Monday, October 30, 2023

The Wines and Vineyards of Willamette Valley, Oregon

When it comes to wine, I am a terroirist. I love to explore the ways that climate, soil and vineyard affect the distinctive aromas and flavors that end up in my glass. Last week, Donna and I joined our son, Duncan, and daughter-in-law, Lisa, on a trip to the Willamette Valley of Oregon--an ideal place to learn terroir, which is more intricate and complex than I imagined.

Over the past several decades, a number of French and American wine enthusiasts have been attracted to Willamette Valley because they believe it is a special place to grow and produce fine Pinot Noir. The cool maritime climate gives the grapes the acidity they need, and the mineral-rich soil contributes to an array of unique smells and flavors. It rains a lot in Oregon, but the rain is well timed for the grape grower--lots of rain in the Spring when the vines need it followed by a Summer that is often bone dry and a rainy fall that comes after the grapes are already harvested. In addition, the soils provide good drainage.

One of my favorite wineries, WillaKenzie Estate, advertises itself as an estate where "Place matters: Our terroir is our inspiration." The name, WillaKenzie, actually refers to the ancient soil in this part of the Chehalem hills. And the estate bottles wines from several vineyards that offer unique traits. Emery, located on the highest elevation of the estate, has the deepest topsoil and produces wines with deep flavors and fine, silky tannins. Triple Black Slopes is the steepest slope on the estate with thin topsoil and excellent drainage. The wine is known for its power, intensity and structure. We sampled these wines and others (Aliette, Kiana) during our excellent tutored tasting at WillaKenzie.

In addition to the special vineyards, WillaKenzie offers an Estate Cuvee, which is a blend of some of the best barrels from several vineyards. It is an excellent wine, as my notes from last year will confirm. It also offers a less expensive Willamette Valley bottling that includes grapes from vineyards on the nearby Dundee Hills. The soil there is Jory, highly prized for producing elegant wines with spicy, peppery traits.

Stoller Family Estate is located in the Dundee Hills. Our tasting there included an excellent 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir and two younger wines, the 2019 Helen's Pinot Noir and the 2019 Nancy's Pinot. I posted notes on these wines last week.

Another important factor in all of these wines is the Pinot Noir clone or clones used in the blend. At Willamette Valley Vineyards, we got to sample from barrels of seven different clones: Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 113, Dijon 114, Dijon 115, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777. In the wines we tasted there and at Colene Clemens (located in Chehalem near WillaKenzie) we could detect the dark fruit, earth and mushrooms typical of Pommard; the cherry, raspberry and rose petal of  Wadenswil; the nutmeg, clove and allspice of 667; and the blackberry, cassis and licorice of 777. The Victoria, Adriane and Margot cuvees from Colene Clemens combined Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777 in a captivating artisanal package.

The best part of wine, of course, is the hedonistic pleasure of smelling and tasting. But there is much, much more to the process of creating this pleasure. Last week, we had a short course that combined meteorology, geology, horticulture and more. I loved it.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Tour Saint Bonnet Medoc, 1995

Tour Saint Bonnet is an old school claret, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot aged in large old oak barrels. When it's young, it is not very exciting because it lacks the zingy smells and flavors imparted by new French oak barrels. Yet it ages very well and still sells for $12 to $15 a bottle. 

Bright ruby with brick tones moving in from the rim.  Currants, cassis, lead pencil and Early Grey tea. Suave Merlot flavors; no pyrazines or green herbal tones. Lovely ripe Cab/Merlot fruit that lingers long after the glass is empty. I finished the last of my 1990s last year; this 1995 may be even better.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Pithon-Paille Mozaik Anjou Blanc, 2017

This Anjou Blanc is a good example of the excellent dry Chenin Blanc wines produced in the Loire Valley of France. It is at a very agreeable state of maturity right now, but I am sure it will get even better with time in the cellar.

Medium deep straw. Slightly floral with ripe pears, quince and canteloupe. Viscous and medium bodied but with an alluring measure of citric acidity. Savory finish that gets better with every sip.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir, 2020

Sourced from the Elton Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills, this Pinot is a favorite among many who frequent the WVV website...and with good reason. Year after year, it is an intriguing wine, my favorite among WVV Pinots.

Medium ruby/garnet. Reticent at first but with swirling and aeration, opulent dark cherry-tinged aromas emerge. Also some pepper, spice and earth. Medium light body with tongue-tingling acidity. The vineyard was first planted in 1983 on Jory and Nekia soil.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block Chardonnay, 2021

The first time I tasted Willamette Valley Vineyards' Bernau Block Chardonnay it put me under its spell. And it still ranks as one of my all-time favorite Chardonnays. It is rich and full bodied and with all the smells and flavors that I like in Chardonnay.

