Award-winning Pinot Noir puts low-key Oregon vineyard on the map
A small winery in the southern foothills of Salem recently won “Pinot Noir of the Year” honors at the Sommeliers’ Choice Award 2021 in San Francisco. New to Sass Winery? You have to correct this haste to watch post.
Sass Winery’s 2016 “Vieux Amis” Pinot Noir received top ratings from wine buyers and wine managers at top American restaurants such as The French Laundry in Yountville and Spruce in San Francisco. The jury included 12 of the 269 people from around the world who hold the title of Master Sommelier.
This year, one of the judges was David Hunter, the wine director of Tavern on Kruse in Lake Oswego. According to Hunter, wineries around the world, from Australia to New Zealand to Italy and France, entered nearly 1,400 wines in the various categories of the competition.
Was Hunter surprised that an Oregon wine won the title of best pinot?
“Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is top notch, so no. My only surprise was that I didn’t know the producer. Sass is definitely on my radar now, ”said Hunter.
Jerry Sass is the owner and winemaker of Sass Winery. He came to winemaking the traditional way: by doing something else first. Sass’s Twitter biography reads: “Winemaker, journalist, teacher – a semi-lethal combination.”
Sass’s journalistic career spanned three decades, starting with the University of Kansas student newspaper and ending in 2003 as chief of the Oregonian’s copy bureau. Along the way, he has developed a healthy skepticism that suits him well when judging wine competitions.
“I definitely watch competitions with a yellowish eye,” Sass said.
For Sass, wine should be evaluated based on how it interacts with food and whether it accurately represents the grape on the label.
“Too often, judging rewards wines that stand out simply because they are different. Varietal typicity is important to me. Pinot Noir should taste like Pinot Noir rather than anything else, ”said Sass.
These concerns are taken into account during the Sommeliers Choice Awards. Points are awarded based on how the wine will pair with a wide variety of foods, typicity, quality, value and packaging. According to the competition’s website, their goal “is to provide on-site buyers and sommeliers with a valuable reference for understanding which wines would make a compelling addition to a wine list.”
A contest that catches the attention of restaurant buyers is important to Sass Winery, where 75-80% of their wines are sold to restaurant accounts across the United States.
“You can’t argue what kind of reaction it causes. I received a few orders a day or two after hearing about the price. Sass said.
Eager to try the award-winning wine, I went out to buy a bottle of “Vieux Amis”. The trip to the cellar, located a few steps from the enchanted forest, is like stepping back in time.
The gravel road to Sass Winery is dusty and dotted with dilapidated farms and scurrying quail. The unpretentious winery structure, similar to a barn, manages to squeeze out 3,000 cases of wine per year which are rapidly disappearing. If you couldn’t see Willamette Valley Vineyards in the distance, you would swear you were buying wine in 1971 instead of 2021.
The 2016 Pinot Noir “Vieux Amis” from Sass Winery, which sells for $ 48, is excellent. It’s bursting with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black cherries, bittersweet dark chocolate, smoke, and a hint of tangy citrus that resembles white grapefruit. It is easy to see how a wine as balanced and graceful as “Vieux Amis” won over these sommeliers and wine buyers of great power.
In the Sass tasting room, I noticed four other wines that received awards at this year’s Sommeliers Choice Awards. Sass Winery’s 2018 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($ 28) and Gamay Noir Rosé ($ 20) won gold medals. Their 2015 Wild Winds Vineyard Pinot Noir ($ 48) and their 2019 Pinot Blanc ($ 22) took home silver.
So far, I have only been able to test the black gamay rosé. Last Sunday my wife and I cleaned the entire bottle while watching the triple-digit temperatures melt the garden hoses. The shivering acidity of the wine and the refreshing flavors of red cherry and peach couldn’t save the hydrangeas, but it did help us beat the heat in style.
If you are looking for a new wine adventure on a less beaten gravel road, I highly recommend a trip to Sass Winery.