Friday, June 11, 2010

Oregon’s Anne Amie Wines Display Finesse and Flair

Thomas Houseman may have moved on to a new vocation, but the former professional dancer’s skills are used almost every day as winemaker for Oregon’s  Anne Amie Vineyards.

“I’m still dancing, but now I’m making wine,” explained Thomas during a recent Wine By the Glass Pavilion tasting at the Toledo Museum of Art. He was a modern dance artist and although his career turned into something different, the sensibilities of a dancer are evident in his wine.

“As a performer, you never know what is going to be thrown at you,” he said. “It is the same with harvest.”
A solid foundation and good balance are needed to be a successful dancer. Houseman’s wines at Anne Amie display the same traits.

The firm foundation is rooted in the vineyard’s favorable geography, located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA within the renowned Willamette Valley growing region. The district encompasses not only volcanic soil, but sedimentary soil as well as the crescent shaped growing area nestles against the Chehalem Mountains.
The Anne Amie lineup shows a great balance. Although known for sensational Pinot Noirs, the whites are unique and entertaining. We began with a 2009 Muller Thurgau. Most people haven’t heard of the grape, but in the 1970s, it was very much in vogue and was the number one grape in New Zealand. It is flowery and acidic and bears a resemblance to Riesling.

The Cuvee A 2009 Muller Thurgau comes from vines planted in 1979. It was refreshing, dry with delicate traces of lemon and apple.  This was a great surprise.

l'iris We were ready to dive into the acclaimed Pinot Noirs, but Thomas’ praise for the Pinot Blanc sent us into a different direction. “I enjoy reds, but 75 percent of the time I drink white. With reds you really have to commit.”

The 2008 Pinot Blanc is aged “sur lees” (on the skins) to give it a richer body. It is then aged in French oak for 18 months. This is an enticing glass with vanilla and pear flavors. It has a long finish and shows a delicate sophistication.

It takes much finesse to make a great white. “There is nothing to mask, you can see it all,” he said and gestured to the glass walls of the Glass Pavilion. With reds he said you can’t see everything, but if you make a mistake with a white, there is no place to hide.

Showcasing his reds, he commented, “Pinot Noir is really made in the vineyard. The goal is to let the soil show.” He likes soft tannins with an acidic backbone. He is a blender, working with 10-year old vineyards that are that not intrinsically special. The dancer’s art comes through as he blends from different vineyards, blocks and barrels.

We sampled three Pinot Noirs and found Anne Amie’s reputation as a stellar producer of Oregon Pinot Noir  to be well deserved indeed.

The Cuvee A Series 2008 Pinot Noir is outstanding with juicy black cherry flavor notes and a long finish. At only $24 retail, this is a great glimpse of what Pinot Noir should be.

My favorite Pinot was the Classic Anne Amie 2007 Pinot Noir (Winemaker’s). Thomas opined that the vintages that the media likes are too obvious. He prefers years that allow the beautiful terroir to shine through, as in the ‘07 Pinot. It has a great acidity, nice earthiness and a balanced flavor. It had highlights of red raspberries and cherries and tannins that played a supporting role. I could have sipped this all evening!

We wrapped up with the grand finale, the 2006 L’iris Pinot Noir. Only 100 cases of this reserve wine are bottled. More than 300 barrels of Pinot are tasted and the best become L’iris. Thomas became winemaker in 2007, so he inherited this wine. 2006 was a hot vintage and this is more of a dark fruit, fruit forward glass.  L’iris retails for $84. It’s an enjoyable wine, but missing the lightness I savor in Pinot. While the other Pinots dance in ballet slippers or tap shoes, this one has a heavy pair of wingtips.

Thanks to the choreography of Thomas Houseman, the wines of Anne Amie get a standing ovation.
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