Medium deep straw. Lemon creme, lime, apple pie and buttered brioche. I usually go for lean unoaked Chardonnays, and this wine is rich and full bodied...but in a way that pleases my palate immensely. Apple, lemon zest and custard--deep and complex. Gets better with every sip.  

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Willakenzie Estate Triple Black Slope Pinot Noir, 2013


This cuvee comes from the steepest slope on the estate and is characterized by "a complex array of blue and black fruits" and an intense aromatic profile. The 2013 vintage was warm, and this 2013 is nearing full maturity.

Light garnet color. Beautiful bouquet of pomegranate, cherry, spice. Broad flavors, intense and powerful. Good acidity, dances on the palate. Special wine. The winemaker recommends pairing it with rack of lamb and roasted vegetables.

Willakenzie Estate Kiana Pinot Noir, 2016

Compared to the 2018 Kiana (see below), the 2016 is lighter in color and more developed. Yet it too has plenty of room to grow. Red raspberry fruit, deep and complex. Some earth tones plus pepper and citrus zest. 90+ rating from the Wine Advocater.

Willakenzie Estate Kiana Pinot Noir, 2018

According to the estate, wines from this site are marked by opulence. This 2018 also received high critical praise, including 96 points from the Wine Advocate. It is producded from 50% Dijon clone 114, 32% Dijon 943 and 18% Dijon 777.

Medium ruby. Very deep. Ripe red berries, spices and orange peel. Medium bodied, velvety, with ripe fruit on the mid-palate and a lovely finish.

Willakenzie Estate Emery Pinot Noir, 2019

Emery has the highest elevation of any of the Willakenzie vineyards, and 2019 was a particularly cool vintage. Given 97 points by the Wine Advocate, this wine is very good now with excellent cellaring potential. It is 50% Pommard clone, 31% Dijon 667 and 19% Dijon 777.

Medium ruby, slightly darker than the Aliette. Also leaner and firmer on the mid-palate. Medium light bodyt with a delicate texture. Blackberries, violets, earth. Lovely finish that gets better with every sip.


Willakenzie Estate Aliette Pinot Noir, 2017

Aliette is generally considered the lightest and most delicate of Willakenzie's single vineyard cuvees. This 2017 was awarded 93 points by the Wine Advocate.

Medium light color. Flowers, strawberries, peppery spice. Lovely ripe fruit backed by zesty acidic structure. Long finish. Open for business right now, but I can see it getting substantially deeper and more complex over the next five to eight years.

Willakenzie Estate Estate Cuve Pinot Noir, 2017

Willakenzie Estate, located in the Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley, specializes in offering several site-specific bottlings "each a pure expressions of its terroir." The Estate Cuvee, however, blends grapes from several of these vineyards, and, from my experience, the result is fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed two bottles of the 2015 Estate Cuvee; this is my first taste of the 2017, which earned 92+ points from Erin Brooks of the Wine Advocate.

Medium light color. Intense scents and flavors of red fruit, fruit leather, flowers and citrus zest. Medium light body. Good balance of acid and tannin but needs time. Gets riper and deeper as it airs.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Stoller Family Estate Legacy Nancy's Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, 2019

Medium ruby color. Darker than either the Stoller Reserve or the Helen's cuvee (see below) and also darker in flavor and personality. Black raspberry, pomegranate, earth tones. Peppery finish. Good now but will be even better with an additional five to eight years in the bottle.

Stoller Family Estate Legacy Helen's Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, 2019

Our server used the term "cherry pie" to introduce this wine, and we all agreed with the description. Bing cherries, ripe and opulent. Also black raspberries and baking spices. Made from the Wadenswil clone of Pinot Noir. Darker in color than the 2017 Reserve (see below) and more structured. Very deep, needs time but still offering up lovely mineral-tinged fruit flavors.

Stoller Family Estate Reserve Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, 2017


Now in its sixth year, this 2017 Pinot Noir from Stoller is showing beautifully but with still some room to grow.

Medium light ruby. Red raspberries and rose petals on the nose; peppery spice on the palate. Earth tones typical of the Pommard clone. Medium light weight; elegance personified. Ripe fruit on the lovely finish

King Estate Inscription Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2021

King Estate is a premium producer of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; Inscription, selling for $18 to $20 a bottle is a low-cost option that has many of the qualities found in the premium wines and other estates in the Willamette Valley.

