Oregon's Awesomely Delicious "Secret" White Wine - 2013 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Blanc

2013 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Blanc
Willamette Valley, Oregon
13.0% Alcohol
$20
Highly Recommended

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If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I review more red wines than white. It's not that I like red wines more, it's just what I buy more often (hard to explain... who knows?!?). When I do buy and review white wines, I tend toward the higher acid, fresh whites that lean toward traditional Chablis, Muscadet, and the like. Even more, I love fresh white wines aged on the lees, as it adds a level of complexity, texture, and fleshiness that is otherwise unattainable without aging in oak or manipulating the wine in some other way. What I haven't found much is Pinot Blanc aged on the lees ... until I randomly came across this incredible bottle from WillaKenzie Winery in Oregon, all thanks to the wine.com subscription that was gifted to us. 

So, Pinot Blanc. It's been compared to Betty Draper on Mad Men and is largely misunderstood and underappreciated throughout the wine world. Though Pinot Blanc is relatively well-known in theory, there are very few single-varietal bottles produced in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter. Of those that are, there are even fewer that are any good. So where do you go to find secretly delicious bottles of this unheralded grape? 

Oregon, of course.

While Pinot Blanc is third or fourth fiddle to Oregon's more prominent grapes-Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, even Riesling-it has an intriguing history in the state. David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards was the first to plant Pinot Blanc in 1965, or at least what he thought was Pinot Blanc, until he later found out that the grapes were actually Melon de Bourgogne (see article: http://oregonwinepress.com/blanc). This was before genetic testing of vines was available when mistaken grape identifies were commonplace. The first true planting of Pinot Blanc was sourced by David Adelhseim and Dick Erath in the 1980's and there are now 200 acres planted across several different regions, many of which exhibit enormous differences in terroir. I didn't get beyond the Willamette Valley for this post but that will be good fodder for a future post.

Now, to the wine. I drank two bottles of Pinot Blanc and while the Grochau (pictured at left) was laudable and tasty in its own right, the WillaKenzie blew me away and claims the prize as my favorite white wine in the past 3-4 months and the first white wine I've tagged as Exceptional. The wine is very pale in the glass but masks an incredible nose. There is heavy citrus on the nose with a healthy dose of fruitiness, green apple, minerality, and a hint of yeasty undertones. While I wouldn't describe this as opulent, like the back of the label says, the WillaKenzie Pinot Blanc is immaculately well-balanced, which is a feat in itself given its searing acidity and oozing minerality. The wine is medium-to-full bodied with a nice structure and the potential to age for for 3-5 years, though I recommend drinking it as soon as you get your hands on it. The finish keeps going, and going, and going and cleanses your palate with delightful citrusy aftertaste. This is an absolutely outstanding wine, one I could drink anytime of the year... as a refreshing aperitif in the summer or to pair with roasted chicken in the heart of winter. For $20 and under, it's a great value as well. 

WillaKenzie Estate is certified sustainable through LIVE and Salmon Safe and powers the majority of their operations with onsite solar power. The estate and tasting room are immaculate and well-worth visiting. I've had seven or eight other Pinot Blancs from Oregon recently, and while I didn't have a chance to write up the other bottles, don't miss a chance to drink this varietal when it's produced by Eyrie Vineyards, Bethel Heights, St. Innocent, Ken Wright Cellars, and Adelsheim. www.willakenzie.com

Stunning, Stunning, Stunning Aussie Syrah - 2012 Ochota Barrels Shellac Vineyard Syrah

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2012 Ochota Barrels Shellac Vineyard Syrah
Barossa Valley, Australia
13.8% Alcohol
$60
Exceptional

Take everything that you know about Australian 'Shiraz' and throw it out the window. Wipe Yellowtail's sappy sludge off the map and be prepared for a revelation. This Ochota Barrels Syrah is a game changer, without a flaw to be had. It is one of the best Syrahs I've ever had and one of the best wines I've tasted this year... possibly ever. 

I knew nothing about it until I pulled it out of the mystery case I ordered from Garagiste. Ochota Barrels is a small winery relatively new to the Australian wine scene. The founders, Taras and Amber Ochota, traveled the wine world until they gained enough experience to start their own winery. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary as far as that part of story goes. The wines they've managed to produce, however, are uncommonly and strikingly delicious. Here's everything you need to know about their operation:

Grenache, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, premium old vineyard sites, wild yeasts, no additives, unfined, unfiltered, hand-labeled, hand-numbered... about as hand-crafted as it gets. The only thing added to Ochota's wines are sulfites. For this Syrah and many of their other red wines, Taras chooses to pick the grapes earlier than normal so they retain their natural acidity and whole cluster fermentation is partially completed for all reds with extended maceration periods (time on the skins). 

The Shellac Vineyard is 40 years-old and neighbors some of the most famous vineyards in the region. I couldn't find any specifics on the vineyard practices but Ochota's website and other interviews said that they source grapes from conventional, organic, and biodynamic vineyards, with a preference toward the latter two.

This wine is a stunner. It was a gem from the start, in near complete harmony. The color is a deep garnet with a hint of purple. It has an incredible nose, with layers of pure fresh black fruit, pepper, oak, a hint of smoke, and attractive savory and green/herbal notes. Ripe but fresh, well-integrated, and absolutely intoxicating

The palate is fresh and vibrant while simultaneously rich and elegant. A rare feat. Nice backbone of minerality with well-integrated oak and juicy, mouthwatering black and blue fruit. The tannins are flawless. Despite the finish being extremely long and focused, it does not leave the palate exhausted. I stashed away a glass for the following day before everyone's contemplative sips turned to guzzling. By day 2, the wine had mellowed but, on the whole, was even better. 

Delicious and different than any other Australian Syrah I've had. The friends I drank this with unanimously agreed that this was outstanding. Though I only paid about $22 for this bottle, I would consider paying $60 (despite never having paid anywhere near that for a single bottle and having no plans to do so anytime soon). This bottle receives the crown for the first wine rated as Exceptional on the blog. Sadly, the Aussies drink the majority of the best juice produced in their fine country. I can't blame them. 

Read more about Ochota Barrels on their website.