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Orogeny ... and Oak

Green Valley has been one of my favorite sub-appellations of the Russian River Valley AVA. It's the coolest of the RR sub appellations, and often blanketed in fog. This is California, of course, so the heat is always a factor, and while these Pinots are very California in style, those very cool (read: cold) nights and mornings temper the grapes from being overblown. The winemakers of the region tend to be extremely passionate and meticulous about Pinot Noir in particular.

A lovely and generous friend of mine gave me a fine bottle of Green Valley Pinot for my birthday last year, the Orogeny 2007, and I finally got around to popping it. It's a serious and delicious wine, particularly for the price (usually ~$35), and I very much enjoyed how it developed over the course of a couple hours. This wine displays some of at I would expect from Russian River, and in particular, Green Valley, Pinot -- really nice floral and spice aromatics, and on the palate cola, tart cherry, exotic spice, and I also tasted some orange rind with a little bit of not-unpleasant bitterness in the finish.

Also, there's the oak...

And herein lies the rub - although the oak has started to integrate into some nice cedar flavors and aromas, it is still a bit too pronounced for me. As time has gone by, my palate has begun to tire of new oak flavors, particularly, of course, new, vanilla-y, toasted French oak. And this wine (and I'd say this is true for most, if not all, California Pinots) has a fairly balanced but still definitely pronounced oak. And balanced or not, does it even need to be there? And I cannot help but wonder what the expression of this wine would be without all that oak -- maybe using less new and more older oak would let these wines really shine in a more traditionally Burgundian way (which I would see as a positive). Is the oak truly making this wine better, or is it just catering to the New World palate? 

Although most Burgundy producers also use new toasted French oak in the aging process, I almost never detect it in such a heavy way as I do with California Pinots -- and when I do, I'm not so -- ahem -- stoked: it usually means it's of a "modern style", which is a euphemism for "New World", which is a euphemism for "big fruit and toasty oak". And this is despite the fact that generally, the better the Burgundy, the heavier they lean on new oak. All the (admittedly too few!) Grand Crus I have tried have had far less detectible, or at the very least far more integrated oak than what I typically find in even the best California Pinots. I suspect the use of new oak is far more judicious in most of Burgundy. Or perhaps it's a question of just how much the wood is toasted...or which forest the wood comes from... or how fine the grain... I'm not sure the exact "why" of it -- but the nose knows.

The thing is, while I clearly no expert of the Russian River AVA, I really don't know of any RR Pinot producers who don't have a fairly heavy hand with their oak. Even William Selyem wines, for instance, usually age in ~70% new french oak. And Orogeny's website states they use 40% (by contrast, one of my favorite Oregon producers, Domaine Drouhin (which, since the family is actually from Burgundy, takes a more French approach) generally uses at most 20%. I still do really like those Russian River Pinots (sometimes they're even brilliant), and I still heartily recommend Orogeny -- but I'd really like to see what these great winemakers could produce without toasting it up so much. Unfortunately, I've seen no sign of Russian River aiming for less oakiness. But a guy can dream.

I'd love some comments here, particularly if you know of any RR Pinot makers who are less heavy handed handed with the wood

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References (4)

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    Neat Webpage, Stick to the great work. Thank you!
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    VinoRadio Wine Blog, Wine Reviews, Bay Area Wine, Natural Wine, Podcast - VinoRadio Blog - Orogeny ... and
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    VinoRadio Wine Blog, Wine Reviews, Bay Area Wine, Natural Wine, Podcast - VinoRadio Blog - Orogeny ... and
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    VinoRadio Wine Blog, Wine Reviews, Bay Area Wine, Natural Wine, Podcast - VinoRadio Blog - Orogeny ... and

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