Zooming with some Willamette Valley Pinot

Before going onto the post that I had scheduled for today, while I know that I have very little original to add to the discourse, as a father and resident of Texas, I feel the need to at least mention the senseless and largely preventable horror that took place about a half-day’s drive from where I currently sit. There is no doubt in my mind that politicians both in Washington and Austin (as well as most of the other state capitols) have failed and continue to fail the very people that they claim to represent. It really is that simple. The fact that this state continues to elect and reelect “leaders” who have little regard for the well-being of its citizens and make policies that instead line their own pockets and the pockets of their financial supporters, while not necessarily shocking, is beyond despicable.

A couple of weeks ago, I was involved in an online Zoom tasting conducted by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, one of (if not the) best-run regional wine organizations that I have ever come across. Not only informative and extremely helpful, but I doubt that there is another organization of its kind that does a better job representing all of its member wineries, no matter the size.

As I mentioned, it was a Zoom tasting, which, to put it mildly, is not my favorite, but the format is the new normal (at least for now) so you roll with it. The focus of the tasting was to introduce three of the newly formed “nested” AVAs in the Willamette Valley (the term “nested” essentially means an AVA within a larger AVA is much better than the oft-used “sub-AVA” which implies at least a level of inferiority).

The kind folks at the WVWA organized the tasting for a handful of writers and bloggers in the Houston area, which was refreshing. While I do not have anything against the cities of Austin and Dallas (I mean other than Dallas Cowboy fans–they’re the worst), I still have not been able to understand why they get most (all?) the love when it comes to visits from wineries and regions. Sure, Houston is not the most “beautiful” of all Texas cities, but it is the largest (and 4th largest in the country and likely to pass Chicago soon and become #3, behind only New York and Los Angeles) city in the state and home to a fantastic food and wine scene.

Thus, the love shown by the great people in the Willamette Valley was much appreciated.

Last week, I published some brief thoughts on the three new AVAs as well as the tasting notes from the white wines (and one Pinot) from the regions. Today, it is a bit more straightforward: six Pinot Noirs, the variety most associated with the region.

The first presented was the Laurelwood AVA, established in June 2020 and found in the north end of the valley, completely nested within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Confusing? Probably. But these AVAs were established in large part based on the different soil types, which in Laurelwood means a 15 million-year-old basalt base, covered by windblown freshwater silt (loess).

2017 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve, Laurelwood District, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $65. Big. Ass. Bottle. Part of a recent Zoom tasting presented by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association that highlighted the new nested AVA in the larger Willamette Valley AVA. This wine comes from the Laurelwood District, which Louisa Ponzi (winemaker) pointed out consists of a mostly loess based-soil, contributing to its somewhat spicy character and silky tannins. Out of the really heavy bottle, the wine is a bit closed, but with time shows some lovely fruit (black cherry and raspberry), spiciness (clove, cardamom), and a lovely floral aspect. The palate is on the rich side, but well short of unctuous with lovely fruit balanced by a zingy tartness. Those dusty yet silky tannins that Louisa mentioned highlight the lengthy finish. Lovely. And whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2019 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir, Tuscowallame Estate, Laurelwood District, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. Under screwcap. This wine comes from the newly declared Laurelwood District, in the center of the Northern section of the Willamette Valley, nested within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Rather light in the glass, even for a Pinot, the wine exudes wild cherry and hibiscus but also earth, black pepper, and even some tangerine rind. The palate is understated but harmonious with more than ample acidity and lively fruit. Quite nice (and even better on Day 2). Excellent. 91 Points.

Next up was the Tualatin Hills AVA, the northernmost AVA in the Willamette, which has similar soils to the Laurelwood District but a different micro-climate that is largely influenced by the Tualatin River.

2019 Apolloni Pinot Noir Estate, Tualatin Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $38. Big Ass Bottle. Agglomerated (non-DIAM) stopper. This was part of a Zoom tasting of a dozen wines from the Willamette Valley, with a focus on the newer nested AVA in the Valley. This Pinot is from the Tualatin Hills AVA, the northernmost nested AVA. Quite light in the glass with subtle aromas of dried cherry, sage, and violet. The palate, somewhat surprisingly, comes off as more “Old World” than “New” with subdued fruit, striking acidity, and an earthy/mineral aspect just before the lengthy finish. This might not be what most think of when they hear “Willamette Pinot” but I think this would fare just fine when paired with the right meal. Very Good. 89 Points.

2020 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate, Tualatin Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $32. Under cork. I have visited the Willamette Valley countless times at this point and I have an affinity for Elk Cove. Why? Very good question. Simply? It is the quality of the wines. Dig a little deeper? It is the affable and approachable nature of winemaker/owner Adam Campbell. Psychoanalysis? I am insanely jealous of Adam’s beard. While I actually fear excessive facial hair (I think it would be unbearable), I am still incredibly jealous of those that are able to sport the Grizzly Adams. Regardless, this wine is lovely: great fruit (black cherry), floral (red rose), floral (violet), and earthy (well, earth). Incredibly balanced on the palate, this is a deliciously affordable Pinot. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

Last, was the Lower Long Tom AVA, the newest of the nested AVAs, established in November 2021. Not pictured on the map above, it is located between Corvallis and Eugene at the southern end of the Valley and largely consists of Bellepine soil.

2019 Benton-Lane Pinot Noir, Lower Long Tom, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. Under DIAM10. While as a former philatelist, I absolutely love the postage stamp motif at Benton-Lane, I by no means allow that to cloud my judgment of the wines (although, if there were ever an actual postage stamp…). Perhaps darker than your average Willamette Valley Pinot (this comes from the Lower Long Tom AVA) it is incredibly fruit-rich on the nose. Dark, red berry fruit reign with blackberry and dark cherry the ticket takers. Add in spice (black pepper, clove), earth, and violet and you get an incredibly inviting nose. Fruity, rich, layered, the palate does not disappoint either as it is balanced, layered, lovely. Add in a particularly long finish? Really close to a whoa. Excellent. 92 Points.

2019 Brigadoon Pinot Noir Lylee, Lower Long Tom, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $25. Under agglomerated stopper (non-DIAM). Before this tasting with the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, I had never heard of the Lower Long Tom, much less the Brigadoon Wine Company. After this? Take note of both. Light in the glass but not in aromas with wild cherry, black earth, and rose petal at the forefront. The palate, while reserved, has plenty of fruit, earth, and spice. It is the spice that is perhaps the most striking, with clove, basil, and thyme the most evident. Nice. Excellent. 91 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Pinot Noir, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Zooming with some Willamette Valley Pinot

  1. Lynn says:

    Your comment “Big ass bottle” caught my attention. I’ve enjoyed Ponzi wines for years. They certainly have climate friendly actions in place but really, those heavy bottles are unnecessary, and create quite a carbon footprint. And contrary to their being members of Carbon Reduction Challenge. I challenge them to use lighter bottles!


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