Of the four founding Willamette Valley wineries, Coury is a name now relegated to the history books; Erath has been sold to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; and while Eyrie Vineyards produces a number of marvelous wines, the brand maintains an almost invisible profile. Ponzi, however, is thriving.
Ponzi Vineyards was founded by Dick and Nancy Ponzi in 1970. The first vintage of Pinot Noir was produced in 1974; in 1978 the first Pinot Gris was planted. The sales of Ponzi wines gradually increased, with the winery breaking even for the first time in 1984. In 1985, wine critic Robert Parker wrote that Ponzi’s Pinot Noir was comparable to the world’s great Burgundies; and, in 1987, Ponzi made the Wine Spectator’s top 100 list for the first time. In 1988, Robert Parker named Dick Ponzi as one of the world’s best winemakers.
Ponzi wines are sold in eight countries; and the winery’s production is an extremely healthy 45,000 cases annually. Ponzi’s 2007 Arneis was served at President Obama’s inauguration. The winery owns five vineyards, two tasting rooms, one wine bar and one restaurant. It is credited as a forerunner of today’s Oregon Pinot Noir boom; but the winery refuses to rest on its laurels…
… For the past 20 years, under second generation proprietorship – daughter Anna Maria, president; daughter Luisa, winemaker – Ponzi has continued to carry on with style and unparalleled success. And just this past July, Ponzi was voted #29 in The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Wineries in America 2015.”
Their famous Pinot Noirs, for example, receive consistently high marks from the oenological powers-that-be (Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, International Wine Cellar, etc.); and their single vineyard and/or reserve Pinots could very easily set you back a C-note or more. This may strike many as an exceedingly hefty sum… but when you do a bit of comparison shopping among those extraordinarily expensive French red Burgundies, Ponzi Pinots are nothing short of outlandish bargains.
But Ponzi also produces some excellent less costly vintages that are quite often superior to wines retailing at twice the price. The 2012 Ponzi “Tavola” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($25.00), their entry level wine, is wonderfully fragrant, packed with dark berry fruit, silky smooth & elegantly sexy going down, and long and savory on the finish. This is a stellar wine that’s as easy on the pocketbook as it is on the palate.
The 2012 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is the mid-level between Ponzi’s “Tavola” and their reserve/single vineyard Pinots. Retailing around the $40.00 mark, once again, this is a ton of wine for the price. It exhibits a bit more acidity than the “Tavola,” but this is nicely balanced with a superb concentration of flavors and soft tannins. Another excellent effort.
Although Pinot Noir is Ponzi’s claim to fame, winemaker Luisa Ponzi has produced some marvelous white wines as well. She first planted Pinot Blanc on the winery’s Aurora vineyard site as early as 1990; and her most recent vintage, 2014, garnered a whopping 92 points (100-point scale) and an “Editors’ Choice” from the Wine Enthusiast. Wine critic Mary Ewing-Mulligan bestowed 90 points and described the wine as “’Alsace-like’ because of its weight, richness, mineral notes and viscous texture.” This excellent vintage – rich, complex, and bursting with exotic flavors – retails around the $20.00 mark.
But even better, in my opinion, is Ponzi’s stunning 2014 Pinot Gris ($17.00). Italian Pinot Grigio (very same grape) is known primarily for its innocuous, nondescript nature. The version from France’s Alsace region, on the other hand, tends to be richer, full-bodied, and packed with flavor. And Ponzi, once again, is noticeably Alsatian in its approach. In point of fact, I recently sampled a highly regarded Italian Pinot Grigio and the 2014 Ponzi Pinot Gris side by side… and the difference was dramatically palpable. While the Italian entry tasted harsh and overly acidic, the 2014 Ponzi beguiled the palate with its lovely creamy consistency and complex concentration of fresh citrus flavors. This is a food friendly – and price friendly – wine that’s impossible to resist.
And speaking of irresistible… that is the only word that could possibly describe the sensational Ponzi 2012 Aurora Vineyard Chardonnay, which recently collected a colossal 96 points from Paul Gregutt of the Wine Enthusiast. This extraordinary wine has it all – texture, complexity, and seamless blend of flavors – including a $60.00 price tag. But if you’re feeling flush, this “must-have” Chard puts all those heavy-handed California fruit bombs to shame. Go for it!
Ponzi Vineyards is a class act in every respect. Several years ago, when my wife and I were in Portland, we had the pleasure of visiting the winery as well as dining at their restaurant, the Dundee Bistro. The Bistro serves excellent cuisine buttressed by a seasonally changing menu and a reasonably priced world-class wine list, with their own vintages receiving only minimal markup. If you happen to be vacationing in the area, the Dundee Bistro is the perfect spot for lunch, dinner, or a leisurely afternoon of wine tasting.