The château on the hill
Part 5 of a 2006 Oregon travelogue
by Thor Iverson
14 July 2006 – Willamette Valley, Oregon
Anne Amie – The former Chateau Benoit (the name lives on via a few bargain-priced wines) is perched atop a hill of vines, with one of the most expansive views in the entire Willamette Valley. The tasting room/visitor center itself is beautiful and artfully decorated. And so, I worry. Majestic views and elaborate interior design are rarely indicators of quality wine, except by historical inertia.
We’re here to meet Craig Camp, noted Italophile and blogger, but now general manager of the winery, and we’re several hours early. I’ve told Craig we’ll arrive in the afternoon, but a quick visit to Scott Paul has left us with some time before an appointment at a nearby winery, and since we’re in the neighborhood…
Anne Amie 2005 Pinot Gris (Oregon) – Ripe pear and hints of wood, with a juicy, chewy, and almost salty broth of overripe grapefruit infused with a little bit of anise. Feels off-dry, though I don’t know if it is. Strange wine.
Anne Amie 2003 Chardonnay (Oregon) – Smoked Calimyrna fig and sweaty oak with a sweet aspect countered by bitterness on the finish. The overall impression is candied and somewhat sickly, but then I’m rarely a fan of chardonnay.
Anne Amie 2005 Riesling (Willamette Valley) – Geraniums dominate a big, floral nose, rising from a wine full of ripe apple and tangerine. It’s crisp and fun, but the finish is distressingly short.
Anne Amie 2004 Pinot Noir “Cuvée A” (Oregon) – Intended as an early-drinking, inexpensive bottling, showing slightly stale and burnt notes on the nose, though it freshens considerably on the midpalate. There’s simple plum and synthetic strawberry fruit, with corn silk and an out-of-place buttery note on the finish. It’s decent, but no more than that.
Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Fragrant with roses and lush strawberry vegetation, somewhat green in the middle, but longer-finishing than its predecessors, and showing more breadth and potential; not everything here seems to have ripened at the correct time. I’d suspect this is better in other vintages (and, as it turns out, we’ll have the chance to find out).
Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir Yamhill Springs (Willamette Valley) – Raspberry, strawberry, and charming floral notes, which turn to red plums on a bed of decayed leaves on the palate. Just a bit sweet (I suspect it’s from alcohol, not sugar), which expresses itself more positively as soft plum on the slightly overpolished finish. Almost a really nice wine, but it lacks…I’m not sure how to express it, but perhaps that extra bit of conviction necessary to carry the complexity of pinot noir.
Anne Amie 2003 Pinot Noir Hawks View (Willamette Valley) – Cherry liqueur, ripe strawberry and plum, with a nice, fresh, flower pollen finish with softness and elegance. By far the class of the bunch thus far, and a really lovely wine…as long as one isn’t overtly averse to kirsch.
Craig is out, but expected back soon, so we settle into an outdoor table with some average local cheese and a bottle given to Theresa as a conference gift; a micro-lunch (neither of us are particularly hungry, especially after a marvelous breakfast at the Black Walnut Inn, and with a big dinner on the horizon).
Sokol Blosser 2002 Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills) – Sweet plum and orange rind with a boring, flabby structure. Understuffed. While it’s never actively unpleasant to drink, boredom soon sets in.
As we sit and sip on Anne Amie’s gorgeous terrace, overlooking both vineyards and the valley below, Craig joins us, bottles in tow. We’re short on time, but it’s an enjoyable (albeit brief) overview of the Valley, the soil types, and Anne Amie’s history and philosophy. Vineyards sloping down towards the winery entrance have a rough patch in the middle (amongst a cluster of müller-thurgau), which Craig labels phylloxera and which allows him to utter the line of the afternoon: “müller-thurgau is the leading cause of teen pregnancy.” He’s also brought the single most interesting wine of our visit.
Anne Amie 2005 Viognier (Oregon) – Very floral, showing honeysuckle and peach with a pretty, flower-dominated finish. Gorgeous, varietally-true, and somewhat of a revelation.
Anne Amie 2002 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – A small dip into the archives, showing a better (and, one assumes, more representative than the ’03) vintage of the basic pinot. This is very closed at the moment, showing hefty tannin that lends the wine a fairly bitter cast, but there’s soft fruit lurking underneath the structure. Too difficult to assess at the moment.
We do a brief tour of the cellar and a nearby vineyard, with Craig pointing out one of the fundamental differences between the Willamette’s various subregions: the soil. Here, it’s the grayish-tan Willakenzie, whereas in Dundee it’s a sun-baked brick red that gives the Red Hills their name. And he does us a final kindness by guiding us to our next appointment, a destination we might not have been able to find with our fairly indistinct map. The only lingering regret is that, in our haste to talk, tour and make our next appointment, I fail to purchase a few bottles of the wines I’m most interested in. Well, I’ll make it up to them next time.
(Disclosure: wine tasting, extra wine, several opened gift bottles from our tasting, and cheese provided free of charge.)
Copyright ©2006 Thor Iverson.