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The Three Faces of Pinot Noir

3facesofeve Poor pinot noir. As the variety most transparent to terroir and the hand of the winemaker it has become a schizophrenic variety producing a full rainbow of styles from all corners of the planet. The staggering range of wines produced makes it impossible and pointless to define which personality is the best expression of the variety.  As usual, lovers of any particular style are absolutely convinced of the superiority of their preferred style.

Most pinot noir aficionados are drawn to the variety because of its capability to produce the most terroir-driven of wines. Vineyards mere meters apart produce astoundingly different wines. Strangely enough, this same love of the wonderful diversity and endless fascination with the nuances of terroir seems to put blinders on many tasters. Instead of being willing to experience the myriad of styles offered by the terroir-sity (take that Colbert), that is the hallmark of this variety, they become stuck in a narrow range of styles with a disdain bordering on the violent for wines produced in other styles, or perhaps more accurately, other terroirs. It seems to be quickly forgotten that the very reason we love pinot noir means by definition that the wines will be, and should be, very different when grown in different places.

It's important to taste wines for what they are, not what we wish they were.  You cannot will a Sonoma Coast pinot noir to taste like Pommard 1er Cru because not only shouldn't it taste like a Pommard, but why would you want it to? The interesting part of pinot noir, and, for that matter all varieties, are these very differences. Of course everyone will have their own personal preferences, but personal preference in taste is not the same as superiority.

Having recently immersed myself (almost literally) in pinot noir for three days during the International Pinot Noir Celebration I could not help but be struck by the wonderful diversity and the exceptionally high level of winemaking that exists in the world of pinot noir these days. Four wines highlighted the range of this golden age of pinot we're living in: the brooding, powerful Littorai Wines, Mays Canyon Vineyard, 2006 from California; the firm, spicy Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills Estate Cuvée, 2005 from Oregon; the explosively fruity, black current flavors of the Felton Road 2007 from New Zealand; and the closed, biting youth of the Volnay, Vendanges Sélectionnées, Domaine Michel Lafarge, 2005 from Burgundy. These four wines could not be more different or more delicious in their own right. It is their very differences that make them so exciting and make them, well, so pinot noir.

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IPNC 2008: Sparkling Soter

ipnc 08 soter vineyard james leads tour 7-25-2008 1-52-23 PM Twenty or thirty years ago Champagne was a sure bet. All the Grand Marques made great wines and it was only a matter of whose style you liked the best. Those days are long gone and now the big brand Champagnes are some of the worst wines deals you can buy. During this same period a bubbly revolution occurred worldwide and today Champagne is no longer the only source for the finest quality sparkling wines. Now American brands like Iron Horse, Gruet and Argyle offer wines that out-sparkle most of the big Champagne brands in both price and quality. You can now add Oregon's Soter Vineyards to that list.

Last Saturday my group at the International Pinot Noir Celebration found themselves at Soter Vineyards for lunch and a seminar on sustainable agriculture. Every morning of IPNC a fleet of buses spreads out over the Willamette Valley taking groups to seminars and sumptuous lunches, but you don't know where your going until you get there. Your destination really doesn't matter as every event is exceptional.  Our lunch was prepared by Chef Peter Birk of Seattle's famed Ray's Boathouse and served in Soter Vineyard's beautiful new entertainment center with a spectacular view of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and the Coast Range.

Gouda wafers and smoked sablefish

  • Soter Vineyards Blanc de blancs, Beacon Hill Vineyard, 1997 - Yes, you read the vintage correctly. Soter is releasing this wine after ten years en tirage. This is simply a stunning sparkling wine. Rich and creamy with a deep toasty complexity and a never ending finish. A classic selling for an almost unbelievable $55 a bottle making it an outrageous value, but you'd better hurry with only 190 cases produced.

Alaskan weathervane scallops, arugula, strawberries, fresh corn

  • Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé, Yamhill-Carlton District, Beacon Hill Vineyard, 2003- Close your eyes and think you're tasting a beautiful, light delicate pinot noir. Now add bubbles and you have this seductively fruity wine. Rich and assertively pinot in character with a mouth-filling, juicy fruitiness layered with a light toasty/yeasty highlight. This wine was so delicious our table begged our waiters for more (and more and more...).

