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April 29, 2020

Ode To Middle-Aged Wines

 To hold the bottle of wine I’d randomly picked up in my cellar a couple of days ago or — what the hell — open it now?  That is was the question I asked myself.  Until now I would’ve probably left that Cabernet to mature another year or so, but these days I find myself rethinking the whole philosophy of wine enjoyment, and I wonder if you’re having the same shifting thoughts.

I’m not talking about your investment wines, those gems you’ve laid down and planned to keep for another decade or so. No, I mean the wine that is probably ready to drink today but that might also evolve a little more in a couple of years.

For me, Covid19 has caused me to adjust my views on such matters somewhat, as in the case of this bottle of Freemark Abbey, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California Cabernet 2013, which cost $70 when it was released.  Sure, it might age and soften a little more in a year or two, or it might be perfectly delicious now.  But I need cheering up these days (don’t we all?) so why not enjoy it right now?  

Inspired by that thought I popped the cork, poured out a healthy dose and admired the deep, dark, still youthful looking purple liquid shimmering in my glass.  I sniff, I taste, I swallow.  I do the wine drinker’s version of purring. This is good stuff!  Robustly flavored, with plenty of fresh fruit, softly textured and long on the palate, there is nothing more I could ask for.  

Perhaps it’s time to make another trip downstairs to see what other middle-aged wines might be lurking down there waiting to be enjoyed right now.

Connect with Marguerite on Twitter at @M_L_Thomas
You can read her wine column at Marguerite Thomas  and her column with Paul Lukacs at "Wine With..." for recipes with wine pairing recommendations.

Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 5:07 PM

April 1, 2020

Winery to Watch: Oregon's WillaKenzie

The wines of Oregon's WillaKenzie Estate are priced to impress.  They're made that way, too.  

Winemaker Erik Kramer, who joined WillaKenzie after a 13-year career split between the Willamette Valley's highly regarded Adelsheim and Domaine Serene wineries, has been on a roll since arriving in January 2017.  

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kramer and taste one Chardonnay and three Pinot Noirs from his first vintage as well as a Chardonnay from the 2018 harvest.  All five wines were a brilliant reflection of Kramer's bedrock philosophy and approach to winemaking.  

For starters, they were crisp, fresh and clean with exceptional balance and a deft touch of oak.  Despite the generous use of new French oak barrels, the influence of the wood was remarkably subtle.

"Wood selection is about elevating without interfering," said Kramer. "Wine should be wine."

His philosophy came through loud and clear when I tasted the two Chardonnays, the 2018 WillaKenzie Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($40) and the 2017 WillaKenzie Estate Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton ($75).  The 2018 Willamette chard shows a wonderful touch of lemon creme, richness lifted by firm acidity and subtle hints of baking spice. The 2017 Estate Chardonnay, grown in a slightly warmer microclimate in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, is richer and more opulent, with complex layers of citrus, apple, pear and spice.  

Since arriving at WillaKenzie, he's scoured the 400-acre estate (100 acres under vine) for the best Chardonnay sites.  The trick, he said, is "putting Chardonnay in really lovely spots where it has the opportunity to be great."   Suffice it to say he is off to a very good start.

The three Pinot Noirs were equally stunning, including the relatively modestly priced 2017 WillaKenzie Pinot Noir, WillaKenzie Estate Vineyard/Jory Hills Estate Vineyard at $35.  This is an elegant Pinot that shows exceptional fruit purity, impressive structure and a pleasing finish with a touch of tannin on the back end.  

"I'm looking to build palate shape with good tannin," he explained.  Hallelujah.  Too many Pinot Noir producers are so afraid of tannins that they shy away and go in the other direction with soft, flabby, oft times sweet Pinot.  

The other two Pinots are part of WillaKenzie's terroir-specific program that isolates grapes from six specific sites on the estate.  I tasted the 2017 WillaKenzie "Aliette" Pinot Noir ($65) and the 2017 WillaKenzie "Kiana" Pinot Noir ($65).  The Aliette delivers a distinctive nose of cherry and spice and is light in color though big on flavor.  The beautifully perfumed Kiana, grown in a warmer microclimate, trends to the floral spectrum of aroma, with an impressive mid-palate and exceptional palate length.

I must say I can hardly wait to taste the rest of the WillaKenzie portfolio.

Connect with Robert Whitley on Twitter at @WineGuru.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:23 AM