Pro-Am Tasting Invitational: Expression 44° Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

by Jason Toon & Alison Smith

Nothing beats wine advice from an experienced taster. But what if you're just stumbling into the wine game? Wouldn't it help to get a gut-level gut-check from a n00b's gut? That's the thinking behind our new series of Pro-Am Tasting Invitational. Our first subject is today's Expression 44° Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon - 2 Pack. Alison Smith of Wine Country Connect will provide the tasting notes with actual expertise behind them, while Jason Toon will provide the (let's say) outsider perspective. We'll let you decide which one speaks to you.

Part one: Alison "TexaCali Ali" Smith says...

Tonight's Expression 44 tasting was a great excuse to cook a welcome home dinner for my main-squeeze who spent the last few weeks in the Loire Valley & Germany. Riesling is his first love, but you know what they say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so tonight's dinner was a bit more fancy than my usual Tuesday-night-after-yoga meal of bird-feed (and wine). Here's how dinner and wine went down tonight in Cali (with the game sounding off in the background of course - GO MAVS!)...

Glassware Used: Schott Zwiesel Burgundy

Expression 44, Roserock Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon (Black Label)

Decanted: 6pm, splashed hard into decanter and placed in fridge to bring down to cellar temperature

7:30pm first taste:

Color: Depth - medium -deep, Hue - crushed ruby velvet, Clarity - clear.

Aroma: Intensity - aromatic to powerful. Aromas - dark cherry & slight minerality

Taste:
Dry, medium-full bodied, lively acidity, medium soft tannins
Good balance, powerful but elegant structure
Flavors - with lively but concentrated red fruits, mineral core of iron.

Expression 44° 2009 Pinot Noir Eola – Amity Hills, Oregon (White Label)

Uncorked: 6pm, placed bottle in fridge to bring down to cellar temperature

7:30pm first taste:

Color: Depth - medium. Hue - dark ruby. Clarity - clear

Aroma: Intensity - aromatic. Aromas - wet woodsy herbs, purple fruits

Taste:
Dry, medium bodied, fresh acidity, medium soft tannins.
Good balance with flavorful intensity - very elegant
Flavors - purple fruits

9pm: Dinner was served. I chose beef over the usual pork and duck pairings for Pinot Noir. I know Oregon Pinots can most always handle a steak. In fact, one of the best filet mignon pairings I've ever had was with a 2005 Lange Estate Freedom Hill Pinot Noir at III Forks in Austin, Texas. DELICIOUS!

Tonight's Menu:
Pan Seared & Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Pinot Noir Reduction Sauce (thyme, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, organic beef broth, corn starch). Brussels Sprouts with a hit of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Baked Yukon Gold Rosemary & Sea Salt Pomme-Frites

Dessert: Époisses de Bourgogne, a cow's milk cheese made in the village Époisses found in Côte-d'Or, Burgundy. My very favorite cheese to pair with Pinor Noir. I cut a wedge at 5:58pm - before I opened the wines to make sure it would be perfectly oozing by the end of dinner. Right on! It tastes like rich butter, a hit of hay and nuts. I prefer the Roserock Pinot with this. Might have to sneak a bite of chocolate in with the other.

Wines throughout dinner and tasted again @ 9:35pm

Expression 44, Roserock Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon (Black Label)

Aroma: slightly more intense

Taste:
Dry, medium-full bodied, medium soft tannins
Good balance, powerful but elegant structure mellowed out a bit
Flavors - tiny orange peel, even concentrated red fruits, mineral core of iron, the finish now lingers on.

Expression 44° 2009 Pinot Noir Eola – Amity Hills, Oregon (White Label)

This bottle is more enjoyable to drink now.

Aroma: HUGE Intensity, floral with a big whiff of ice-box cherry pie.

Taste:
- Dry, medium bodied, fresh acidity, medium soft tannins.
- Good balance with flavorful intensity - very elegant
- Flavors - purple fruits with a blend of creamy cherry and a very smooth finish.

So, would I drink these again? OH YEAH! Both wines should be cellared for a few years. I'd give the Roserock a shot in about 7 years to experience the true elegance of this vineyard. I'm happy about this Black Tie Buy, Expression 44 Pinots from Oregon are right on their mark and would make a great addition to both new and old collections. I am sending a few out as gifts for sure! Cheers - TexaCali Ali

Part Two: Jason Toon says...

You know that feeling you get when you experience something that is clearly a cut above what you're used to, even if you can't totally articulate how? Like riding in a Jaguar with leather upholstery, or watching a ballgame from the box seats when you usually sit in the upper deck? That was my first impression of the Expression 44° Pinot Noir. While the white-label (Expression 44° Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills) and the single-vineyard black-label (Expression 44° Pinot Noir Roserock Vineyards Eola–Amity Hills) versions had their differences, each projects that immediate smoothness and complexity that says "Hey, who let this guy drink me?"

At first whiff, white-label came across as friendly and laid-back, almost shy, with a hint of something that reminded me of chocolate milk. The black-label was the more uptight, insistent, and fruitier of the two, conjuring images of angry blackberries. Since we're a one-decanter household and I didn't want to give either wine an unfair advantage, I just let the bottles sit while we inhaled our gourmet repast of broccoli and Kraft mac 'n' cheese. (Why, yes, I do have kids. How did you guess?)

After 90 minutes or so, they seemed ready to taste - and even if they weren't, I was. The white label had gotten over its shyness, proclaiming "I have tannins! Hear me roar!" That chocolate-milk lushness was still hanging around, but in the company of some woody, fruity, earthy business. If you could rip up a mulberry bush, roots and all, and wring out its essence into a glass, it would taste something like this.

Its black-label cousin, meanwhile, had mellowed out from my first aromatic impression. The air had brought out more of a plummy, cherry character, reminding me of the little dab of jam in the middle of those pinwheel cookies. Generally, I didn't find it as pushy on the tongue as it was on the nose.

Now, as I'm sure you can tell, I don't know enough about wine to know whether these two would be improved by cellaring, or how they relate to other vintages of Expression 44° Pinot Noir, or how they relate to other Willamette PNs. But I will say that on the whole, these two were much subtler and more complex than my mental image of Pinot Noir. Maybe that says more about me than about these wines, but in any case, two tongues up over here.

We hope you found at least half of this little exercise informative. See you in the next thrilling Wine.Woot Pro-Am Tasting Invitational!