For lovers of pinot noir, Ken Wright is the master of Oregon vinification. Wright founded Panther Creek Cellars in 1986, and his collaborator Tony Rynders, (celebrated for his work at Domaine Serene) took the reins as consulting winemaker at Panther in 2013 when Bacchus Capital Management acquired the operation. Together, management and winemaker strive for continued growth and excellence while seeking new heights and producing multi-faceted expressions of pinot noir as Panther Creek Cellars celebrates its 30th year.
With Panther Creek’s vineyards in six of Oregon’s greatest AVAs and nine iconic territories, Rynders has both the knowledge and the tools at hand to develop stunning wines, and a taste of them is all that is required to know that Panther Creek offers serious competition in quality wines.
Panther Creek 2014 Pinot Gris, 13%ABV, $20/bottle MSP
I’m normally reluctant about pinot gris made in the USA but Rynder’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA is closer to the Burgundian whites than some would admit. While the 2013 showed as slightly more lush and creamy, the 2014’s expression is elegant and crisp with notes of golden delicious apple, lemon rind and honeydew melon. The medium-long finish has a savory balance between expressive fruit and zippy acidity with no barrel aging to cover imperfections. Delightful cold but beautiful as it warms and can show complete expression. It is becoming a solid value from Oregon in the $20 and under field.
Panther Creek Single Vineyard 2014 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir. 14.3%ABV, $50/bottle MSP.
Dark ruby in color; bright raspberry and cherry nose with green herbs; brisk cherry and red plum on the palate with subtle vanilla, baking spice, mineral and vegetal notes on the medium-long finish. This beautifully feminine expression of pinot is fruit-forward with vibrant acidity, a gentle oak backbone and a complex mineral base of sedimentary soil. The jovial, friendly and well-spoken Arthur Kalita carries a jar of his Kalita soil to tastings (featured to the left of the bottle in the photo below) which is helpful to remember the layering flavors of the wine when the fruit and floral notes that drive it forward are capable of making you forget the complexity and beauty the Kalita vineyard offers in the bottle. If I were to cellar this, I’d expect it to be even more gorgeous and refined to classic perfection in six to ten years, as the ability is absolutely there for those who have the patience. Personally, I’d drink it now as the wine pairs gorgeously with a wide array of flavor profiles from meslcun-and-chicken sausage pizza, to Sockeye Salmon, but is brilliant on its own.
Panther Creek 2014 Schindler Vineyard Pinot Noir
Offering a strong contrast to Kalita, the Schindler Vineyard provides a big, brawny and masculine expression of pinot noir. Deeper in color with a nose of massive black fruit, the palate proves dark black cherry, allspice and black pepper, and powerful acidity and tannins. To me, this is a pinnacle of age-worthy burgundy that can be enjoyed now while massive in proportion, or aged to a balance of perfection. The wine drinks gorgeously alone but simply sings with food, complementing duck, ribs, and beef tartare easily, bringing out additional floral notes as well as heavy tones of earth, cedar, granite and leather. A monumental wine that offers tremendous value in being affordable for those who love world-class pinot noir. Thinking about joining an Oregon wine club? You should consider Panther Creek- I know I am!