2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s Zenith Vineyard St. Innocent Pinot is his estate bottling and comes from just 7 blocks in South East facing parcels planted to a combination of four clones: Pommard, Wadenswil (old Swiss clone), 115 and 777, which explains the deep color and dense complexity of flavors in what is an impressive and beautiful wine. The 2016 vintage is perfectly captured here with this St. Innocent, one of Oregon’s hall of fame producers, with its richness of fruit, textural excellence and incredible length, my only mistake on opening this 2016 Zenith is that it should still be in the cellar, where I’m sure it reward the patient with an exceptional long life, there’s so much more potential here, even though it is a tremendous Pinot Noir now. The layered fruit is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and tangy currant that is well accented by floral tones, smoky sweet oak, sassafras, tea spices and a hint of mineral, it reminds me somewhat of a young Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanee, which seriously makes me very happy, this is absolutely a pleasure in the glass. Zenith, set on old marine sedimentary soils, in the rolling hills of the Eola-Amity zone and has been a source of top Pinot grapes for many years, with some of region’s best winemakers using these grapes to good effect, including Ken Wright and Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres to name a few, it is a site of quality and terroir distinction with a profile and fruit density more in line with Ribbon Ridge and or Yamhill-Carlton rather than the Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The St. Innocent Zenith remains somewhat a sleeper in the lineup of great Oregon wines and strangely in Vlossak’s own collection, sometimes hiding behind his Freedom Hill and Momtazi bottlings, which is wild when you taste this awesome Pinot, this is a wine to NOT overlook! For those that prefer aged wines and mature flavors in their Pinots would be advised to add St. Innocent to their collection to put away for later enjoyment, trust me.

St. Innocent makes an outstanding set of wines and Mark Vlossak is one of the state’s best with many classic wines under his belt, he is of one of the Willamette’s legendary generations including the mentioned Ken Wright and Mike Etzel as well as John Paul of Cameron, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. I have been a long time fan of Vlossak’s wines and have enjoyed aging a few bottles, I recently opened one of his 2000 vintage Seven Springs Pinots and it was still remarkably youthful and vibrant with years left ahead of it, and that wasn’t a very hyped years either, so I have no doubt this 2016 will go the distance. Vlossak uses classic Burgundian techniques and this Zenith saw his normal regiment with all the grapes being 100% de-stemmed and naturally fermented using indigenous yeasts with no SO2 added with gentle maceration and cool stainless primary fermentation before being raised in French oak barrique with 25% new wood used in this concentrated vintage. The finished Zenith Pinot was gravity bottled after 16 months in barrel without finning or filtration to capture every bit of character and purity, which it does to near perfection here and while it shows the vanilla scented toasty oak, it quickly settles into the background and never intrudes into the enjoyment of this wine. While the fruit dominates here, I want to note there is plenty of acidity and energy in this Pinot and there is a subtle earthiness or savory elements to keep things interesting. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how great the value is here, seriously, this ruby/garnet Zenith in particular, with under a thousand cases made, is almost guilt free for what is delivered in the glass, these wines from St. Innocent way over perform for the price. This 2016, a savvy wine to cellar, if opened in the next 2 or 3 years, will be best with fuller cuisine to match the opulent nature of the fruit, it’s medium/full bodied palate and deep flavors will be best served by having matching cuisine. It was thrilling with pulled pork and slaw last night, but I think grilled salmon and or lamb kabobs would be sublime pairings too!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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