When a young, intimate winery reaches that point when it can host a vertical tasting, it is truly a time for celebration. That was just the case on a recent evening at Bluebird Hill Cellars in Alpine, Oregon. Together with the owners, 10 of us sat around a long table under a starlit sky to experience Pinot Noir from three consecutive vintages, 2014, ’15 and ’16. Each had its own characteristics, its own appearance and of course its own taste.
(A vertical tasting is when you experience the same wine from different vintages. They can be consecutive years or not, but they should be the same varietal.)
This magnificent tasting experience was matched with an equally exquisite seafood boil. Each couple shared a huge tray of assorted seafood, sausage, vegetables and potatoes, served oven to table, steaming hot. The wines paired surprisingly well with this assortment of rich tender morsels from the sea and created an unforgettable dining experience.
Now to the wines…. we tasted at least nine, or wait, was it ten, no wait, it was 11 different wines or at least that’s what I remember. In the first round we tasted the 2014 Pinot noir. This was the first wine Bluebird Hill distributed commercially. It was made from 100% Zenith Vineyard grapes and aged in French oak for 10 months. The wine had a ruby, translucent appearance and plenty of black cherry on the palate. We also tasted the 2014 Reserve, which stayed on oak for an additional 8 months.
2015 was the stand out vintage of the evening for me. The 2015 Pinot Noir was made from Pommard clones from Grace Hill, Walnut Ridge and Zenith Vineyards and had a depth of appearance, taste and finish that left me wanting more. The 2015 barrel select and the 2015 reserve were just as lovely. The barrel select spent more time in the barrel and was primarily Zenith and estate grown grapes, while the reserve from that vintage was 100% Zenith. It was spicy and peppery with a deep, dark inky quality. It was my favorite wine of the evening and one I will go back to again and again.
The 2016 was 40% Walnut Ridge, 40% Zenith and 20% Bluebird Hill estate grown grapes. This young, just bottled wine has great potential and is already drinkable with the promise of more to come. It has already been entered into competitions, just waiting the results.
All of this great wine was a wonderful accompaniment to a seafood feast of shrimp, lobster, crab legs, mussels, clams, corn on the cob, sausage, mushrooms, peppers and whatever else Neil could find to enhance this feast followed by simple but lovely dessert of pound cake, whipped cream and perfect Oregon berries. August is berry month in Oregon. If you haven’t experienced the ridiculous assortment of berries fresh off the bush, then you are truly missing something.
Following this very special dinner, we all followed Dr. Neil toward the vineyard to marvel at the amazing night sky. Unobstructed by city lights, the planets were distinctly visible and the stars were putting on a show. The Perseid meteor shower was a few hours from being fully visible, but the apps on our phones pointed us in the direction of the display.