march 29 2018 | jenny

What's So Special About the 2016 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris?

It’s rare for us to blog about a specific wine. More often we like to take it up a notch and talk about industry trends, seasonal events, food-wine pairings and the like.

But the 2016 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris is truly special. It compels us to make an exception to the rule.  

For sure the wine has garnered its share of awards: 93 points from Wine & Spirits, 92 points from Wine Enthusiast, and a mind-blowing 96 points in the 2017 Sommelier Challenge, where it also won Best White Wine of Show. That’s unusual for the lower profile Pinot Gris and a tribute to the grape and the King Estate Domaine. In his review Judge Rich Cook wrote, “I could drink this all day long.”

Tempting as that sounds, I opted instead for a home version of an international wine competition. Call it the Friend Challenge – a casual wine-tasting among friends convened on a Saturday night in Eugene that brought home how special this wine really is.

First, the back story. When one works in the wine industry and blogs for a winery, one is constantly on the lookout for fresh, new angles. At the same time, one enjoys the occasional evening of entertaining. Which is how it came to pass one evening this winter that four couples were gathered in my kitchen and dining room to taste from some 40 different bottles of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. My goal was to see how our wines compared to their peers. I didn’t expect what happened.

This was a blind tasting, with the wines in brown bags coded, cleverly I thought, with names of family members. Unbeknownst to my guests, the King Estate brands were all named for my grandparents; the rest were various siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and all of our children.

Side note: If you’re thinking of having a wine-tasting of your own, consider using these smart wine-tasting placemats available through Wine Folly. They are fun, educational and will make your tasting go much smoother.

Since all the tasters have Oregon palates, it might come as no surprise that we generally preferred the Oregon wines. While King Estate’s brands did very well, we found that different folks were partial to different wines, with one exception. There was near-universal agreement that King Estate’s Domaine Pinot Gris was, as Great Northwest Wine termed it, “outstanding.”

Here are the comments.

“Great nose, smooth, nice finish.”

“Very fragrant.”
“Crisp. You can taste the fruit.”

“Nice finish.”

“Amazing.”

“No aftertaste.”

“My favorite.”

“It’s perfect.”

Amazing.”

One reason this wine is so special can be found in the name itself. “Domaine” means estate grown. All the fruit for the Domaine wines comes from our 1,033-acre, Biodynamic® certified estate in rural Eugene, Oregon. King Estate Winemaker Brent Stone offered some more insights.

“Our site is adapted and built for Pinot Gris,” Brent observes. “The Domaine should be the best of the best, so we feel a lot of pressure to get it right. The way we try to build it, we’re targeting a more complex and austere wine – what we think of as a wine-lover’s Pinot Gris. It’s a serious wine. It will be all the things we look for in a great Gris: weightier, more viscous, full bodied and one that will age well and just get better in the bottle.”

Another advantage for King Estate’s winemakers is that we have the capacity to keep the grapes separated by individual lots to ferment in their own tanks rather than blending them all together in a few tanks at crush. Even though the grapes all come from our estate, wines can vary noticeably from lot to lot. Add to that the variation in fermentation techniques – type of yeast, fermentation temperature, time on lees – and it’s easy to see how even though wine comes from a single vineyard, the character and flavor can be strikingly different.

“When it comes time to put the wines together we have dozens of high quality options in terms of finished wines to choose from,” Brent explains. “We can really start targeting the finished profile that we like.”

Some years finding just the right blend worthy of the Domaine label might mean blending wine from a number of outstanding lots, with each one contributing something unique to the flavor profile. But it could also mean that winemakers find the perfect Domaine in a single tank.

Hinting at another great year for the Domaine Pinot Gris, Brent relayed that he put the 2017 Domaine Pinot Gris together a couple of weeks ago, and he offered his assessment with a slight smile: “If you liked 2016 you won’t be disappointed with the 2017.”

I know a group of Eugene friends who can’t wait.