King Estate Pinot Gris Vertical Tasting
King Estate has a longstanding foothold in the Oregon Pinot Gris market. A staple for somms on wine lists throughout the Northwest, King Estate Pinot Gris has received international acclaim over the years. The winery is located southwest of Eugene, Oregon, outside many of the Willamette Valley producers. There is massive acreage here. Founded in 1991 by Ed King, Jr. and his son, Ed King III, King Estate amasses 1,033 acres (4.18 km2), is Oregon Tilth Certified Organic and has 465 acres of organic vineyards, as well as 30 acres of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Organic farming is paramount at King Estate, which is why they deter pests through the planting of species to attract beneficial insects and through the use of raptors, such as kestrels and owls. This is one of the largest organic vineyards in the world and King Estate produces over 350,000 cases of wine each year.
Pinot Gris originated from the Burgundy and Alsatian regions of France and was brought to Oregon 35 years ago. As a varietal, Pinot Gris is actually a mutation of its ancestor, Pinot Noir. In fact, the Pinot Noir grape mutates more readily than any other major varietal. King Estate has a whopping 314 acres of Pinot Gris planted. I can’t think of another new world winery that has that much Pinot Gris planted. Pinot Gris is such a big deal to King Estate that they have more than double the acreage planted to Pinot Gris compared to Pinot Noir. I also can’t think of any Oregon winery balanced that way but it shows you how important making high quality Pinot Gris is to King Estate.
Both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes grow in small clusters that resemble pine cones for which they are named. They are genetically identical, sharing leaf shapes, vine structure, and bunch and grape size. However, like the skin of a chameleon, the grape's outer coat can change without warning, resulting in a possible mixture of mutations on the same vine, perhaps even on the same bunch. The lighter Pinot Gris grapes usually are not revealed until the Pinot Noir grapes have darkened. While "gris" means grey in French, the skin of a Pinot Gris grape typically ranges from blue-grey to pinkish brown, depending on climate conditions and vineyard locations. Similarly, the resulting wine hues can greatly vary. In the glass, Oregon Pinot Gris tends to fit in the medium gold range, sometimes with a pale pink tinge. Bottle aging tends to reveal a richer, more golden hue, which is what I saw with the older bottlings of King Estate Pinot Gris, particularly the 2005 King Estate Pinot Gris.
While there is little precedent regarding the aging potential of Oregon Pinot Gris, given the structure of the varietal there is also little evidence that the Oregon based Pinot Gris won’t age well. Pinot Gris ages gracefully in Alsace with the incredible Pinot Gris wines from Domaine Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht and others. I’ve had many opportunities to sample older Alsatian Pinot Gris but have been afforded little opportunity to check in at the aging potential for Oregon Pinot Gris. The recent results from King Estate were pretty astounding. Even the oldest, more than ten year old, non-reserve, bottlings by King Estate showed beautifully. Needless to say, I was very surprised. The 2005 King Estate ‘Signature Collection’ Pinot Gris (WWB, 90) comes from a good but somewhat challenging growing season that saw a lack of rain during winter and rains during October. This bottling showed the ripeness of an excellent summer growing season and has picked up some intriguing secondary characteristics. It is meant for immediate enjoyment. While the 2007 Pinot Gris might be a slight step behind (WWB, 89), the 2008 King Estate ‘Signature Collection’ Pinot Gris (WWB, 90) equaled the quality of the 2005 and came from a more impressive and balanced vintage. The 2008 has a strong structure and nice weight that will continue to age gracefully for at least a few more years. The 2009 and 2012 King Estate ‘Domaine’ bottlings of Pinot Gris (both WWB, 93) were a completely different animal. Both bottlings displayed the richness, structure and viscosity to cellar for many more years and are drinking beautifully right now. Here are the details from my recent vertical tasting of King Estate Pinot Gris. Learn more about King Estate at https://www.kingestate.com/
2005 King Estate 'Signature Collection' Pinot Gris-Much darker, more golden hue than the other signature collection vintage Pinot Gris. The nose has a complex range of aromas including beeswax, gardenia, nectarine pit and vanilla cream. This has picked up some really nice secondary characteristics with bottle age. There are flavors of honeydew melon, Pazazz apple, marzipan and a touch of cream on the finish. Lovely effort and nice weight from this warm vintage. Hard to believe this is over ten years old. While it is losing some structure and needs to be enjoyed now, this is still drinking beautifully. Very novel bottling. Drink 2016-2018- 90
2007 King Estate 'Signature Collection' Pinot Gris- Lighter and less aromatically intense than the '05 this has cantaloupe, Gala Apple and hints of baking spices on the nose. The palate has lovely structure and less weight than the '05. Light to medium weight flavors of green papaya, Granny Smith apple and poached pear. Lovely minerality considering its age, as this has at least a few more years left in it. Elegant and lithe. Drink 2016-2020- 89
2008 King Estate 'Signature Collection' Pinot Gris-Possessing a slightly riper hue than its '07 cousin, the 2008 brings aromatics of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, and Pink Lady apple with suggestions of nutmeg. There are flavors of cantaloupe, Gala apple, and starfruit and hints of white raisin. Balanced and lovely right now as this has similar structure to the '07 at this juncture but slightly richer weight and mouthfeel. Drink 2016-2020- 90
2009 King Estate 'Domaine' Pinot Gris- This warm vintage wine opens with aromas of red delicious apple, crushed wild flowers and suggestions of star jasmine. There are flavors of Bartlett pear, cantaloupe and Pink Lady apple in this lush and structured wine. The heat from the vintage clearly wasn't a problem for the wines structure. Gorgeous mouthfeel with the plush texture and bright minerality. Drink 2016-2023- 93
2012 King Estate ‘Domaine’ Pinot Gris- The 2012 is an absolutely flat out delicious effort from this spectacular vintage. It is comprised of Pinot Gris clones 146 and 152, which are sourced from Bellpine, Jory, and Dupee soils rich in silty clay loam. This was aged in stainless steel and then aged sur lees for 5 months prior to bottling. The balance and ripeness is there. Intriguing nose of wild mushroom, green papaya, and Bartlett pear. There are ripe flavors of honeydew melon, Gravenstein apple and in this intense bottling. Wonderful long and lingering finish to this gorgeous bottling. Drink 2016-2025- 93