Vertical Rise in Oregon


By Karl Klooster

 The opportunity to taste several years of the same winery’s wine side by side is the sort of experience wine aficionados savor. But few collectors or retail sources have the depth of inventory to assemble such a comparison – called a vertical tasting.

Almost all wineries, on the other hand, set aside at least a few cases of their wines from every vintage for future sampling and evaluation. These library or archival cellar collections are, understandably, the most complete available.

Over the past two years, The Eyrie Vineyard held two unprecedented, retrospective tasting events to which industry and media insiders were invited. The first offered every year of Eyrie’s Pinot Noir, from the winery’s initial release in 1970. The second did the same with its chardonnays.

In what may be a new trend, two tastings similar to the Eyrie verticals have both been held within just the last week and a half — one by Torii Mor Winery, the other by Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010, Torii Mor staged a vertical tasting of 16 Pinot Noirs from every year since its first vintage in 1993 through 2008.

The highly regarded Dundee Hills producer has recently completed a new facility under the direction of its owner, Dr. Donald Olson, and winemaker Jacques Tardy, who has crafted the past six vintages.

This was the setting for the tasting attended by some 40 tasters including Matt Lazzeri, chief financial officer at News-Register Publishing, member of the Oregon Wine Press tasting panel, and former CFO of Erath Vineyards. 

Following is a brief overview of Lazzeri’s tasting notes highlighting his personal favorites.

1993 vintage. Winemaker, Patty Green -- Tawny-brick in color, lively on the nose and still very well structured.  Nice balance, with restrained fruit and a lingering, earthy finish Clearly beyond its prime yet still alive, well concentrated and evocative of Dundee Pinot. 

1994 vintage. Winemaker, Patty Green -- Tawny color, restrained nose but still a big mouthful with good fruit, spice and a well balanced classic Pinot taste. A very well-constructed wine, still going strong 

1999 vintage. Winemakers, Patty Green and Joe Dobbs -- Medium red color, spice on the nose. Beautifully structured and complete. Long finish, very elegant. This wine delivers.

2000 vintage. Winemakers, Joe Dobbs and Kelley Fox -- Medium-red color, spicy nose. Very well balanced and alive.  Structure and finish complete. An elegant wine. 

2004 vintage. Winemakers, Ryan Harms and Jacques Tardy -- Light in color with a delicate nose and very elegant, long finish.  A beautiful wine really. Tardy took over in November. Wine already in barrel.  A seamless transition in winemaking, allowing a good vintage to express itself.

2006 vintage. Winemaker, Jacques Tardy to present. -- Medium-garnet color, a big beautiful, floral nose with overtones of lilac and cherry. A really nice wine. The vintage was warm  and Jacques was unable to bring in fruit as soon as he wanted as they were sharing winemaking space while the new winery was being completed.  Consistent in many ways with 2005's profile, suggesting Tardy's style for lighter, more restrained flavors.

2007 vintage. --Medium-red color, still tight in the nose but shows a big, balanced taste profile.  Tasting very good but should develop more over time, buy and keep. A winemaker's vintage. The first in their new winery.

My overall impression of these wines over the time period was that they were well-made and lived good lives. Older wines still tasting fresh, their appearance and power leaving them only recently. Very interesting to see what differing winemaking styles, weather conditions  and approaches to local vineyards can produce in each vintage.

The Penner-Ash tasting, held on Feb. 17, featured a vertical of 11 Pinot Noirs from 1998 through 2008. Still the winemaker at Rex Hill in 1998, Lynn Penner-Ash made a wine under her own name for the first time that year.

All of the wines carry the Willamette Valley appellation and, depending on the year, grapes were sourced from vineyards in Yamhill Valley AVAs, including Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains and McMinnville.

Participation in the tasting at the Ribbon Ridge Road winery was by invitation only and the guests consisted almost entirely of wine writers. This writer had the good fortune to be in attendance. 

Even among such an experienced group (two of whom are sitting for their Masters of Wine credential), there was considerable variation of opinion as to personal favorites. The following brief tasting notes express some of mine.

1998 - A 12-year-old with loads of life left. Earthy, spicy nose. Dusty fruit leads into layers of flavor interest.  A velvety pebbled palate and rich, lingering finish. Penner-Ash preferred the ‘99, which I felt was not as nuanced.

2002 - Concentrated dried berry and cherry flavors lead from aroma to taste. Round, lively mouthful. Excellent balance makes for an elegant wine that should continue to improve for several years.

2004 - Floral red berry nose. Plump, plummy flavors with hints of earth and cola. Soft, silky texture. Balanced and Burgundian in character.

2005 - Deep, dark, full-bodied, and fruit-laden with layers of juicy berry and chocolatey flavors. Tannins still a bit hard. Long finish. First wine in the new winery. Penner-Ash called it a high maintenance vintage but well worth the effort.

2007 - Classically varietal spice and earth aroma. Sweet, tasty fruit. A middleweight wine of exquisite finesse. Delicate, beautifully balanced elements. One of the very best Pinots from an exceedingly difficult year.

2008 - Forward aromas of bright, fresh, dark fruit. Youthful tannins still assertive, but full, lush palate coming through. Small percentage of whole cluster berries in fermentation. Structure for a very fine wine emerging.

With the exception of one flawed bottle, each of the wines presented was exceedingly well made and exhibited characteristics within the context of each vintage that places it in the top tier among its contemporaries.

More Oregon wineries may be contemplating events like this in the future. Certainly those in a position to do so now number several dozen. As these tastings have borne out, the reward will be validation of an industry that has most certainly established its world-class status.

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