Wednesday Wines – Episode 51

Episode 51 – 17th March 2021


Two magnificent wines this week – one white and one red, both debuts, which are up there with the finest wines I have ever tasted from Oregon.  These wines are absolutely brand new and these vintages are sure to move fast.

I first met Jean-Nicolas back in the late Eighties and early Nineties when I was invited to attend the annual Méo-Camuzet lunches, by the great John Hutton at Fields Wine Merchants.  Back then I was consulting to Bibendum Restaurant and we had the most incredible wine cellar, with a marvellous collection of Méo-Camuzet wines.  Each year we gathered to taste the new vintage of Jean-Nicolas’s celebrated releases followed by an incredible lunch with yet more gems to savour.  It seems like a different era, and it was, tasting stellar wines whose prices today have sky-rocketed such that only the super-rich can afford to buy them but, back then, even I could afford to buy a few cases each year.  Long lunches were commonplace, it was great fun and pretty serious, too, and it was at these prestigious events that I encountered the most revered buyers from the finest wine merchants in the land.  I understood how lucky I was to be a part of these elite gatherings, particularly as I was only in my early twenties, and I am pleased to say that I often speak to many of these people these days in the course of my writing work today.  By contrast, I had never met Jay Boberg until a Zoom tasting last week when we tasted these two wines and they blew my palate away!

Background – an extract from the website (do have a look because there is a lot of useful reading to be found here) – Nicolas-Jay is the story of a three-decade friendship between famed Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo and visionary music entrepreneur Jay Boberg, and their shared love of Oregon Pinot Noir.  It is also the story of their desire to build something lasting together while creating a distinctive expression of great Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. At Nicolas-Jay, this is achieved by applying viticultural and winemaking experience gained from working with the Grands Crus of Burgundy to the finest grapes from Oregon.  This includes fruit from the older vines of Nicolas-Jay’s own organically farmed Bishop Creek Vineyard on the hillsides of the Yamhill-Carlton appellation, as well as grapes from other top Willamette Valley vineyards, including Nysa, Momtazi, Hyland and La Colina.  From this fruit, Jean-Nicolas, Jay and talented Associate Winemaker Tracy Kendall make alluring and expressive wines that convey the special character of Oregon Pinot Noir.

2018 Nicolas-Jay, Bishop Creek Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, USA £105.00,

Every cork in a Nicolas-Jay bottle is stamped with the expression ‘viens avec nous’ and this has never been a more accurate message for this pair of wines.  While I have tasted a number of vintages from Nicolas and Jay before I have yet to be moved to write up any of their wines.  This has all changed now because these two 2018 are spectacular.

This is the estate’s very first white wine and it is utterly thrilling. A micro-production of only 120 cases, it was made from a two-acre section of the Bishop Creek vineyard which was grafted over from Pinot Gris to Chardonnay in 2015 and I wonder whether a PG echo can still be heard in the ever so subtle exoticism in the heart of this wine?  Delicate fruit handling is key at Nicolas-Jay and this is evident in the weightlessness of this wine.  It is certainly a mouthful because you feel its presence and intensity, and if you were to put in into a Chardonnay scale of Village, Premier and Grand Cru-shaped wines it would sit somewhere in the mid-low range of the Premiers, but in terms of fruit quality and length of flavour, freshness and inquisitiveness, this wine is right up at the top of the ladder.  Only 20% new oak was used (i.e. only one barrel was new) and you can feel it, but only in a tight-grained, ultra-blonde manner and this serves to give the heady fruit a fabulous platform on which to perform.  The discreet peachiness, gentle honeyed tones and lusty mid-palate are all brought back to order by tremendously refreshing acidity and the whole experience is literally a breath of fresh air.  There are few Chardonnays with this flavour silhouette that leave you feeling so satiated and yet also so refreshed.  I googled Jay and found out that he is a legendary music executive and I have an embarrassing number of albums and CDs in my collection for which he is responsible.  One thing is absolutely certain – this wine is not a one-hit-wonder.  19/20 (drink now – 2025)

2018 Nicolas-Jay, L’Ensemble Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA £81.00

L’Ensemble, as the name suggests, is a blend that proves the theory that the sum of the parts is much greater than the whole.    It also nods, rather obviously, to Jay’s music roots, making it a rare word that combines wine and music completely.  It is drawn from a blend of barrels from Nicolas-Jay’s top organic, biodynamic and LIVE-certified sites across its Willamette Valley vineyards: Momtazi, Nysa, Hopewell, Knight’s Gambit, Hyland, and Bishop Creek, Nicolas-Jay’s estate vineyard.  Another debut label and another resounding success, L’Ensemble is, in theory, the best of the best, and yet it doesn’t seem showy, forced nor too imposing, preferring to sit back in the glass and it seemed to me to resemble the sort of flavour that one might expect if you dared to blend parcels from up and down the Côte de Nuits – not for a generic Bourgogne Rouge as some might do, but for a dangerously heretical ultra-Premier Cru blend, which I am certain doesn’t exist, but which would be good fun to try!  I suppose that L’Ensemble gives Jean-Nicolas the freedom to do just this without the Burgundy police ringing his doorbell.   I am all for making wines as good as they can possibly be, with no rules attached.  In the music world, making a supergroup often ends in failure, but if this Pinot were a band it would be Audioslave.  This rather signposts my own tastes in music, and it certainly means that I consider it to be a rare slice of genius.  I do not mean to offend Jay, but I do hope that he understands my thought process here, if not my predilection for hard rock.  In terms of the flavour, it is a soaring success with perfect-judged François Frères barrels keeping the wonderfully expressive fruit in check.  It is certainly the finest red wine made from this label to date.  18.5+/20 (drink now – 2030)