Sometimes really good things happen. In the early hours of the morning a few weeks ago I lamented on the loss of my wonderful red Burgundy collection, swiped from my (ex-)cellar based in Morey-Saint-Denis. A lovely Oregon winemaker, Toddy Hamina, asked if having some wine to review would cheer me up. I was so touched by the offer it felt like someone had kneed my depression in its rude bits and made it collapse in terminal pain.
A few weeks later six bottles arrived fresh from Biggio-Hamina vineyards. They are all from McMinnville American Viticultural Area. This is entirely within the Willamette Valley and is the only AVA that is defined by the elevation of the vineyards. They all have to lie in the elevated strip of marine sedimentary and volcanic soils. It is excellent that such precision is being applied to AVAs.
The Biggio-Hamina wine that we tried first was the Youngberg Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir. This was fermented with 47% whole clusters and was not subjected to any new oak. The vineyard is dry farmed and Toddy says:
If you want to get into the nitty gritty of things I would wager it falls into the realm of “natural” – whatever the fuck that means.
“Natural” maybe, but he does use some sulphur dioxide, which pleases me, but he tries to use an absolute minimum, which pleases me even more. I am also incredibly charmed by his capsules:
Is not that lovely? The top of the cork has a little cornflower (I think) motif on the top of it too.
Trying an Oregon wine from a small producer is an incredible treat; so few make it to UK. Whilst my frame of reference for Pinot Noir is Burgundy, I am more than happy to explore the qualities of what is obviously the best red grape variety from other parts of the world. Huge thanks, Toddy!
Youngberg Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Biggio-Hamina Cellars
This is really lively and energetic on the nose, the fruit effulgent with life and vigour. Christ, it is lovely. There is also a character there that is Burgundian in style, but very different in aspect.
That being said, if someone poured me a glass of this blind and asked me to identify it I would give it a sniff they say, with incredibly smug self-confidence, Lafarge Volnay Vendages Selectionee 2012.
How wrong I would be! A taste would show that the tannin/acid/fruit structure is radically different from a Volnay. And yet, that structure very much gives me a sense that it is a product of where it was grown – it was not cooked up in the winery.
His minimal invention strategy, which is also used by most of the top Burgundy producers I know, really allows the quality of the vineyard to shine through. I would not call Toddy’s wine natural, as it is too good, but it is a transparent expression of the vineyard – and by arse it is a serious piece of land!
The fruit is very scrumptious, ripe and energetic, giving it a solid medium bodied character that has quite nice refinement. There is a good amount of acidity too, it is a lively little number.
Unlike the unspeakable Lafon red we tried recently, this has good, crunchy tannins. The elements of fruit, acid and tannin are in excellent harmony. It is a distinctly impressive combination of flavours and textures that really engage your palate and give you something to think about as you race your way through this delicious wine.
All too often when tasting US Pinot Noirs I have had appalling, overwhelming, soupy fruit bombs that have been ripened to buggery and fermented to wild levels of alcohol. As such they are completely anonymous (as well as being disgusting) – Toddy’s wine comes from a specific plot of land; you can smell that and feel it in the structure as you swirl it around you mouth.
I can only see one real problem with this wine, and I do not think it is a problem as such, more a character of the wine in the style it is made. I suspect you will want to drink this within the next 18-24 months. If Toddy wanted to, bottling this with a screwcap would keep it in its energetic, exciting state for three years or more.
But there is no need to do that, there is no shame in drinking wines young, especially when they provide such an exciting, compelling experience as this one does. It is certainly not Volnay, but it has as much of a regional character to it as a Lafarge does.
Toddy made 104 cases of this and it sells for $40. For such an undoubtedly fine, and really quite rare, wine, this is a real bargain. Go to the Biggio-Hamina website and see if there is any left!