wright and wrong

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I’ve done my share of ranting about the vast number of single vineyard pinots coming out of Oregon (see PG blog). I’ve also had a word or two to say about the rush to delineate new and confusing AVAs down in the Willamette valley.

But things are improving. A look through the just-released 2008s from Ken Wright – a long time leader in soil analysis, AVA creation, and single vineyard exploration – shows that Wright was right about a lot of things. Just early.

Many of these single vineyard bottlings do show individual terroir. They do represent their AVAs in meaningful ways. Wright has pulled waaay back on the alcohol levels of his wines, and that has helped immensely. Pinot noir over 15% blows out nuances; these are mostly under 14%. Add to that vineyards with some age on the vines – some as much as 25 years old. And of course, a man who has been at this for about that long, and knows what the hell he’s doing.

I’ll be hitting the road in a few days, and filing more blogs on the latest and greatest from Oregon. Meanwhile, here are notes on the new Ken Wrights:

From the winemaker: “Vintage 2008 in the Willamette Valley was remarkable for the prolonged warm fall weather that brought grapes to perfect ripeness. Many winemakers feel it will be one of the great vintages for the region.”

Ken Wright 2007 Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay
Columbia Gorge; $25
This is the famed Washington vineyard, first planted in 1972. These old Wente clone vines make for a thick, chunky, fruity style, with banana and light tropical fruit flavors. As always with Celilo, there’s firm acidity.

Ken Wright 2008 Canary Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir
Eola-Amity Hills; $50
For me, this is the top wine from Ken Wright in 2008. Just 13.3% alcohol, it delivers a mouthful of delicious flavors – cranberry, pomegranate and wild raspberry, dusty herb, excellent mid-palate concentration and length.

Ken Wright 2008 Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton District; $50
Second favorite is the Abbott Claim, showing more new oak influence (a pleasing chocolatey flavor), along with full, spicy cherry fruit at its core. A bit like fruitcake, in a good way.

Ken Wright 2008 McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton District; $50
Tied for second. Despite its youth, the McCrone is showing real depth and layering. Pomegranate and raspberry fruit is dusted with baking spices, and finished with a vein of tasty mocha. Drink this one sooner rather than later.

Ken Wright 2008 Meredith Mitchell Vineyard Pinot Noir
McMinnville; $50
Bold and striking aromas of mushroom, seaweed and organic funk set this apart from the other Ken Wright vineyard designates. There’s plenty of tart, tangy cherry fruit also. Only (minor) downside: it seems to hit a wall, perhaps due to the recent bottling.

Ken Wright 2008 Nysa Vineyard Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills; $50
Lean but polished fruit, perhaps the most Burgundian in style, with well-defined highlights of leaf and bark, cracked pepper, and just a hint of tomato. A chocolatey afterglow sets in long after the last swallow.

Ken Wright 2008 Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton District; $50
Ken Wright’s Savoya has excellent concentration and grip. Its raspberry/cherry fruit gives it a tart, racy flair. Well-crafted, balanced, and built for medium-term cellaring.

Ken Wright 2008 Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir
Eola-Amity Hills; $50
This leans toward the spicy/herbal side of Oregon pinot. My California friend (whose initials are Steve Heimoff) would probably not like it. I wouldn’t call it the best of show here, but it does capture the herb and leaf components typical in this AVA. Light, lingering pale red fruits suggest watermelon and strawberry.

Ken Wright 2008 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley; $50
Past vintages of Freedom Hill have been the most tannic and dark of Wright’s wines; this seems quite the opposite. Cranberry fruit flavors, sniffs of incense, and fruit that is clean but simple.

Ken Wright 2008 Guadalupe Vineyard Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley; $50
This bottle showed some leathery aromas and was also quite reduced. Not reviewed.

Ken Wright Cellars

10 comments:

Marlene Rossman said...

Paul, this is what your readers are interested in..
Less pontificating, more real time analysis reviews.

PaulG said...

Trying to find the right mix, Marlene. Hope the pontificating doesn't turn you away. I like to think of it more as opinionating.... =[;-)

Tyler said...

Marlene Rossman is speaking for herself.....I enjoy the "opinionating."

Anonymous said...

Did you find any of these spritzy? The last two bottles I had from him were slightly, and an Oregon winemaker said this is a new trend in high end Pinot to bottle with high CO2 to protect the wines.

PaulG said...

No, there was nothing spritzy. I don't think your information is correct. People don't add CO2 at bottling.

Cesar said...

Defintely one reason I enjoy blogs is to hear other people rant, or opinionate. However you want to define it, I like it when people bring passion to the discussion.

Stephanie LaMonica said...

whew! what a huge, if not 180-degree turnaround from a post last month that categorically poo-poos the plethora of single-vineyard wine, and pinots in particular. so now you're saying it's just fine to shell out the big bucks ($450 for the nine SVD wines in the Wright '08 lineup with my math) because these are worth it? help a blond (year-round summer highlights, really) out here. this is in no means a statement about ken wright, but odd, your about-face so quickly! fill us in, man. i sense a story.

PaulG said...

Stephanie, I'm not welded into place. I'm willing to say look, here's someone who's doing it right. I still think there are way too many single vineyard pinots that don't make any sense, and don't warrant their status. But I was willing to also say that Ken Wright does it right, and hats off to him.

Donn said...

Just an opinion here: the higher the alcohol, the less differentiation, less terroir, you get. From a science point of view this only makes sense, high alc. goes in tandem with low acid, and acid is the main thing we taste in wine. I taste many "big" Napa reds. I can't tell a Howell Mtn. from a Rutherford when they are pushing high 14s and low to mid 15s on the abv.% I am glad to see K. Wright coming down. Further, while Burgundy growers might wish for warmer climes, you don't see great 1er cru and Grand cru wines in the high 14s and higher. Great Bordeaux wines that command high prices are also mostly in the 13s. Only in the US of A I think has there been this stampede to high alc. wines, a stampede led by writers, not drinkers, not growers, not restaurants, by led only by writers who reach lots of people with big wallets. Look at the ads in the magazines. Who are the advertisers gunning for, the person who drinks a $20 bottle 3 or 4 night a week? Hardly.

PaulG said...

Donn, I'm with you right up to the point where you blame writers (that is, da Press) for high alcohol wines. If in fact drinkers, growers, and restaurants (retail) were not making and buying these wines, what difference if writers (whoever they are) promote them. This writer, for one, has been beating the drum for terroir, detail, nuance, etc. for many years. It is the trade - wineries, distributors, retailers - who relentlessly promote scores. Some writers do score high alcohol wines higher. I am not in that camp.

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