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A Favorite and Six Fellow-Travellers
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 25, 2016
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Chehalem, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Three Vineyard” 2014
($32):  Such a fascinating exercise it was -- blind-tasting a dozen Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, all but one from the fine 2014 vintage and each the basic Pinot Noir bottling from its producer, ranging in price from $19 to $32.  I had no role in selecting the wines, and I tasted without any awareness of which brands were included.  On the whole, I found good quality across a range of styles: some wines quite light and elegant, some dry and others ripe-fruity to the point of suggesting sweetness, many showing a subtle presence of oak but few with notable tannin.  From the high baseline, my favorites emerged. To my delight, most of them were wines from my long-time favorite Oregon producers.

Chehalem “Three Vineyard” Pinot Noir was the star for me.  In this group of entry-level Pinots, this wine was relatively big, with rich flavors of ripe black cherry and raspberry, and some cocoa and toasty notes of oak.  It was one of the wines that showed actual tannin in the mouth, but its fruity notes were so concentrated and pronounced that the oak tannin lurking beneath them seemed just a balancing element.  I’m not a fan of very rich fruitiness even in Pinot Noir, but the acidity of this wine served as a clean, pure presence to support the fruit and lend a bracing note to the taste.  Altogether, the wine displays a fine balance of fruit, tannin and acid.

The “Three Vineyard” Pinot Noir is the first Pinot that Chehalem releases each year, intended as an introduction to the vintage before its “more pampered wines” are released.  In 2014, this wine spent a year in mainly old oak; only eight percent of the barrels were new and only twelve percent were second-use.

Two other Pinot Noirs that showed top quality in a well-rounded, ripe but balanced style were the 2014 Adelsheim and the 2014 Ponzi “Tavola.”  Of the two, the Adelsheim ($32) is a bit leaner, with some moderate grip of tannin offsetting the focused cherry and berry fruit. It is a terrific example of a wine with true palate length, its flavors and energy extending from the front of the mouth through the middle and the rear palate and ending in a long, clean, satisfying finish. Entry-level though it is, I suspect this wine will drink well for several years.

Ponzi “Tavola” Pinot Noir 2014 ($27) shows more overt ripe-fruitiness and intensity but its near-flashy black cherry, sour cherry and plum flavors are tempered by spicy notes of oak and a quiet tannic presence.  I have always approached Ponzi’s “Tavola” Pinot Noir in the context of the whole Ponzi Pinot Noir range and found it light, but the context of this tasting -- basic-level Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs -- proved to me what richness of high quality fruit and what solid winemaking technique “Tavola” represents.

Another wine of similar style was Elk Cove 2014 Pinot Noir ($29), the favorite wine of my fellow taster.  It has a classic Pinot Noir aroma, dark cherry flavors on the ripe side, and firm acidity to balance them.

The most ambitious wine of the tasting was the sole 2013, from Cooper Mountains Vineyards ($25).  I label it “ambitious” because it seems to be a particularly structured, age-worthy Pinot, with high acidity and fine-grained tannins that lie atop pure, focused flavors of raspberry, sour cherry and blueberry.  This is a fine wine that is a bit tight now and will evolve over many years.  If you like the lean, structured style of Pinot Noir, this is a great buy. 

Finally, I was impressed by two Pinots with which I was less familiar.  Roco 2014 “Gravel Road” Pinot Noir is a bright, fresh, lively Pinot Noir with high acidity.  Its tasting notes describe the aromatics as plum, mocha and mission fig; the mention of fig resonates in the rich-textured palate -- and yet the acidity keeps this wine uplifted rather than rich.  The winemaker is Rollin Soles, a kindred poetry lover, and maybe therefore (wordplay notwithstanding) I found this wine to be soulful.

Broadley Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir ($20) was the lightest, most delicate wine of the entire tasting.  It’s light ruby in color, light in body, and yet is so superbly alive with fresh, vivid cherry flavor, and so persistent on the palate, that it cannot be dismissed as insignificant.  If you like Pinot Noirs with vitality and lift, add this wine to your list.

I was fortunate to taste the gamut of styles among Willamette Valley 2014 Pinots.  My takeaway is that even in a fairly warm vintage an exciting range of styles is available.

Chehalem “Three Vineyard,” 91 Points