On April 25, I made the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, Willamette Valley the Wine of the Week. Now let’s look at three of the small winery’s pinot noirs, the variety for which it is best known. I tasted these wines with co-owner, grower and winemaker Dave Grooters when he was in town at the end of April, and, after trying these pinots, I was surprised when he said, “I like big fat fruit bombs,” because these wines are anything but “big fat fruit bombs.” Big in structure, perhaps, especially the Cape Lookout and the Roads End, but fruit is well-shaped and expressive without being over-ripe, flamboyant or opulent.
The Seven Devils Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, is Carlton Cellars’ entry-level pinot. About 50 percent of the grapes derive from the winery’s Russell-Grooters Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton appellation with the rest coming from various other Willamette vineyards. The wine ages 10 months in French barrels but sees no new oak; it’s all second-, third- and fourth-use. The color is medium ruby with a hint of magenta-pink at the rim. Aromas of black cherry and black and red currants are spicy with notes of cloves and cinnamon and quite ripe, meaty and fleshy; the immediately appealing fragrance is heady and seductive. Matters calm down considerably in the mouth, where the wine offers straightforward black and red fruit flavors permeated by baking spice, touches of underbrush and moderately dense but fairly muscular tannins, all leading to a dry, minerally — in the finely-milled graphite sense — finish. Quite enjoyable, though I was a bit surprised by the tannins. Drink through 2014. Production was 950 cases. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Considerably more character comes from the Cape Lookout Pinot Noir 2008, which carries an Oregon designation, though the grape’s all come from the winery’s Russell-Grooters estate vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton. The wine ages 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. This is classic stuff, with penetrating notes of pure, intense and spicy black cherry, cranberry and cola layered over the Willamette Valley’s signature quality of clean earthiness rooted in briers and brambles. Oak gives the wine suppleness and shapeliness and indeed begins to dominate from mid-palate back after a few minutes pass; another year in the bottle will smooth it out more. Still, there’s deep flavor galore here wedded to vibrant acidity and firm, almost plush tannins, though a sinewy texture lends the wine some edge. Russell-Grooters was planted in 2003, so these are young vines that won’t truly come into their own for another three to five years; it’s a vineyard to watch as the vines mature. Production was 576 cases. 13.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
Top of the line at Carlton Cellars is the Roads End Pinot Noir 2008, 40 percent of the grapes coming from Russell-Grooters, the rest from a vineyard in the McMinnville AVA and another vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA. The oak regimen is the same as for the Cape Lookout Pinot Noir 2008, that is, 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new oak. Boy, you feel the difference, though, in this wine’s engagement and heft, in its increased level of spice, its fine and rich details of blueberry, cranberry, rhubarb and cola, its veritable darkness of intention and effect. The Roads End 08 is a lithe and muscular wine, and if ever a pinot noir exemplified the notion of a pent animal awaiting release, brother, this is it. No, this is not a pinot for fans of the delicate and elegant style, which, I confess, I find more appealing and authentic, but it would be difficult to deny the authority and confidence this model embodies. 288 cases were produced. 13.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $45.