Quickie Notes on Oregon Reserve Pinots - Printable Version

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- Randy Caparoso - 05-20-1999

Just did a fast and furious pass through Oregon (sorry I couldn't see you, Woodman!), and accumulated some interesting notes and finds.

I won't go into detail on everyone's '98s, which are looking crazy-great (I'd rate them above the '94s and '90s), but talk mostly about current availabilities. Except for the older (now unavailable) bottlings, I'd strongly recommend any of the following to those of you who are interested in archetypal Oregon style of Pinot Noir:

Rex Hill "Reserve" Pinot Noirs - The '97 (to be released in July) is tight, a little narrow, but silky and quite feminine; showing spicy perfume and vanillin oak that are not fully harmonized. The '93 has developed dense, meaty, slightly peppery spice aromas; fleshing out on the palate into a rounded, velvety, spicy presence; could use another 3-5 years. The '92 Reserve is not as meaty, but is still sweet, almost succulent with herbal/mint leafy/spicy fruit; supple in the middle, firm and silky in the finish. (Inside scoop: a tiny amount of '98 which will go under the winemaker's personal "Penner-Ash" label is slumbering in the barrels, and it's a huge, luscious, seamlessly knit wine blended from Seven Springs and the estate's Jacob-Hart plantings -- look out!)

Erath "Vintage Select" & "Reserve" - These were real surprises. In fact, there's a huge quality gap between the "regular" Eraths and these higher tier cuvees, which I think hurts the reputation of the winery a little bit. The '96 Reserve, for instance, is a long, thick, voluptuous wine, velvety rich, deep and jammy in fragrant red, black and blue berries. While not as fleshy, the '96 Vintage Select is just as lush -- filled with red berry preserves -- and finishes off the palate with smoky/tobacco-like flavors filled out with rounded, moderate tannins. There is also a '96 "Prince Hill" Reserve which weaves lovely, perfumey red fruit with spicy nuances; silky, long, and lacy-wispy-smoky in the finish. There's a '97 "Jouillan" Reserve which is jammy with red and black berries along with new leather tones; tannins, right now, are a little tough, and the wine finishes lean, with a lip smacking jamminess. As a point of reference, Dick Erath also pulled out some '91s. The '91 Vintage Select being sweet, silky, elegant, with an almost gingery-soy spiciness; and the '91 Reserve being developing a burnt autumn leaf/dried berry aroma, a lush, round middle, and slightly leathery qualities in the finish. While nice, the '96s show distinctly improved winemaking technique (on top of grape quality) over the '91s.

Adelsheim - After a heady barrel tasting of '98s (look out for the incredible "Seven Springs" and "Elizabeth's Reserve" next year!), David Adelsheim presented a fascinating historical mini-vertical. The '94 "Elizabeth's Reserve" is still dense, with deep, fleshy, blackberryish intensity; seriously deep, yet round and sumptuous on the palate. The '90 "Seven Springs" has developed into a triumphant wine; gingery, peppery, mushroomy aromas and spices; fully, fleshy, round, and sumptuous on the palate. The '85 "Elizabeth's" -- from a much ballyhooed vintage -- show both the intense concentration of the fruit from that year and some of the now antiquated vinification methods (such as crushed as opposed to whole berry fermentation) that were used. After 13-plus years, the wine is still thick and muscular with tannin, with sweet, brothy aromas with a minty/eucalyptus edge. It will probably never grow.

Chehalem - This is currently one of Oregon's most underrated producers. The '97 "Ridgecrest" serves up a blast of black Pinot fruit, big, thick and smoky with perceptible French oak, fleshy in middle; all in all, pretty much typical of the house style and quality level. One step up is the '96 "Rion Reserve" (95% of which comes from the estate's Ridgecrest Vineyard), which achieves a richly layered, smoky effect with black and red fruits and varietal spice; on the palate, it's upbeat, fresh, and smooth, with a smooth, long, almost sensual elegance. Among the '97s, Chehalem's "Three Vineyards" bottling is sweet and juicy, with smoky spice and a lightly herbal/leathery edge; and the "Stoller Vineyard" is deep and richly blackberryish, with the smoky-soy spiced oak/varietal harmony typical of the house, firmly structured, with both muscle and flesh on the palate. Finally, the '96 "Ridgecrest" also follows the house style; with deep fruit (more black than red) embedded in a smoky/cigar box richness with wispy roasted coffee tones; firm with tannin, filling out round, fleshy, slightly cassis-like flavor concentration and liqueur-like textural intensity.

Ken Wright - With lunch at the winery, a reprise of a recent favorite: the '97 "Canary Hills" is bursting with lush, sweet red/black berry harmonies; silken and rounded, with a touch of smokiness and firm, supportive tannin in the finish.

Ponzi "Reserve" - The '96 is truly an "oh wow!"; luscious, powerful fragrances billowing from the glass, with highly refined, layered, medium full, almost dominant flavors of jammy berry fruit and pure herbal/pepperminty spice.

WillaKenzie "Pierre Leon" - The '97 is showing off deep, raspberry/blackberry perfumes with blackpepper and cinnamon nuances; medium full, slightly wiry with frim tannin, finishing slightly lean after the initial blast of youthful exuberance.

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 05-20-99).]

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 05-20-99).]

- Bucko - 05-20-1999

Chehalem is indeed underrated IMO. I have enjoyed the Ridgecrest for several years. Always big, earthy fruit that I find attractive.


- Randy Caparoso - 05-21-1999

Well, then let me share some notes on the '98s in the barrels (since I can't resist). Of all the wineries I've visited recently (May and April), Chehalem's has been the most viscous -- almost syrupy in richness. Consequently, Harry Peterson-Nedry believes that the bulk of his wines will probably be separate vineyard designates (rather than "Three Vineyards" bottlings). One surprise, for instance, is the "Corral Creek" property around the winery; which usually does not stand on its own. In '98 it's explosive with sweet, smoky, spicy fruit; and on the palate, broad, lush, blackberry liqueur-like richness on the palate.

In general, as you would expect, the '98 Ridgecrest cuvees are sweet and jammy; with luscious concentration. One Pommard clone sampling of their "Baby's Block" section was simply enormous; gooey, thick, and supple (like a Beaux Freres, but deeper toned). From the same section, a Wadenswil clone sampling was nearly as deep and unctuous; filled with rounded-off tannins and spicy, toasty, coffee and black fruit intensities. In other words, quite a success across the board.

A final note I find almost amazing: Peterson-Nedry uses only about a third of his yearly crop for his own label. An embarassment of riches (hate to say it, but it made me think of the DRC parcels). With this sort of yearly material, it's only inevitable that the establishment press will soon be crowning Harry as some sort of crown prince. It will also put his young, inquisitive, hard working winemaker -- Cheryl Francis -- in a good career position. It's always nice to have appreciated something before the stuff hits the fan; but it's also something of a bitter pill.

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 05-21-99).]