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Another Exciting Burgundy-Oregon Alliance
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 10, 2017
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Domaine Nicolas-Jay, Yamhill-Carlton (Oregon), Pinot Noir, Bishop Creek, 2015 ($100):  When Oregon Pinot Noir producers broke onto the wine scene in the mid-1980s with their fine 1983 vintage, the wines were described as akin to Burgundies.  The likeness had to do with the rather elegant style of the Oregon Pinots compared to California’s beefier versions, the more marginal climate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and, in time, the affinity that many producers found for Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, rather than clones prevalent in California.

The entry of Burgundy producers into Oregon winemaking has perpetuated the Oregon-Burgundy association; Joseph Drouhin established Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987, for example, while Louis Jadot purchased Resonance Vineyard in 2013, and Champagne Henriot, which owns Bouchard Freres in Burgundy, invested in Beaux Freres in Oregon just this year.  Another notable Burgundy-Oregon alliance is Domaine Nicolas-Jay, whose Pinot Noirs became available last year.  The winery is a collaboration between two longtime friends and Oregon Pinot Noir lovers: Jean-Nicholas Meo of the renowned Burgundy Domaine Meo-Camuzet and American music mogul Jay Boberg.  The concept is to merge classic Burgundian winemaking with top-quality Oregon Pinot Noir fruit.  The first results are outstanding.

The current Nicolas-Jay releases are from the 2015 vintage and include a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($65) and three limited-production single-vineyard Pinot Noirs: Nysa from the Dundee Hills AVA ($90), Momtazi from the McMinville AVA (about $100) and Bishop Creek from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($100).  The Bishop Creek vineyard is the winery’s estate vineyard, and its wine is a standout in the line-up, but every one of the wines is exciting and impressive.

A salient quality of the 2015 Nicolas-Jay Bishop Creek Pinot Noir is its roundness on the palate, a structural balance so ideal that you sense you are tasting greatness.  It is a generous Pinot Noir but not dense or fleshy in texture.  Acidity enlivens its richness from within, and tannin grounds the taste, both components supporting the wine’s spherical beauty.  Aromatically, the wine is intense with dark fruit notes, black cherry and plum, as well as savory notes of warm spices, damp earth and smoke.  The wine aged in French oak barrels that were half new and half neutral, and while you can detect characteristics of oak -- the smokiness, the fine grip of oak tannin on your tongue -- you would probably not label the wine “oaky.”  Despite how impressive this wine is now, it has everything it needs to age gracefully for many years.

At the other end of the winery’s portfolio is the 2015 Nicolas-Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  At 2400 cases production, this wine is more than twenty times larger in volume than the single-vineyard wines -- and yet it is a terrific wine.  The wine’s perfume alone is worth experiencing: floral notes wafting atop black cherry fruit with hints of chocolate and rich earth.  In your mouth, red fruits come into play, tart cherry and cranberry, along with savory mineral notes.  The wine is juicy and vibrant, with enough acidity and tannin to suggest that it will improve over time.  In fact, winemaker Tracy Kendall recommends an hour or two of decanting if you are drinking this wine now.  I personally found it far more expressive on Day Two than when I first tasted it.

Both the 2015 Nysa Pinot Noir and the 2015 Momtazi are brilliant wines.  With air, the Nysa shows a roundness that’s suggestive of the Bishop Creek but it is leaner, more red-fruit driven, spicier and more minerally, as well as somewhat lighter in weight; it grows on me each time I taste it.  The Momtazi is fascinating because of the interplay of tannin and red fruit in your mouth, each jockeying for dominance.  This is the wine that’s showing the most precision and definition, and purity of fruit -- very special traits that make it my second favorite of the group.

Each of these wines represents an individualized expression of top-quality Oregon Pinot Noir. After the 2015 Bishop Creek, I rate the Momtazi at 93 and the Willamette Valley and the Nysa at 91 to 92 points.  

Bishop Creek, 95 Points