Surprisingly dark color for a Pinot Noir. Dark fruit smells and flavors. Dark cherries, earth, leather. Ripe fruit and a velvety mouth feel. Needs some time in the glass to develop the peppery, spicy tones that are typical of wines from this area. An excellent value for a Willamette Valley Pinot.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Willakenzie Estate Pierre Leon Pinot Noir, 2007

Willakenzie Estate, in the Chehalem hills of northern Willamette Valley, specializes in producing vineyard-specific wines showing unique site and soil traits. According to the label, "Pierre Leon is named after owner Bernard Lacroute's father to reflect the more masculine and structured characteristics of the wine." For my taste, that structure is lean and tensile, precisely what I want from a good Pinot Noir.

Medium light red color. Sweet scents of flowers and spice box. Intense cherry and raspberry flavors that tingle and tease the taste buds. Excellent acidity. Lovely spice-tinged finish. Even though it sits lightly on the tongue, this wine has the strength to accompany grilled steak or pork chop. I am enthralled.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Pelassa Antaniolo Roero Riserva, 2011

 Most wine drinkers know the prestige (and price) associated with the terms "Barolo" and "Barbaresco." And most know that Nebbiolo d'Alba and Langhe Nebbiolo are lesss expensive siblings made from the same Nebbiolo fruit, usually produce from younger vines. The term "Roero" doesn't get the same respect, although it should. A Roero red wine, usually made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, comes from vineyards just across the river from Alba and has many traits in common with those from the other side. This Antaniolo Roero Riserva is a good example.

Deep, dark ruby. Beautiful aromas of rose petals, crushed cherries and black raspberries. Grippy tannins on the mid-palate and intense, expressive fruit on the finish. The depth and complexity of a serious wine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Vicente Gandia Simue Temperanillo Roble Ribera del Duero, 2011

This wine is 100% Temperanillo matured four months in oak barrels. From the smells and flavors, I suspect American oak.

Bright red, deep and dark. Intense ripe fruit smells and flavors: blueberries and black raspberries. Also some red fruit acidity. Cloves, vanilla and other baking spices. Medium long, pleasing finish. Doing well at 11 years but will probably improve over the next few years as the oak qualities integrate with the fruit.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Ledogar La Mariole Vieilles Vignes, 2019

La mariole means the "jester" or "fool," and the term is meant to apply to anyone who ventures to tend the 100-year-old Carignan vines planted on an extremely windy hillside in the Languedoc. Because the yield from these vineyards is so low, some Marselan from nearby is blended into the finished wine.

Beautiful maroon color, bright and clear. Intense and expressive smells and flavors: wild flowers, black raspberries, spice and black pepper. Very Southern Rhone. Tannins on mid-palate add personality as well as structure. Hearty and rustic. I like it.

Marcel Couturier Saint Veran La Cour des Bois, 2018

Saint Veran, an appellation in the southern Maconnais, consists of two small islands of land separated by Pouilly Fuisse. If you like Pouilly Fuisse, you will probably like Saint Veran as well, especially if you note that the price is substantially lower. This Saint Veran La Cour des Bois is particularly Pouilly-Fuisse-like.

Medium deep straw color. Exciting smells and flavors, very fresh but with surprising depth. Broad flavors: lemon, apricot, yellow flowers, hazelnuts, buttered toast. Some leesy qualities but not enough to be obvious. Drinking beautifully right now, but I suspect it might get even better in a couple of years.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Reserve des Seigneurs, 2015

The Cairanne wines of l'Oratoire Saint Martin favor elegance over power, and that is one reason I like them so much. It is my favorite Cairanne estate.

Beautiful deep ruby color. 60% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah. The purplish tints of Mourvedre are apparent in the color, even though they take a back seat to the Grenache in the smells and flavors. Red raspberries and strawberries in the forefront supported by deep black and blue fruit from the Mourvedre and Syrah. Ripe, rich fruit, medium bodied. Sits lightly on the palate and offers up a cascade of intense flavors on the long finish. I would say this wine is near or at its peak, but I am sure it will hold there for several years.  The Reserve generally drinks earlier than the old vine Prestige bottling, now known as Douyes. I like both.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2005

I didn't spend much time with this wine last night because it shared the table with the 1983 Domaine Thalabert. At 18 years of age, it too is a beautiful Shiraz showing deep, mature fruit.

Deep ruby, some sediment near the bottom of the bottle. Matured 11 months in new (20%), one-, two- and three-year-old French oak hogsheads. More black fruit than red: blue plums, currants, cassis and French oak spice. Up-front fruit but some savory notes as well. Rich but not heavy on the mid-palate. Good balance. Teases the tongue with natural acidity and a grippy tannic structure.