2002 Oregon Pinot Noir 

Oregon is on a roll. Since 1998 they've had a string of outstanding Pinot Noir vintages, and according to the Wine Spectator, 2002 is their best ever. The top wines are supple in texture with opulent fruit flavors. At the same time they manage to maintain exceptional balance, and that's no mean feat. We tasted top Pinot Noirs from some of Oregon's best wineries. Here are the panel's favorites:

2002 Brick House Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $28

Rich aromatics with light cherry and ripe strawberry accompanied by delicate rose petal and touches of licorice, herb, white pepper and a whiff of smoke. Laser sharp flavors defined by plum, strawberry and notes of coffee, all backed by a smoky, meaty character. The finish is soft, but lingers nicely.

2002 Elk Cove Pinot Noir, Windhill Vineyard, $27

Opens with spicy blueberry and dark cherry aromas with a lightly sweet component something like molasses and a bit of black pepper and sassafras. Fairly crisp fruit for the vintage--cherry and rhubarb--with good tannic grip on the finish. The overall impression is one of an exceptionally well-balanced wine, both elegant and charming.

2002 Panther Creek Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, $38

A big, bold wine with ripe cherry and blackberry aromas, backed by anise, spice and just a hint of mint. The flavors are just as big but maintain impeccable balance, with silky cherry fruit that captivates the palate. Nice chewy tannins throughout--the smooth finish goes on and on and on. This is a very well integrated wine with seamless flavors that are hard to pick apart. One of the best wines I've tasted from this highly regarded winery. :

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Jeff Crockett, Idaho Wine Merchant; Trisha Elrod, Moon River Distributing; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Steve Thies, Tastevin.

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