On Monday January 12th I was fortunate enough to be invited, by a friend and ex-customer, to attend a barrel tasting of 2008 Pinot Noirs made by Ken Wright Cellars. Through the kindness of my friend, I was there last year as well.
Barrel tastings can be tricky. The wines are sometimes going through malolactic fermentation and can be gassy to the nose and even spritzy on the palate. In another few months they would be much easier to assess accurately, but early tastings such as these can still be very educational. (The winery offers futures on their Pinot Noirs, meaning you taste barrels, pay for cases now and get delivery in about a year, hence the early presentation).
For me the education was not about purchasing cases for a store or restaurant, but to get a bit of an early feel for Pinot Noir in that vintage. Sometimes tasting is not about a full taste or aroma evaluation, but about an overall impression and texture. That can be worthless to many people, and potentially misleading to others who may reach conclusions that are inaccurate. Armed with knowledge about a vintage however, the tasting can be amazing for confirming beliefs based on weather and some comments from winemakers and growers.
2007 proved to be a challenging vintage and Ken's address to the attendees was lengthy and filled with details. Many questions followed. "2007 was the most challenging vintage we've ever had", Ken told us. Those tastes from the barrel reflected the vintage; I found them challenging to assess. Of the five wines tasted a year ago, I found four of them mostly closed, prickly to some degree and generally tough to evaluate. The 2007's, from other wineries, that have been released over the last few months have proven to be pure, bright, focused wines, lacking some deep, dark fruit, but most show good ripeness and are nowhere near as dilute from the rain as many feared. Ken's will be very good, I have no doubt, but I have not tasted them out of bottle yet.
Monday's tasting of 2008's in barrell at Ken Wright Cellars proved to be opposite my 2007 impressions. The most open, easy to assess Pinot Noir from 2007, Carter Vineyard, was the tightest, gassiest of the day. The remainder, McCrone, Abbot Claim, Canary Hill and Freedom Hill, were lovely, surprisingly accessible and showed plenty of pure fruit notes. The McCrone and Abbot Claim, in particular, I found to be enjoyable, to the point of wondering whether I could grab an empty bottle, fill it and take it home to drink that night. Ken's talk about the 2008 vintage? Short and to the point, "2008 was easy." There will be elegance, length, ripe fruit, great acidity, and wonderful potential for longevity. It may go down as one of the most exciting vintages in Oregon history. Some of that is attributable to the weather and some of that speaks of the experience gained by those making wine in this cool climate region.