By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Ken Wright pinot named wine of year

It is the first time an Oregon wine has ever topped one of the leading national wine magazine’s Top 100 lists. In fact, it is considered a signal achievement simply to make one of the lists.

Upon initial evaluation earlier in the year, the $65 Yamhill-Carlton AVA pinot was awarded a near-perfect 97 points and named an Editor’s Choice. When the magazine went through the process of determining its best 100 for the year, it came out on top in a star-studded field of wines from around the world.

The wine is made of grapes from a previously untouched 17-acre portion of the original John F. Abbott Donation Land Claim. Wright cleared, prepared and planted the plot in 2001.

With vine health as his first priority, Wright has followed a strict regimen to promote maximum delivery of nutrition to the vine. Root depth has increased over time, adding trace minerals and other soil components that invoke terroir, or sense of place.

Within just a few years, the roughly equal mix of Pommard and 777 clones brought forth densely colored, full-bodied wines with lush flavors of plum, cassis and black cherry.

As early as the 2005 vintage, Wine Enthusiast awarded Abbott Claim 95 points, saying, “This outstanding vineyard comes through again with a full, fleshy almost beefy wine... Elegant and complex, the fruit from these young vines show power and grace. Most surprisingly, the finish actually gains strength as it lingers. The sweet black cherry flavor seems to last forever.”

The 2005 Abbott Claim, of course, long ago sold out. And for some time, the 2012 Abbott Claim has been available only from Ken Wright Cellars only as part of its two-case, 2012 cellar sampler, consisting of two bottles each from it 12-individual vineyard bottlings.

Following are Wine Enthusiast’s comments on their top choice for 2014:

“From first sniff, this exquisite wine grabs you and won’t let go. Brambly berries, redolent with rich umami notes of spice and pine needle cascade into a wine densely packed with fruit and herbs. It lingers, opens and becomes more and more expressive, with soil-generated flavors of forest floor. 97 points.”

Ken Wright, who has long been one of Oregon’s most highly regarded winemakers, founded Panther Creek Cellars in McMinnville in 1986. He went on to establish his eponymous winery in Carlton in 1994.

The winery is a focal point of Carlton, and the Wrights, Ken and Karen, are key community leaders there. Both have played major roles in the revitalization of the town, helping transform it into the single most visited wine destination in Oregon.

Also making Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 for the year from Oregon were 2013 Trisaetum Ribbon Ridge Estate Riesling, No. 11; 2012 Sokol Blosser Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, No. 28; 2011 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Dundee Hills Chardonnay, No. 41; 2011 Brick House Evelyn Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir, No. 63; and 2012 The Eyrie Vineyard Original Vines Dundee Hills Pinot Gris, No. 84. Interestingly, the group includes only one other example of pinot noir, even though it is the overwhelmingly dominant local varietal.

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