Eclectic Oregon pinot noir: Medici

Over the past two Thanksgiving holidays, the Butter Bitch and I have found ourselves in the Oregon wine country, sampling a number of excellent wines and enjoying the scenery.

Our tour of wineries has exposed us to a number of top-flight wines and a few clunkers, reinforced our opinions of much-loved favorites, and occasionally surprised us.

Oregon's modern wine industry dates back 40 years, and along with wines the state has produced a number of eclectic and visionary people. Fortunately, the quality of their wines has matched the strength of their vision. I will look at three producers through their pinot noir over the next three weeks, tell you why you should try their wines, and tell you what makes them special.

I may write about other producers later - Adelsheim and Ponzi quickly come to mind among the old hands - but they will have to wait for our next visit to Oregon.

medici-vineyard.jpgPinot noir is my favorite among wines, for it offers complexity and pleasure unmatched by other wines. Noted critic Robert Parker has referred to pinot noir as "hedonistic," which is a good start.

First on my list is Medici Vineyards, in Newburg, Oregon. I've never met Hal or Dotty Medici, owners of the vineyards for the past 30 years, and my estimation of their wines flies in the face of my resident wine expert. The Medicis do not have a website, though their wine is available online, and they appear to be happy to let the limelight fall on others.

As with a number of vineyard owners, the Medicis do not make their own wine, but they do have an excellent wine maker in the person of Peter Rosback. Rosback makes Medici wines and wines for his own label, Sineann, in a large two-story barn on the Medici property. From less than 40 acres - the remainder are planted with lavender and riesling - Medici produces a small amount of pinot noir that sells for $20-$26 per bottle.

A person could be excused for making the mistake of assuming that the Medici wines are close relatives to Rosback's other creations. Think of them as distant cousins who share no more than an ancestor.

In 2005, we tasted all of Medici's offerings and passed on most of them, except for a light dessert riesling. The pinot noirs were blown away by the intensity of the Sineann reds, some of which were placed earlier than the Medici wines in the tasting. Our broad approach to Oregon wines during that year may also have influenced our perception.

My experience in 2006 gave me a different perspective on their wines, causing me to nudge the Butter Bitch to their table and toward specific wines. I had realized something unusual about the wines that makes them eclectic among the crowded field of contenders.

I would like to say that Medici's grapes are raised following organic practices, but I do not remember for certain, and the bottles have no indication that they are organic. Since the 2001 contains added sulfites, I assume that it is not organic.

Most Oregon pinot noirs are fit to drink for no more than five years, after which time most are not fit to drink. Medici pinots are different, in that the wines are not impressive during their first few years, but gain considerable character by their fifth year. I noticed this in 2005 with the 2000 vintage, and again in 2006 with the 2001 vintage.

Mature wines show their age with a brown tint at the edge of the meniscus - tilt your glass of wine to one side to see if if there is a faint brownness at the edge of the reddish-purple liquid. This coloration was visible on the Medici Vineyards Pinot Noir 2001 Block I, II estate wine, which I bought for $26 a bottle.

medici-2001.JPG

The block numbers refer to the sections of the estate that provided the wine. A convenient map on the back shows shows that these blocks are the two fields to the right as you drive up to the winery.

The nose offered the smell of barnyard straw in late winter, after the rains and wood smoke have come, hanging over the deep, rich scent of black cherry.

In the mouth, the wine tasted of soft fruit with a gentle tartness, a creamy honeyed berry sweetness.

The combination of smells and flavors are not new to pinot noir, but they are increasingly rare in pinot noirs from the United States, and rarer in wines of this age. The also are welcome, and I hope that as each Medici vintage reaches its fifth birthday, it follows in the footsteps of its elders.

This is the first in a three-part series.

3 Responsesto “Eclectic Oregon pinot noir: Medici”

  1. La La Linda says:

    Long an aficionado of Oregon wines, and their pinots in particular -- or at least harking back to my first trip there several years ago -- I'm delighted you're taking this task on. Tough job but someone's gotta do it, eh? I think one of the first biodynamic (and organic) vineyards and wineries was Sokol Blosser and it's a great story, well told in Susan Sokol Blosser's recent book, AT HOME IN THE VINEYARD. I love her stories of the very beginnings of the Oregon wine industry and culture, everyone meeting in someone's living room, and how there was a definite seeking of the appropriate legislation to bring this fledgling (at the time) industry into its own. And now I'll look for Medici wines as well...something about terroir, no doubt, but Oregon is THE PLACE!

  2. Man of La Muncha says:

    I have a vague negative association with Sokol Blosser, and I can't really say why. I haven't had any of their wines for several years, possibly a decade. The next time we are in Oregon, we will check them out.

  3. The Smily Red Cow says:

    I happened upon a bottle of Medici, 2000 Pinot, completely by accident (as my boss was clearing space pre-inventory...only one bottle left...someone had to take it home.) I had no idea it was made by the same guy, at the same vineyard, that is now Sinnean.

    It was really lush, but also a bit short. Just right in its pinot stinkiness, and not a hint of sourness on the back of the tongue. Really deliciuous actually. And then it just ends. I felt like it gave something up, some kind of Faustian bargain, trading complexity for accesibility.

    It was delicious, for sure. But the best thing about that wine? The sonofabitch was free.