The 29th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has come and gone, my, oh-oh, my. There was the interview with Chuck Wagner, the Infinite Monkey sparkling black muscat in a can, the Smuggler Mine party, and so much more.
I was on my way to the “It’s Willamette Damnit!” seminar on Saturday afternoon when my companion stepped into an open house that included pieces of art made by a mutual friend. There was also a tasting going on, and I quickly recognized some familiar faces. Ben Brennan said “Come on in, we have a little King Estates’ vertical going on.”
As I mentioned, I was on my way to the Willamette seminar, which was featuring Rex Pickett, author of “Sideways,” and the sequel, “Vertical,” in which Miles and Jack head to Oregon for the International Pinot Noir Celebration and more pinot mayhem.
Well, needless to say, I never made it to that seminar. Like a sideways turn on a winery tasting tour, I veered into a lineup of Oregon pinot noir from one of the beaver state’s oldest and most consistent producers.
And that lineup included a vertical of 18 consecutive vintages. Not one was missing and not one was undrinkable. Gushingly I told all of my Oregon wine-loving friends about this, and responses were like “Is that even possible?” I agreed, save maybe for a few California legends like Heitz or Ridge. And that’s cabernet sauvignon. But pinot noir from Oregon, with its cool climate and light fruit?
Truth be told, I have visited King Estates several times. The winery, or “domaine,” sits nobly on a meadowed hilltop a few miles outside of Eugene. I have sampled from their extensive library releases before, but to see 18 consecutive “signature” releases (their entry level tier) lined up and ready to go was a breathtaking sight.
King Estates has set the standard with the consciousness of organic practices, from compost to pest control to seed stock. Wisened, expert wine-making with excellent use of oak; a climate that begets high acidity out of its grapes, and a wonderful cellaring facility create this remarkable vertical phenomenon. A pinot noir lineup that would make Pickett’s Miles weep.
Luckily I have a bit more fortitude than that, with such I dove in. The ’92 was fresh, flavorful and full of life. The same went for the ’93, which was nearly indistinguishable in its color and acidity. Then the ’94 through ’96 followed in the same vein. Moderately dark in color, with beautiful fruits and remarkable acidity.
They have online tasting notes back to ’94, and those notes, all the way up to the present, feature words like integrated, supple, balance, intensity, solid and brilliant, with flavors described as cherry, blueberry, blackberry, cassis, mushroom, cedar and chocolate. These wines have held up, in some cases for almost 20 years. The only vintage that was slightly off was the ’97, as it showed a strong hint of raisined oxidization and slight browning in the glass.
Moving on to the last decade, the ’02 — the vintage that basically put the Willamette Valley on the map — was brilliant and solid, as its tasting notes described. And all the way to the most recent release, the ’09, this vertical was an opus — the perfect record of a serious winery. When I finished with the 18, I tried three reserve vintages from ’94, ’98 and ’99. The ’99 Reserve was so rich and chocolatey that I thought there was no way I would go back to the beginning and find the same results.
After pouring a full glass of ’92 and having some wonderful conversations (and a duck confit and bacon sandwich) it was still holding up. The same was true for the ’93 through ’95. I stopped there, while enjoying a conversation with Randy Ullom, the wine master for Kendall Jackson Wines, who happens to oversee more than 100 wine makers in its own historical legacy project. He was in relaxed agreement as we shared a rare glimpse into a piece of living wine history. Pickett’s Miles would be envious. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org