2016 The Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Tasting a little like a Riesling, the Eyrie Dundee Hills Pinot Gris has a hint of tropical fruit, flinty wet stones, green apple and dried apricots along with subtle earthy notes, orange citrus and white flowers, it is just starting to get a creamy mouth feel, but still has a vein of tangy zest, making it a nicely complex example of Oregon Gris. It’s well documented that David Lett, founder and winemaker at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, which started back in the mid sixties, helped pioneer Pinot Noir here in the Willamette Valley and is one of the heros of Oregon’s recognition in premium wines and ushered in the golden age of Pinot Noir in America, though it is lesser known that he also was a huge fan and maker of Oregon Pinot Gris, making it one of the wines that defined Oregon wine for decades, especially on the white side of things, and Eyrie still makes one of the standard bearer examples, like this beauty from the 2016 vintage. David’s son Jason Lett continued to produce outstanding wines here at Eyrie, which are hand crafted using traditional techniques, like native yeast fermentations in reds, skin contact on whites, and full natural malolactic to promote, as Lett notes, the most complex expression of their varieties. These old school wines receive minimal racking, extended lees contact, complete and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with no fining, and minimal filtration, all to capture purity and influence of the year and terroir. For this Pinot Gris, which is all from organic Dundee vines, Eyrie fermented and aged it in 100% stainless with the wine resting on the lees for 11 months and finished at around 13% natural alcohol, which helps explain the wines exotic flavors and beautiful texture.

In the cellar, Eyrie likes to do extended lees contact on their wines, with both red and white wines, which are allowed to fully develop before bottling and, as they explain, for example, their Pinot Gris ages, as mentioned above, for a full 11 months before bottling, or about 3 times as long as a typical Oregon Pinot Gris, though we are seeing a modern revolution in styles here in Oregon with many unique bottlings coming in recent years taking advantage of the skin contact excitement in the market place. Interesting, back in 1974, Eyrie Founder David Lett observed a new strain of malolactic bacteria in their wines, which had happened naturally in the cellar, that allowed them to undergo malolactic at lower temperatures and higher degrees of acidity than any commercial strain available at that time. This natural resident of Eyrie’s cellar continues to contribute to every wine they produce, including this Pinot Gris and their delicious Pinot Blanc, as well as the Chards. The Lett’s believe that these full and natural fermentation(s) (primary and secondary) gives their wines a remarkable stability and balance as well as allows them to age exceptionally well, this they say, just cannot be achieved any other way. They love to use whole cluster fermentation, depending on the vintage, and even do it on the Pinot Gris to make a full skin fermented Rosé version. Even with the nice bit of age on this 2016, there is lots of energy and natural acidity that keeps things fresh here, while the maturity adds depth and makes it more rounded, it is a serious food wine, much in the mold of a good Alsatian Pinot Gris, very impressive stuff. I am glad I got a chance to try this Pinot Gris has it enters its prime and it reminds me I need to pay attention to Eyrie again and restores my faith in the grape, which is making a serious come back!
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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