In the first, David Adelsheim agreed to let me run through his Elizabeth’s Reserve with his winemaker, Dave Paige. This wine blends several of the winery’s own sites, spread around the Chehalem Mountains AVA (plus about 20 percent purchased fruit) into a reserve-level bottling. At the other, Ken Wright opened six vintages of his Carter Vineyard bottling. Wright has always included the independent grower in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA among his dozen or so individual bottlings.
I had asked several producers each to show me a single Pinot Noir bottling through this decade, the better to understand how these wines develop in the bottle and get perspective on the vintage differences overall. Stylistically, both Adelsheim and Wright lean toward the lighter, more delicate end of the spectrum. Earlier, at Shea, we traced the progress of a wine blended from various portions of a single vineyard that has provided grapes to many of the best vintners for their single-site bottlings. At Penner-Ash, we saw a Willamette Valley blend that maintained a style and improved while increasing production by using a dozen or more different vineyard sources.
Adelsheim, one of the true pioneers with Oregon Pinot Noir, has steadfastly maintained its commitment to the state’s original approach, which favored crisp textures and fragile structures rather than going for power and ripeness. Elizabeth’s, which folks around the winery call “our Lizzie,” reflects the house style as well as any of the single-vineyard wines, with greater availability and a more moderate price.
I chose Adelsheim in part because my ratings on release in some vintages fell far short of this wine’s reputation as one of Oregon’s mainstays. And indeed, both 2000 and 2003, which I had originally scored in the 70s, did much better this time. I seem to have misjudged the 2000, which tasted earthy and sour to me on release but now feels complete and harmonious. I wasn’t far off on the 2003, however. It tasted metallic to me on release and still has an earthy tone that comes across as slightly bitter. But the wine has improved in the bottle, other elements have come to the fore, and it drinks well enough.
Vintages such as 2000 and 2001, which were ripe but not excessively so, played into the house style and made wonderful wines, and in this tasting they show how beautifully Oregon Pinots can hold and develop in the bottle. The winemaking went through a down phase in the middle years of the decade. I sense that Paige, who came to Adelsheim from California in 2001, really didn’t home in on what it took to deliver that tricky balance of flavor and delicacy until around 2005.
The 2006 is revelatory. In a vintage replete with very ripe, powerful, sometimes raisiny wines in other cellars, this one has real delicacy. It harnesses the ripe flavors of the vintage without losing that fragility. In 2007, when rains challenged the best vintners, Paige produced a wine of precision and refinement, and the 2008 is gaining depth by the day. I rated it blind recently at 92 points, all-time high for Lizzie.
Wright was buying grapes from Carter even before he started his own winery. Working at Eola Hills in 1989, he remembers the stunning quality from the vineyard, which was only in its sixth year. In 1994, when he made the first vintage under his own name, Carter was among the first vineyards he got under contract.
Says Wright, “I loved the minerality of the wine. It wasn’t just a fruit bomb. It had gorgeous darker fruit, but also that minerality and a dusty, earthy quality that was attractive. It always had complexity. And it maintained terrific acidity so the wine had this vitality, this nerve, to it. It evolves over the course of a meal.”
In this tasting, ranging from 2003 to 2008, the Carter wines reflected that description well. Even in a big, ripe vintage such as 2006, Wright used his winemaking wiles to keep the wine from going over the top. I did find an excessively meaty, gamy note in the 2005 troubling, but the other vintages all felt youthful and well within Wright’s style, which emphasizes refinement and clarity.
“That meaty character is a trait of the vineyard which can come through over time,” Wright allows. I found it lurking in the background, not getting in the way of the 2004, and none in the 2003 or in the more recent vintages.
Both of these vintners made outstanding wines in 2007, a vintage that flummoxed many others in Oregon.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 1999: Light and pretty, showing lots of fresh currant fruit on a fragile frame. Has some tough tannins but the coffee, tar and mineral flavors underneath add a strong undercurrent. 88 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2000: Fragrant, with spicy plum and currant on a light frame, still taut, with a mineral undercurrent that emerges on the finish. Feels complete and harmonious. 91 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2001: Very floral on the nose, a bit tart at the base, with some nice dark fruit behind the ripe currant and smoky spice flavors, remaining fragile through the finish. Has a silkiness to the texture. 90 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2002: Darker and denser than previous vintages, but excessively gamy on the nose, and that character overtakes the fruit, and the wine. 83 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2003: Dark and dense, with spicy overtones to the dried cherry and juicy berry flavors. An earthy tone makes it feel slightly bitter. Feels very sturdy, and has come together over the years. 86 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2004: Refreshing, with a gamy undercurrent running through the currant and pomegranate flavors, along with a black and green olive note. Does not seem to have developed much in the bottle. 88 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2005: Lithe, silky, focused and pretty, with plum and currant fruit that dances lightly over refined tannins, finishing with a hint of crispness. Not much development, but it feels like it can go on and on. 88 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2006: Feels light, surprisingly lighter than 2005, with pretty plum and currant fruit in a narrow focus, lingering easily. A licorice note adds something extra as the finish remains focused, delicate and spicy. 90 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2007: Light, fragile and delightfully delicate, with pretty currant and strawberry flavors, remaining silky through the polished finish. Very youthful, and the finish has become more impressive with time. 90 points, non-blind.
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elizabeth’s Reserve 2008: Bright and lively, juicy with raspberry and spice spilling over the silky, lithe structure. Has marvelous intensity and persistence without tremendous weight. 92 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2003: Ripe and rich, not dense but generous and focused. It stays in balance, with currant, blackberry and licorice flavors, quite long. Has broad tannins, but not aggressive. 90 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2004: Meaty aromas, floral edge to the blackberry and leather flavors, and the finish, which has integrity and intensity. Has complexity and length. Powerful wine. 91 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2005: More meatiness, only this time the gaminess gets in the way with black olive and mineral flavors, dark berry fruit submerging under it, persisting on the finish. 84 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2006: Ripe and round, with suppleness to the strong blackberry, dried blueberry, licorice and spice, persisting impressively and surprisingly well balanced. 91 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2007: Feels light and crisp, with floral and white pepper character, tight in the mouth but has depth and complexity without weight. Tannins need time to soften, but they are not hard or harsh. 91 points, non-blind.
Ken Wright Pinot Noir WIllamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2008: Shows a hint of gaminess on the nose and in the mouth that is surprising, given the vintage’s reputation for purity and clarity. But it’s smooth and round, with firm tannins, dark berry, pepper and tar flavors that win in the end. The finish is long and supple, and it’s nicely balanced with tangy acidity. 92 points, non-blind.
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 21, 2010 5:57pm ET
Stephen Kahn Law Offc — Los Angeles, Cal USA — May 23, 2010 8:39pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 23, 2010 10:34pm ET
Scott Burum — ID — May 24, 2010 5:10pm ET
Stephen Kahn Law Offc — Los Angeles, Cal USA — May 25, 2010 1:56am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions