristom’s oldest vineyard. Morrell cherries, tobacco leaf, tea, forest floor, mocha, and a hint of meat. Bigger, denser tannins, very long finish, and great complexity.
Retail price $69.99
The Cristom tasting is only one of many great events and programs offered by Gordon’s Fine Wines in their Fine Wine and Culinary Center. Be sure to check out the full schedule of upcoming programs!