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CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: WillaKenzie nets the elusive essence of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir

Submitted by on May 21, 2018 – 11:37 am
By Lawrence B. Johnson

It is a pervasive proposition of Oregon winemakers, whose red grape of choice is generally Pinot Noir, that their wines are created on the Burgundian model. One producer whose Pinot Noir might actually be taken for Burgundy, in both style and structure, is WillaKenzie Estate.

The heart of Burgundy’s wine production, the celebrated Côte d’Or, lies at roughly the same latitude as the core of Oregon’s wine production, the Willamette Valley. That fertile basin extends some 100 miles from Portland in the north down to Eugene. It is the source of more than 80 percent of the Pinot Noir wines made in Oregon.

WillaKenzie, which takes its name from the sedimentary soil type found near the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers, recently offered a cross-section of its Pinot Noir at a Chicago tasting. The half dozen wines fell into two general styles analogous to Burgundy Pinot Noir.

Three wines, light in hue and medium bodied, suggested the Pinot Noir produced in Beaune or perhaps Santenay in the central Côte d’Or; an equal number of darker, more imposing wines brought to mind the Pinot Noir of northerly Burgundian locales like Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey-Chambertin.

Of the wines built on a grander frame, the WillaKenzie Pinot Noir Kiana 2014 stood out for its ample weight, complex structure and layered, earthy flavors of dried red fruit and autumn leaves. Though still in its youth, the Kiana offered a generous and round mouth-feel with a long finish. It also gave the impression of a keeper, a wine that will age long and gracefully. ($55)

The WillaKenzie Pinot Noir Triple Black Slopes 2014, another wine that displayed density and power, opened with aromas of blueberries and plums. The palate was dominated by dark cherry and spices. As the Triple Black Slopes evolved in the glass, its ripe tannins melded nicely with the ample fruit to create a plush texture to go with concentrated flavors. Without question, this is a cellar-worthy Pinot Noir. ($75)

Longevity was a linking character of the three more posh wines. The WillaKenzie Pinot Noire Pierre Léon 2013 completed that triptych in noble fashion. The Pierre Léon was striking for its luscious dark fruits and a hint of coffee, but also for its elegance, a fine balance between rich flavors and acid-supported structure. This is wine with serious life expectancy. ($55).

Of the lighter, or more feminine, wines offered here, I was especially taken by the WillaKenzie Pinot Noir Aliette 2014. Its deceptively light color, combined with a deep core of complex flavors of strawberry and cherry, brought vividly to mind the Pinot Noir produced around Beaune. The Aliette is all about grace and finesse, and yet it also delivers on the palate with lasting impact. ($55)

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