 Sockeye salmon, black tea custard, roasted plums

 Oregon chukar, confit of Walla Walla onions and local mushrooms

  • Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mineral Springs Vineyard, Yamhill Carlton District, 2006 - A preview of the yet to be released 2006 Mineral Springs. As you would expect from the vintage, this wine is very fruit-forward with an expansive, deep red fruit character and gentle, silky tannins. A generous and satisfying pinot noir that should develop into a lovely wine over the next several years. You can drink this charmer while you're waiting for the 2005 to mature.mineral springs vineyard 7-25-2008 2-31-56 PM

 Summer fruit tart (made with berries picked on the estate by the Soter family that morning)

  • More of the Brut Rosé, graciously supplied to our table by Megan Moffat, sommelier at Café Soriah in Eugene, which, by the way, was wonderful with the fresh berry tart.

 

Wine Notes: IPNC 2008

Tasting all the wines at IPNC is probably impossible and, as at all large events, a challenge. I did my best concentrate and taste as many wines as possible, but I'm sure I missed a few gems. Tasting Burgundy amid the many New World wines was certainly difficult. The tight, young French wines could be easily overlooked among all the lush, forward New World wines. Oregon was particularly lucky as most were showing the fruit-forward, easy to like 2006 vintage wines, which showed very well in such conditions. Below are some of my favorite wines from my tasting notes. Wines from the seminars are listed in separate posts.


Recommended wines from the 2008 International Pinot Noir Celebration:


Australia

  • Bindi, Block 5, 2006 - Brilliant, fresh and loaded with up-front fruit.
  • Frogmore Creek, 2006 - Leaner and more compact than expected, nice balance with a long elegant finish.

Austria
  • Wiengut Fred Loimer, Dechant, 2006 - Delicate, floral and impeccably balanced. Refined pure pinot noir.

France-Burgundy
  • Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Domaine d'Ardhuy, 2006 - Lush, exotically spiced, but still tight with a firm structure that needs time to resolve.
  • Marsannay, Les Faviéres, Domaine Charles Audoin, 2005 - Lovely spicy lively minerality with zesty sweet tart cherry fruit, needs just a year or two more. Charming and delicious.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Champs Pimont, Maison Champy, 2005 - Great style and richness, but closed tight as a drum. Very good potential.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Teurons, Domaine du Chateau de Chorey, 2005 - I have always loved wines from this estate for their refined purity. They consistently make wonderful pinots and this does not disappoint. A classic, refined Chateau de Chorey. Lovely now, but wait a bit please.
  • Ladoix 1er Cru, les Corvées, Domaine Chevalier Pere et Fils, 2005 - These lesser known appellations in Burgundy have become a treasure trove. Perfectly balanced with a firm backbone that needs a few more years to show its best.
  • Bonnes Mares Grand Cru, Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair, 2006 - A contender for wine of the event, but it's a bit expensive for that. A gorgeous pinot noir in a class by itself. Great finesse in a luscious, velvety package. Not nearly ready to drink, wait ten years please.
  • Volnay Robardelle, Domaine Huber-Verdereau, 2006 - Tight, tight, tight. It's so hard to show very young Burgundy, but I think this will be a very good wine in four or five years.
  • Volnay, Vendanges Sélectionnées, Domaine Michel Lafarge, 2005 - A coiled spring of a pinot noir waiting to explode. When the acids and tannins come into harmony what a wonderful wine this will be.
  • Beaune 1er Cru, Bressandes, Domaine Albert Morot, 2006 - A silky pinot noir with great style and length. The tannins are still a bit too hard, but soon this will be a charmer. Very lively.
  • Aloxe Corton, Clos de la Boulotte, Monopole, Domaine Nudant, 2006 - So tight it's not funny. Somewhere under all that structure is a good wine biding its time.
  • Pommard 1er Cru, Philippe Pacalet, 2006 - A stunningly elegant pinot noir with firm tannins that close down the finish. This will be excellent in a few more years.
  • Gevrey Chambertin, Vielles Vignes, Domaine Marc Roy, 2006 - Very tight now, but what promise! One of those wines that is so complex and complete in all its aspects that you know greatness awaits. There's real potential for this to become an outstanding wine.
  • Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Trapet, 2005 - Very fine, long and complex. Alas this is another wine that was very closed. However, I believe it will age into a beauty.

