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New NW Wine Releases August 2005
Finest Pinot noir

For August 21, 2005

by Jean Yates

Fall is always a happy time for Oregon Pinot noir lovers as wineries release some of their best wines. This year is no exception, with the first fall releases including Tony Soter's exceptional flagship "Beacon Hill" and the three St Innocent single vineyard Pinots Parker gave 94 points to for their last vintage.

Soter Vineyard Pinot noir "Beacon Hill" 03 $44.55/$49.50
Highly anticipated and quick to sell out, Tony Soter's small Oregon winery only produces wine from his Estate vineyards. One thing you can count on about Tony, if the wine is not up to par, he will not release it. It's doubtful that he had a moment's hesitation with this beautiful Pinot.

This 2003 vintage "Beacon Hill" shows the continued improvement of the vines with age, and Tony and crew's experience shows in the beauty of the wine. Some wineries may have struggled with the heat and its effects on the grapes, but the Soter 03 shows what a great winemaker can do with careful vineyard management and ruthless culling of damaged fruit.

This wine, along with the Beaux Freres Estate 03 and the Dusky Goose 03, would be a fascinating trio to cellar and taste together over the next ten years. All are Estate wines made by winemakers dedicated to Pinot noir. In time these wineries may become known as some of the best producers of Pinot noir in the world.

From the winery: "The 2003 Beacon Hill Pinot Noir is in a riper, perhaps more powerful style than the 2002. With almost Burgundian notes of dry leaves, underbrush, and game, it features bold black cherries, Oregon blackberries, that ever-present cranberry top-note, and a hint of marzipan. A gentle caress of tannin on the back palate promises a very bright future in the cellar. A wine for grilled lamb and assertive, washed-rind cheeses."

"Wines from Beacon Hill typically express themselves with appealing toast and baking spice aromas, highlighting copious dark fruit elements, suggestive of Oregon blackberries and blueberries, with lively top notes of raspberries and cranberries. Beacon Hill Pinot Noir is a structured, dense version of the varietal, built for medium to long-term cellaring. It is the "Grand Vin" of the property, and any lots that do not enhance its stature are declassified, in Burgundian fashion. The wine will pair beautifully with beef and lamb roasts, not to mention hearty game dishes and strong soft cheeses, such as reblochon or epoisses."

St Innocent 2003 Pinot noirs: Shea, Seven Springs, Freedom Hill

When Parker bestowed 94 point ratings on three single vineyard wines from St Innocent Winery last summer, he announced to the world what Oregon Pinot lovers have long known- Mark Vlosak makes delicious Pinots, and at quite reasonable prices. Mark has a distinct style, developed over more than a dozen vintages. St INnocent does not own any vineyards, sourcing fruit from some of Oregon's best vineyard sites.

For 15 years, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has tasted St Innocent's Pinot noirs. Mark was named a "Wine Advocate Wine Personality of the Year" for 2004, and Parker said: ""Mark Vlossak, Willamette Valley, Oregon – A Wine Advocate Hero in 2002, Mark Vlossak continues to grace consumers with the finest Pinot noirs Oregon has fashioned to date (one of his wines at Panther Creek earned the highest score Robert Parker ever gave to an Oregon wine and his offerings at St. Innocent Winery have received the highest scores I’ve attributed to Oregon). As if that were not enough to earn high praise, Vlossak also deserves thanks from all wine-loving consumers for maintaining extremely fair pricing – many of his 2002s, for example, were the finest Pinots I tasted in that highly successful vintage yet were some of the cheapest wines in my report. Vlossak’s dedication to quality and his commitment to delivering value to his customers is exemplary." The Wine Advocate 12-27-04

The 2003 Shea, Seven Springs, and Freedom Hill Pinots from Mark are all beautiful wines, wines made to take advantage of the vagarities of weather conditions in 2003, wines with a tad more structure and tannic backbone than the '02s, while maintaining good balance and finesse. As in all vintages, quantities are limited, and we suggest ordering as soon as you can. The Parker ratings of these wines usually come out in late September, and we suspect that any stock left will fly out the door then, if not before.

St Innocent Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 04 $28.75/$31.95
From the winery: "This 2003 Shea is a dark, almost opaque, ruby color. Its nose is still very tight with lavender, dark flowers, and black fruits -- there are hints of red fruit aromas underneath. Initially almost sweet on the palate, it crescendos into a powerhouse of dark flowers, dried berries, but still maintains a persistent sweetness around its edges. Still young and a bit disjointed, I expect the '03 Shea to develop into a heady, richly textured, very concentrated wine full of red and black fruits. I tasted this wine after 5 days of open time, the tannins had softened dramatically and the fruit was bigger and sweeter than ever. It has all the markings of a great Shea vintage. I expect it to peak in 8-10 years." - Mark Vlossak

St Innocent Pinot noir Seven Springs 03 $28.75/$31.95
A pure, feminine, fascinatingly complex Pinot noir, all sophistication where the Freedom Hill is brooding and muscular, beautiful balance of red fruits, floral notes of roses and violets, hints of milk chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, fine, fine tannins entwine the ever changing flavors.

St Innocent Pinot noir Freedom Hill 03 $28.75/$31.95
St Innocent's Freedom Hill Pinot noir is always an intense, masculine, muscular wine, with dense black color, juicy black cherry flavors, and fine but quite definite tannins. This is a great wine to cellar and to have with a Porterhouse Steak or game meats.

Winemaker Notes: For me, Freedom Hill Pinot noir is a wine with structure, depth, and richness. The site is quite warm in the day which develops rich skin tannins. Because of it proximity to Oregon Coast range, the vineyard is quite cool at night, maintaining good acidity in the fruit. This combination of tannin and acidity produces a Pinot noir with great structure. Capturing that intensity and revealing the nuances of the terroir (clay-like earthiness, dried flowers, dark spices) without excess tannins is the key to making great Freedom Hill.


Cherry Hill Winery Pinot noir Estate $28
" Cherry Hill Winery produced its first vintage from its new winery in 2003. The winery’s first Cherry Hill Winery Estate Pinot noir 03 is made from Pommard clone grapes, which make up 55% of the Cherry Hill 55 acre vineyard. The fruit for this wine was hand picked from the best blocks of this young vineyard, and yields were restricted to two tons per acre. The grapes were fermented in small lots, and was aged in neutral French oak for one year.

This Estate wine is not a big bruiser, but shows a delicacy of fruit and complexity of flavor that belies the youth of the vineyard. The wine has a light scent of cherry with a hint of oak. The flavors are spicy blackberry, raspberry, and a bit of bing cherry. There's a distinct Burgundian sweetness to the wine, maybe partially from the choice of oak for aging? The finish is moderately long and classic, with well integrated, fine grained tannins artfully balancing lingering sweet fruit notes.

Wine Spectator rating 91 points: "Relatively firm, with lively, emphatic raspberry and plum flavors that sail through the finish, lingering seamlessly. Best from 2007 through 2013." H.S.


About Jean Yates

Jean Yates is owner of Avalon Wine, and has worked to promote Oregon and Washington wine for over 19 years through her wine shop, web site, and articles.

Jean previously worked in the computer industry and does most of the work on the Avalon website. She is a passionate photographer and many of the images on this site are hers


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