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A Pinot Blanc That Over-Delivers
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 14, 2015
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Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Blanc 2014 ($20):  Considering the abundance of good wines, I have assiduously avoided reviewing the same wine twice in this column, but now I am breaking my own rule.  Actually, it was a full nine years ago that I reviewed Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc here on Wine Review Online -- and actually it wasn’t the same wine, really, because that was the 2005 and this is the 2014.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s Williamette Valley as a wine region, and that occasion has me (and many other wine writers, I’m sure) tasting numerous Oregon wines, particularly those from the “old guard” of early producers.  Other columnists on this site have addressed Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the region’s flagship wine, made from the grape that occupies 64 percent of the region’s vineyards.  Pinot Blanc, in comparison, is a statistical afterthought, claiming only 1 percent of vineyards and lagging well behind Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling among white varieties. 

But Ponzi Vineyards has been growing Pinot Blanc for 25 years now.  Winemaker Luisa Ponzi first planted the grape in 1990 on the winery’s Aurora vineyard site on Chehalem Mountain at 300 to 600 feet in altitude.  That estate vineyard supplied 74 percent of the fruit for this 2014 Pinot Blanc; two additional sites provided the balance: Zenith (in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA) at 19 percent and Thistle (in the Dundee Hillas AVA) at 7 percent.

When I tasted this 2014 Ponzi Pinot Blanc blind, my impression of it grew more and more favorable.  The aroma was reticent at first, but it opened into a complex nose of delicate citrus fruit, ripe stone fruits, honey and blossom.  In my mouth, the energy of high acidity was immediately evident, followed by considerable richness of texture and pronounced, ripe, luscious flavors of fruits and earthiness -- peach, nectarine, and lemon with a tangy slate-like note.  The wine has weight and presence, suggesting impressive ripeness, and yet its savory mineral notes and acid edginess keep the taste fresh and lively.

I tasted this wine alongside what turned out to be a 2013 Pinot Blanc from another Willamette Valley winery, and the difference was marked, the Ponzi being richer, more pronounced and more dramatic.  I commented that the 2014 Ponzi was “Alsace-like,” because of its weight, richness, mineral notes and viscous texture.  If pressed to name the variety, I would likely not have named Pinot Blanc because of the style of that wine in Alsace -- generally either sparkling or a light, off-dry, everyday sort of guzzle.  I might have said Pinot Gris, more for the general style than for the specific aromas and flavors.

That this wine turned out to be from Oregon’s 2014 vintage made sense.  Luisa Ponzi notes that 2014 was the warmest season on record for Willamette Valley, not because of high peaks in temperature but higher than normal minimum temperatures, with warm nights accelerating ripening.  Hence the wine’s ripeness and richness, and its flavors which skew almost toward the exotic.  As for the wine’s energy and freshness, these come from the winemaking: very cool fermentation (55° F) in stainless steel to preserve delicate aromatics and freshness, and no malolactic  fermentation (ML), which could overly soften the wine.  (In cooler vintages, Luisa confirms, the winemaking instead could involve some neutral oak as well as ML to bring dimensions to an otherwise lean mid-palate.)

On the table, I find the 2014 Ponzi Pinot Blanc a terrific accompaniment to bitter vegetables such as Swiss chard or kale and earthy vegetables such as Portobello mushrooms. It’s also great with classic tomato and mozzarella salad, and main course dishes such as pasta with pesto, chicken breast fillets, and grilled Italian sweet sausages -- nothing too big and rich, although its fruitiness can take a bit of spice.

90 Points