Oregon Wine Country: Beaux Frères

[Yesterday before we headed north into the wilds of Oregon wine country, I put 3 pounds of pork butt (or shoulder, if you prefer) and a bottle of Mexi-Coke in the crockpot.  That’s all!  For dinner we had pulled-pork tacos with chili verde sauce in corn tortillas with fresh salsa and guacamole.  It turned out perfect.  I’m definitely making this again, but maybe with Dr. Pepper or Root Beer next time.  Mexi-Coke is available in a glass bottle and is made with real sugar, not corn syrup, in Mexico.  We drank Line Dry Rye, a pale ale from Oakshire Brewing Company in Eugene, OR.  After a day of wine sometimes one embraces beer.  And a nap.]

Our first stop was Beaux Frères just outside of Newberg, Oregon, surrounded by the Dundee Hills to the south, and the Chehalem Mountains to the north and east.  I had been here before in 2010 during a Spring Break trip, and was looking forward to tasting their wines again.   When I was studying for my certified sommelier exam last December, my friend Amy came over to pour a blind taste test for me.  I gave her my bottles to choose from, and I had the hardest time figuring out which varietal she picked for my glass.  Pinot Noir can sometimes be identified in the glass without having to be tasted since their appearance reveals a lot just by looking–they tend to be light-bodied, gossamer wines that show off like rubies that can easily be seen through.  It was the Beaux Frères 2009 Willamette Valley “unfined and unfiltered” release that I couldn’t identify.  The wine was full-bodied, voluptuous, and nearly brick red in color.  It threw me for a loop.  It was so lovely.  Most Pinot Noir is often lost on me because my personal preferences tend toward more integrated, lush, earthy and full-bodied wines.   They tend to whine too much with antiseptic tartness that puckers the mouth like rhubarb and cranberry cooked without sugar.  It is not my favorite varietal.  But that 2009 Beaux Frères was marvelous in its robust elegance.

Beaux Frères approaches wine in an Old World way using organic, biodynamic practices that make for consistently elegant Pinot Noir coming from Marine Sedimentary soil.  They don’t irrigate, and the biodynamic changes the vineyard manager has implemented since 2002 has greatly improved vineyard health to achieve this hands-off approach to wine-making.  2011 was a remarkably cool growing season with bunches not being picked and pressed until November.           The 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with fruit from six different vineyard sites has great clarity and vibrant red jewel tones.  Raspberry, cranberry and ripe cherry drive the fruit forward with freshness that cleanses the palate with abundant acidity.  From the same year, the estate vineyard Pinot Noir has a more savory profile with darker fruit and more earthy characteristics.   The same great acidity makes pairing this wine interesting with a great variety of foods.  Thanksgiving dinner is often the go-to obvious choice for Pinot Noir, but savory pork dishes with berry chutneys, roasted fowl seasoned with autumnal herbs, and grilled wild game meat would be well served with the cleansing acidity of these two wines.

Comparing the 2009 summer growing season which was much warmer to the 2011, you can begin to see the clear differences in the integration of heavier fruit and the complexity that comes with riper sugars.  Riper fruit equal higher sugar levels which consequently causes higher alcohol as those sugars are converted.  The weight of this wine on the tongue creates a lovely warm heat that echoes the bounty of a warmer growing season.      This wine doesn’t have the bracing acidity of the 2011 vintage, but it still has great balance of complexity with the addition of floral  notes.  Dried and fresh violets, roses and earthy shrubs complement fresh and dried fruits:  cherry,  currant and cranberry.  I get a waft of barnyard–iron mineral, leather and herbal dust–which I love in my own Old World kind of way.

A little age on the bottle lets one predict the evolution of these wines over just a few years to a decade or longer.  Especially the 2011 vintage wines which are young and vibrant with those great acid levels make for great cellar potential.  In the 2008 Beaux Frères, floral and forest-floor notes come forward to balance tart raspberry and black currants with structure, tannins and minerality.  Expect later vintages to catch up and reveal greater complexity like this wine is doing now.  Even this wine could take a little more time before it reaches its full potential.

Beaux Frères translated in French means brother-in-law.  Interestingly enough the partnership of in-laws include Robert Parker, Jr. and Michael Etzel who purchased the property, a former pig farm, in 1986.  Robert Parker does not write about or review Beaux Frères wines in the Wine Advocate, but his stylistic preferences can perhaps be detected in the wine itself.

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