There’s something special about Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I can never put my finger on exactly what it is, though. The region spans from coastal-setting to mountain-scape, and you wouldn’t think it would be that different from our Northern Californian Wine Country. But perhaps it’s because most wineries are small, often family-run boutiques; maybe it’s because Oregon, on the whole, is quite a young wine-producing region, unblemished by age, wear, and tear; or it could be because the Willamette, like Burgundy is located at 45 degrees latitude and that’s just the Pinot Noir sweet spot.
Whatever it is, I find that some of the most refined (most Burgundian, if you will) American Pinot Noirs come from this little pocket of the New World.
About the Winery: Jean-Nicolas Meo and Jay Boberg met in 1988 when Burgundy-born Jean-Nicolas was studying abroad in the US — and the two have been friends every since, sharing, as they say, “similar philosophies about life, music, and wine.” After graduation, Jean-Nicolas became involved in his family’s winery, Domaine Meo-Camuzet, back in France. But it was the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Willamette Valley in 1991 that truly gave Jean-Nicolas a passion for Pinot and an excitement for Pinot’s potential in Oregon. It wasn’t until 2011 when Jay, now an established co-founder of the indie record label IRS Records and President of MCA/Universal Records, made his trek to the Willamette Valley, re-igniting his passion for the grape and interest in the West Coast wine region.
So Jay decided to take the leap from music pro to winery owner, calling upon his good friend and established winemaker Jean-Nicolas to become a partner in this endeavor. In 2012 — after copious amounts of travel, research, and (of course) tasting — the two bought their first 33 acres at Bishop Creek in the Willamette Valley and officially established Nicolas Jay.
Outside of their own estate vineyard, the duo have also established relationships with vineyards from several of the Willamette’s sub-AVA’s, claiming it ensures “optimal blending potential and representation of the diversity of pinot air in the appellation.” I can at least attest, it makes for tasty Pinot (notes below).
Jay continues to learn the ins and outs of the wine industry, working alongside his friend and business partner Jean-Nicolas, who takes the reigns as chief winemaker. But the boys pay due respect to their associate winemaker, Tracy Kendall, who takes over the day-to-day operations, playing an integral part to this infant winery’s instant success.
With just 2 vintages under their belt, Nicolas-Jay is already an international name, distributing to England, Hong Kong, and Singapore as well as all over the US.
About the Wine: The Nicolas Jay 2015 Pinot Noir celebrates the team’s second vintage. The wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes harvested from various vineyards throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVA. From the high-elevations of the Eola-Amity Hills, to the cool McMinnville sub-AVA, all the vineyards that Nicolas Jay source from are biodynamic, organic, and LIVE certified.
Read more about Oregon wine and the Willamette Valley.
The wine was aged in French oak barrels (33% new; 67% neutral) for at least a year. The wine settled in bottle for 4 months before release.
Flavor Profile: Out of the bottle wafts a subtle accent of light pink fruits and ocean fog. On the pour, the Nicolas Jay Pinot Noir is a delicate shade of soft-petaled rose as it flows from bottle to glass, settling into the bowl with just a slight dusty film over its otherwise luminescent presence. Initial aromas are of dusty earth, solid acidity, but she seems shy, reluctant to open up on her own. So swirl, and sniff again.
The wine opens up to ripe strawberries lightly dusted in cocoa, and fresh roses just picked off the bush. There’s a dewyness, reminiscent of those never-ending rows of ice plants that line the Pacific Ocean. (I walk among them on this foggy-fresh day as I sniff this wine.) Move the nose to the top of the glass to find more of that floral perfume — but these flowers, too, are damp with dew, creating a more rose-water scent than full-on flowers.
On the palate the Nicolas Jay Pinot Noir is plush but thin like velvet. The tannins are present right away, but in a most delicate fashion, coating the tongue so gently, it’s almost undetectable. While the tannins maintain consistency from start to finish, the acid hits about mid-palate and amplifies to a crescendo of a heated-heart finish. Flavors include white cherry, red roses, sandy beaches, and happiness.
My unique conclusion to this wine is that it’s more atmospheric than earthy, equating itself more to its absolute presence than individual components. This is a wine to sip and swirl while you sit and stare into the infinite abyss.
Food Pairing: I hate to say this because it seems so unworthy, but I paired the Nicolas Jay 2015 Pinot Noir with a pizza (vegetarian). This wine clearly deserves an elevated dining experience — a meal fit for a fine French bistro.
But now that I’m meditating on it, I will say that because this wine is so atmospheric, it’s a wine you can enjoy without worrying about flavor and texture clashing with your meal. Opening the wine, drinking the wine, sharing the wine, that is your perfect pairing for this utterly Burgundian expression of Pinot Noir.
And the day I had this wine, I needed that experience. I needed to get out of my head and focus on something good. This was my something good. Make it your something good.
More Info: I received the Nicolas Jay 2015 Pinot Noir as a sample for review. (Cheers!) Retail: $65. For more information about Nicolas Jay and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Nicolas Jay website.
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