There was a seemingly endless stretch of fine pinot noir wines to taste at this year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration held in McMinnville Oregon. Table after table of of wines produced by some of the most passionate pinot noir producers on the planet. I tasted and tasted - concentrated and concentrated - took detailed note after detailed note. It was a wonderful intellectual experience.
The next day it was off to the vineyards and our bus drew the lovely Lemelson Winery in the Yamhill Carlton district of the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon. There waiting for us with a staff busily at work creating our lunch was the outstanding Portland chef Cathy Whims whose restaurant Nostrana was selected as Portland’s best new restaurant in 2006. The menu was sumptuous starting with huge platters of Salumi salami (from the famous Batali family) followed by spaghetti with roasted eggplant sugo. The suitably dramatic main course was Bisteca alla Fiorentina followed by a refreshing Cavaillon melon with a counterpoint of rich Montellet cheese from Northwest cheese producer Fromagerie Mejean. Cathy’s menu was a delight and served as an amplifier for the fine wines chosen to marry with these lovingly prepared dishes.
The wines for this mouthwatering lunch were from the host Eric Lemelson and the guest winery from Burgundy, Domaine Christian Clerget. An extra bonus was our moderator Allen Meadows of Burghound. The wines presented with our luncheon - excellent all and all highly recommended - were:
- 2004 Lemelson Vineyards Pinot Noir, Thea’s Selection
- 2002 Lemelson Vineyards Pinot Noir, Thea’s Selection
- 2004 Lemelson Vineyards Pinot Noir, Stermer Vineyards
- 2003 Domaine Christian Clerget, Chambolle Musigny
- 2003 Domaine Christian Clerget, Echezeaux Grand Cru
Feeling perhaps a bit whimsical from Cathy’s wonderful lunch, I could not help but ponder the fact that all five of these wines seemed far more alive than the wines tasted at the other formal tasting events. I concentrated on these wines too, took plenty of notes and discussed them ad nauseam with the other pinot noir nuts in attendance. However, you could not deny the clear fact that everything about these wines was brighter, more alive and more exciting than the wines tasted complimented only by other wines.
At both tastings there was plenty of focus and intellectual appreciation of the wines presented, but there can be no greater experience of a fine wine than with fine food. One without the other leaves gaps in the other. When I experience wines of this quality, produced by people with the passion of Eric Lemelson and Christian Clerget I want to taste their delights as the winemakers intended - as part of a dining experience.
(pictured above: “The Enterprise” at Lemelson during crush.)