drawing a blanc

Monday, August 24, 2009

If there is any pinot blanc being grown in Washington, I do not know of it. In Oregon the grape is less rare, but only a small number of wineries seem to give it the care and attention that brings out its varietal stamp.

WillaKenzie Estate was one of the first. They grow seven acres of pinot blanc, planted in 1992, 1993 and 1995; true pinot blanc clones from Alsace. Over the years I have frequently been impressed with this winery’s take on the grape, and it generally outshines their excellent pinot gris.

The 2008 vintage in Oregon is being described by some leading winemakers as “classic,” “magical,” “one of the coolest on record,” and overall exceptional for white wines. Certainly this WillaKenzie Estate 2008 Pinot Blanc ($18) is a fine example; a truly lovely, elegant pinot blanc, displaying scents of lemongrass and grapefruit that run headlong into delicate, evocative fruit flavors of melon, gooseberry, lime and stone fruits. Though quite dry and tart, it has so much complexity that it never turns sour. Alcohol is surprisingly high (13.8%) but does not impact the mouthfeel.

Ponzi Vineyards has made an equally delightful pinot blanc in this vintage. Luisa Ponzi writes “a winemaker is lucky to receive a handful of really magical vintages in a lifetime. 2008 is one of those vintages.” Her Ponzi 2008 Pinot Blanc ($17), produced from the LIVE-certified Aurora vineyard (Chehalem Mountains) and Thistle vineyard (Dundee Hills), enters the mouth with a delightfully spritzy texture. It’s quite lively, with bright, high acid fruit ranging from green apple into light tropical flavors. Lovely balance and freshness characterize the wine, and the textural sophistication of the winemaking is especially noticeable. Here again the alcohol is measured at 13.7%, but the acids are really the defining factor.

The third outstanding pinot blanc I tasted over the weekend was part of a long flight of new releases from Chehalem. I want to delve into the entire Chehalem lineup (probably tomorrow), but suffice it to say that the Chehalem 2008 Stoller Vineyards Pinot Blanc ($19) was my favorite of the three, by a point. It tastes like a perfect cross of pinot gris and chardonnay, with spice and fruit, pears and citrus rind, even a whiff of fennel. What truly distinguishes this vineyard-designated bottling is its tight focus; the flavors deepen and extend through a lovely finish. Alcohol is 13.6% – consistent with the others.

The WillaKenzie and Ponzi wines were entirely stainless-steel fermented; Chehalem put 44% in neutral barrels (and one new barrel). For all I know, that single new barrel may have been the nuance that tipped the scales for me. All three of these pinot blancs are exciting wines, that may be enjoyed immediately, or cellared for a few more years. Personally, I say chill ‘em and swill ‘em, while the summer is still with us. These should be in good distribution throughout the west coast, but may also be ordered directly from the wineries, sometimes at discounted club prices.


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