New Zealand
  • Felton Road 2007 - An explosion of concentrated red fruit essence. The intensity of the fruit almost puckers your mouth with its bittersweet punch. Hard not to like.
  • Pegasus Bay 2006 - Very tight with a mineral and red fruit focus. Excellent length and balance. Very stylish and elegant.  A year or so more will bring out more complexity.

California
  • Cobb Family Wines, Coastlands Vineyard, 2006 - A very impressive wine. Great complexity and a refined, yet rich character. A very graceful pinot that glides across the palate. An excellent effort.
  • Hirsch Winery, Hirsch Vineyards, 2006 - Wonderful structure and texture with elegant flavors highlighted with just a bit of that funk that works so well in some pinots. I'd love to put some of this away for a few years.
  • Littorai Wines, Mays Canyon Vineyard, 2006 - Here's a pinot that's unabashedly from California and I like that about it. Rich, smoky, oaky and dense, but it all comes together in an hedonistic package that is irresistible. Still closed and unresolved I really suggest at least two or three more years of aging.

Oregon
  • Adelsheim Vineyard, Elizabeth's Reserve, 2006 - This wine is so balanced, elegant and refined that you may want to drink it now, but wait a few years and you'll be rewarded. I wish more Oregon producers would respect elegance and complexity as represented by this lovely pinot.
  • Belle Vallee, Grand Cuvée, 2006 - Rich and fruit-forward, but with plenty of complexity. Belle Vallee continues to offer some of the best values in Oregon pinot noir.
  • Broadley Vineyards, Marcile Lorraine Vineyard, 2006 - This was my wine of the event. An almost perfect pinot noir that combines elegance and power in the way only pinot can. Outstanding complexity and length. A stunning wine that absolutely grabbed my attention amid all these great wines.
  • Coelho Winery, Paciência, 2005 - The best pinot I have tasted to date from this winery and they seem to be headed in the right direction. The firm structure suggests a few more years in the bottle before enjoying.
  • Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Willamette Valley, 2006 - Style, style and more style. An Audrey Hepburn of a wine that is certainly the most elegant Oregon pinot I have tasted from the fruit-forward 2006 vintage.
  • Panther Creek Cellars, Freedom Hill, 2006 - A solid step forward for Panther Creek and the nicest pinot I've tasted from them lately. A bit on the oaky side, but a lot of people like that. Rich, smooth and forward enough for drinking now, but it will be a lot better next year.
  • Raptor Ridge, Raptor Ridge Estate, Aldalfo's Block, 2006 - A rich, big pinot with more than enough backbone to carry its weight. Expansive and dramatic, but nowhere near ready to drink. Probably not a long-term ager, but please wait a year or two as a lot is going on in this wine that needs to evolve to show its best.
  • Scott Paul Wines, La Paulée, 2006 - With a tip of the hat to Burgundian structure, the fruit-forward character of the 06 Oregon vintage soon shows itself. A lovely wine of beautiful red fruits with just a touch of chocolate and black truffles. Delicious.
  • Sokol Blosser Winery, Dundee Hills Estate Cuvée, 2005 - Like the Adelsheim and Drouhin, this is a beautiful, elegant wine. Certainly delicate by today's pinot standards, but here is a wine that embodies the refinement and delicacy that makes pinot noir unique. A really pretty pinot noir.
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IPNC 08: Wine of the Show

