If one should ponder an American city outside of Oregon known as a hotbed of pinot noir, Birmingham likely would not come to mind.
Pinot noir’s popularity in Birmingham is largely attributable to Patty Davidson, owner of The Vintage Wine Shoppe, located on Highway 280 South at 432 Cahaba Park Circle. Patty opened her popular wine store in 1997. In 2002, after attending Pinot Camp in Oregon, she was instrumental in bringing a mini version of Pinot Camp to Birmingham.
Pinot Camp Birmingham is an indoor camping event that will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year. If a pinot aficionado, mark your calendar for the evening of Feb. 20, 2018, for the grand tasting, which is open to the general public by advance ticket purchase from The Vintage Wine Store. This past year, some 45 Oregon pinot producers poured their wines for a thirsty pinot public.
Such a following would have been unimaginable in 1966, when the late David Lett and his wife Diana were the first to plant French pinot noir clones in the Willamette Valley at their Eyrie Vineyards. Lett — aka Papa Pinot — was also the first to plant pinot gris in Oregon.
Lett’s professors at the University of California, Davis, thought the young man was foolish to plant vinifera grapes in such a hostile environment. But Lett had spent time in Burgundy, where pinot noir thrives. The climatic similarities between Burgundy and the Willamette Valley made a compelling argument for the survival of pinot noir and other cool climate grapes.
Though Oregon is best known for pinot noir, exceptional white wines made from pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer and, more recently, chardonnay are also grown.
Oregon whites are easy to love, but Oregon pinot noir — like the American political scene — offers little middle ground. One is either a devotee or a detractor.
To be a devotee, one needs a sophisticated palate. Oregon pinots are subtle. The antithesis of big bold reds, these wines are characterized by light berry fruit flavors, while at the same time exuding elements of mushrooms and a newly opened bag of potting soil.
I am not great with subtle wines, especially when tasted in mass at events like Pinot Camp. When considering such wines individually in a more subdued setting, I find middle ground between the bold reds I favor and the sometime wimpy pinots.
Such was the case when Colin M. Eddy, national sales manager for Hyland Estates, made a local stop to pour an array of wines that he had just poured for Pinot Camp.
Hyland Estates, established in 1971, is one of the earliest planted vineyards in Oregon. Now encompassing some 170 acres under vine, Hyland Estates is a critically acclaimed producer of small production, highly sought wines.
Consider the following three favorites now available locally at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Anniston.
Hyland Estates Rosé Pinot Noir 2015. $21.75. Rosé can be made from any red grape. In this instance, the red grape is pinot noir. Made in limited quantities, Alabama is the only state outside of Oregon where this wine is available. An excellent rosé full of fruit flavors I often find missing in other rosé wines. Remarkably balanced. Not overly sweet or too dry but just right. A great summer sipping wine, but also good with grilled salmon.
Hyland Estates 2015 Riesling. $19.75. A dry riesling and hands down one of the best tasted in recent memory. Clean and crisp, remarkably balanced with just a hint of sweetness to acidity.
Hyland Estates 2013 Coury Pinot Noir. $61.50. Expensive but worth the price for pinot aficionados. Coury, a pinot clone, is named for Charles Coury, who is believed to have brought cuttings from Alsace. Fruit is sourced from the oldest blocks in the vineyard for this very limited production. Translucent, deep ruby color. A delicious wine of great finesse. Ethereal but structured. More fruit forward than some pinots. Serve with roasted lamb.
Contact Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org.