Thursday, March 30, 2017

Zena Crown & Gran Moraine - Killer Oregon Pinot & Chardonnay

Winemaker Shane Moore. Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard.
The first time I tasted Zena Crown Pinot Noirs, I was amazed. I knew nothing about this producer, knew only vaguely about the quality of the vineyard, and knew that I enjoyed the fresh appeal of many 2013 Willamette Valley Pinots. But as I tasted and re-tasted these wines (in order to check my high level of stoke), I became more and more convinced that these are exceptional Pinots. So I jumped at the opportunity to re-taste these wines with Zena Crown winemaker Shane Moore during his recent visit to DC.

Zena Crown Vineyard is one of those recent purchases by California wine giant Jackson Family. Like Copain and Siduri (two stellar Sonoma-based Pinot Noir producers purchased by the Jackson Family in 2016 and 2015, respectively), Jackson Family has been fastening several Pinot Noir jewels into their corporate crown. As a big fan of both of those California producers, I was a bit worried at the purchases, fearing the wines I had loved would be altered to fit sales goals of the parent company.

The Zena Crown Vineyard in Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills appellation. Credit: Zena Crown Vineyard
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Shane, who was installed as Zena Crown’s winemaker, says he feels Jackson Family has given him the power and the backing to move forward and make the best wines he can.

If I was on the board of Jackson Family Wines, I’d sure as hell let Shane run the show. His wines are fantastic, fresh, vibrant examples of the high quality Pinots and Chardonnays coming out of Oregon. (Especially with back-to-back-to-back solid vintages 2014-2016, there are going to be a lot of exception Oregon wines out there for years to come.)

Shane is also winemaker at
Gran Moraine, a Chardonnay and Pinot producer that kicked off in 2013. Made from Yamhill-Carlton fruit, these wines are lip-smacking and delicious. The Chardonnay was particularly impressive.

During dinner, Shane told me that his favorite Pinot Noirs come from Burgundy’s Volnay village. I love Volnay wines, too, so our palates align a bit more than I had predicted. Bright red fruit, complex earth and floral tones, bright acidity, moderate weight but plenty of tannic structure — these are the Pinots that make me swoon. As such, I’m a huge fan of Zena Crown’s 2013s. They’re accessible and crisp but offer plenty of depth and structure.

Below are my notes on the Gran Moraine and Zena Crown wines I tasted.

2016 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir Rosé of Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $30
Pale strawberry color. Lively and crisp aromas of watermelon rind, honeydew, chalk dust and rose hops. The palate shows that lovely balanced contrast between a fleshy and juicy texture with crisp, lip-smacking acidity. Spicy floral tones mix with white pepper and nettle. Whole-cluster pressed and later the pale juice is blended back in with some carbonic macerated Pinot Noir. (90 points)

2014 Gran Moraine Chardonnay - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Deep and fascinating aromas of mixed nuts, honeysuckle, lime and complex white and yellow floral tones. Wide-textured and some pleasant creaminess but lit up by intense acidity, the balance is pristine. Limes and apricots topped in butterscotch, floral perfume, toasted nut, sea shells, crusty chalk and a streak of minerals. Long finish. Gorgeous stuff. (94 points)

2013 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pretty aromatic display of rhubarb, roses, herb garden and top soil, on top of pure red cherry and cranberry sauce. Silky and vibrant on the palate, light but structured very well with brisk acidity and crunchy, complex red fruits (cherry, pomegranate, cranberries). Notes of spiced tea, roses, anise and pine resin add lots of complexity. A vibrant and delicious Pinot for near-term drinking. (92 points)

2013 Zena Crown Pinot Noir Slope - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
SRP: $100
What a beauty to sniff. Waves of bright and juicy raspberries, McIntosh apple peel and red currants, along with lots of rose petals, cola, rhubarb, spiced black tea… and a whole lot more to coax out as well. Bright and crisp on the palate with a blend of earth, mint, clove, white pepper, rhubarb and tobacco. So much depth and texture for a sub 13% ABV Pinot. Age-worthy for sure, this will be exceptional in a few years despite it’s early-drinking appeal, like a lot of 2013s right now. (94 points)

2013 Zena Crown Pinot Noir The Sum - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Eola - Amity Hills
SRP: $75
More spice and darker fruit than the Slope, lots of broth and pepper but still fresh and lively. Palate shows gorgeous concentration despite its lightness, so much complexity and depth for a 12-something-% Pinot. Takes a bit more time to open up than the Slope, but it shows complex and delicious black cherries and raspberries, and a host of mushroom, earth, black tea and rose petal elements. This will do some wonders in five or six years. (93 points)

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