Tasters’ choice: Willamette Valley Vineyards, Wild Horse wines

Tasting panelists: Fron t, Alana Melanson and Grant Welker; back, from left, Michael Pigeon, Tom Zuppa, Rick Sobey and Melissa Hanson.

Tasting panelists: Fron t, Alana Melanson and Grant Welker; back, from left, Michael Pidgeon, Tom Zuppa, Rick Sobey and Melissa Hanson.

What’s on your palate?
It’s Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir for the newly-formed Mill City Mass Media Oenophile Club, a small group of novice wine tasters from The Sun’s newsroom.
We met recently after work to sample seven wines — two whites, five reds — from Oregon’s Willamette Valley Vineyards, California’s Wild Horse Winery in Paso Robles, and two other California selections.
We also ate a lot of food, including three soft cheeses with crackers, French bread, salmon and tuna sushi rolls, an Italian antipasto and homemade brownies.
The goal was to rate each wine in five categories — color, aroma, body (texture), taste, finish — on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best).
Alana Melanson and Grant Welker rated the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir highly for its enhanced fruit flavors.

Alana Melanson and Grant Welker rated the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir highly for its enhanced fruit flavors.

The tasting was “blind.” Each bottle was concealed in a paper wrapper and tagged with a number.
(Secretly, I added two California Pinot Noirs whose flavor profiles were totally opposite the three Oregon Pinot Noir bottlings. Would the panel be able to detect the not-so-subtle differences?)
I served as moderator and was ably assisted by the Wine Goddess, my wife. The instructions were simple. This is not a competition between wines, but a learning process to identify key elements of each wine — things that make an impression — and to note them on the rating sheet with a score.
The work was arduous; the strain of smelling, swirling, sipping and savoring the wines could be visibly seen on the panelists’ smiling faces.
Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir scored well with its enhanced flavors, smooth and long finish.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir scored well with its enhanced flavors, smooth and long finish.


After 2 1/2 hours of “serious” fun, the scores were totaled and the wines revealed. The panel’s selections were impressive, ranking the smooth, structured, palate-pleasing Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Noirs 1-2-3, respectively. (The panel clearly detected the California “outliers” in the sampling.)
The Pinot Gris tasting left the panel nearly equally divided between WVV’s crisp minerality bottling and Wild Horse’s creamier version.
Tasting results and comments are as follows:
Pinot Noir (5)
1. 2012 WVV Bernau Block Pinot Noir, $55 (145 points) — The panel raved about its overall elegance: enchanting ruby color, complex layering of cherry, cola and herb flavors, and mouth-watering, long finish. A seductive wine. Four of the six panelists ranked it their No. 1 wine, and it received more perfect ‘5’ scores — 14 — for aroma, taste and finish than any of the Pinots sampled. Named for Jim Bernau, who established Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1983, grapes used in this wine are sourced from an exclusive 15-acre block of original vines.
Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir is a smart value.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir is a smart value.

2. 2013 WVV Estate Pinot Noir, $30 (126 points) — The panel enjoyed the “feel” of this wine on the palate. It coated the tongue with vibrant cherry and stawberry fruit flavors. The eye-appealing ruby color also stood out. It scored big with salmon sushi rolls and smoked gouda cheese. Grapes for this wine are sourced from WVV’s three vineyards where the distinctive, volcanic Jory soil — red clay, nutrient rich — is found. It yields powerful, structured wines of which this is a prime example. In my view, this is a great Thanksgiving Day selection for either turkey or lamb.
3. 2014 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, $22 (119 points) — Christine Collier, winery director for Willamette Valley Vineyards, is featured in the November issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine (“America’s Best Value Pinot Noirs”) where she endorses this wonderful wine. The panel noted its “smoky” aroma and more intense fruit flavors, formed from a carbonic maceration fermentation process in which the grapes and stems are initially kept intact in the vat and allowed to burst on their own. The juice that is produced picks up enhanced traits from the skins and stems. Four panelists rated it perfect on flavor, and one said it had the most unique fruit flavors of all those sampled. A real bargain, too.
4. 2013 Sledgehammer Pinot Noir, $11.99 (108 points) — The panel saw this as a drinkable, uncomplicated, flavorful California wine yet clearly a notch or two below the stylistic Oregon bunch.
5. 2013 Mark West Pinot Noir, $9 (87 points) — The panel picked up on the simple, unrefined quality. The fruit flavors were strong but it lacked overall balance and endurance on the finish. “Good for a barbecue,” said one panelist.
Panelists ate well and drank well for their hard work.

Panelists ate well and drank well for their hard work.


Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
1. 2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, $16 (108 points) — An overachiever in the panelists’ view: they guessed it cost double the listed price. It was a hit with the apricot cheddar cheese. The remarks ranged from nice apple/pear aromas to clean, citrusy taste to steely, dry finish — the result of stainless steel tank fermentation. Overall it was rated a good sipper for all seasons.
2. 2014 Wild Horse Winery Pinot Gris, $15 (104 points) — The panel crooned over the richer, creamier texture and peach/pineapple flavors of this California blend (Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Malvasia Bianca, Verdelho, Orange Muscat). It’s the winery’s first vintage, with grapes sourced from Central Coast vineyards, and represents an impressive start right out of the gate.

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