broadly marcile There could be no “best” wine at an event like The International Pinot Noir Celebration, where great wines come at you in a flood of Biblical proportions. However, certain wines will stand out as special even in such esteemed company. That wine for me this year at IPNC was Oregon’s 2006 Broadley Vineyards Marcile Lorraine. Made from an old block on their estate vineyards located near Monroe, the Broadleys emphasize natural winemaking techniques like whole-cluster fermentation, wood fermenters and bottling unfined and unfiltered wines. The resulting wines are pure, natural pinot noirs that truly show the terroir of their unique microclimate. It’s worth nothing that when the Broadley’s selected their vineyard site they intentionally chose a east/northeast exposure, rather than the southern exposures selected by conventional wisdom in Oregon, in a slightly warmer zone to ensure their grapes could ripen fully without over-ripening before Oregon’s fall rains arrived. This wine is nothing short of stunning with picture perfect translucent ruby color and an elegant character and texture that seems endlessly seductive. It possesses that unique character of pinot noir that enables a wine to be rich and delicate at the same time. This is very simply a exciting wine that you should go out of your way to find. Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case with great pinot, very little was produced so I’d hurry before it disappears.

IPNC: Day 1 Morning Seminar


Sustainability without sacrifice was the title of this International Pinot Noir Celebration seminar. A title that is perhaps a bit off the mark as New Zealand winemaker Nigel Greening noted that the real sacrifice is not farming sustainably, which is something we all will end up paying the price for in the end.

Fight one was led by Burgundy winemaking superstar Dominique Lafon and Master of Wine Jasper Morris, while flight two featured winemakers  Frédéric Lafarge (Domaine Michel Lafarge), Ted Lemon (Littorai), Nigel Greening (Felton Road), Ted Casteel (Bethel Heights) and Michael Dhillon (Bindi).

While a good tasting and seminar it ended up being more focused on biodynamics than a general look at the various sustainable models. Lafon made one comment I think all winemakers should keep in mind, “My wine should not be to show off my skills as a winemaker or the skills of my cooper, but to show the character of my appellation.”

Flight #1 - Domaine Comtes de Lafon

  • Meursault, Desirèe, 2000 - Expansive aromas and flavors with an underlying tightness. Crème brûlée with a citrus punch. Great firm, mineral textures. Still very young.
  • Volnay Santenot du Mileu
    • 2004 - Very bright fresh and lively. Touches of fresh porcini peek out from under the ripe red fruit flavors. Needs a few more years to limber up. Outstanding quality.
    • 2003 - Big and rich as you would expect from this super-hot vintage, but well made. Under the lush, velvety ripe black fruit favors is a firm enough backbone to hold it all together. Needs more time to resolve everything, but not more than a few years.
    • 2000 - It takes a few years in the bottle for Burgundy to really become Burgundy and this wine has arrived. Touches of black truffles, roasting pork and new leather are layered with the zesty orange spiced red fruit, which all lead to a great finish. A very nice wine from a difficult year.
    • 1997 - Another hot year and the ripe characteristics show in the touch of prune layered in along with the wild mushroom and lush dark fruit flavors. I think it’s best to drink this wine up.

Flight #2

  • Volnay, 1er Cru, Les Mitans, Domaine Michel Lafarge, 2005 - Absolutely pure pinot noir essence. Tight, fresh, alive and electric. Way to young to be drinking now. A very fine wine.
  • Sonoma Coast, Haven Vineyard, Littorai, 2006 - This wine was difficult at first, but after an hour in the glass opened into a very interesting wine. Quite oaky with the resulting smoky, toasty flavors and aromas. With air the wine broadens adding a meaty, savory touch to the deep, rich black fruit character. Needs 3 or 4 years to better integrate everything that’s going on.
  • Central Otago, Block 3, Felton Road, 2006 - Pure dark fruit essence. This wine is intensely fruity with an almost pungent explosive bittersweet cassis fruit. Very distinctive and interesting.
  • Eola Hills, Flat Block Reserve, Bethel Heights, 2006 - Lightly oaked, very perfumed with orange zest, violets and wild black cherry characteristics. Great balance and very long in the finish. Rich without being overdone.
  • Victoria, Original Vineyard, Bindi Wines, 2006 - Bright and fresh with a distinct cherry Kool-Aid powder smell. Smooth and velvety. Becomes more appealing with air.

The star of out of the dozen or so pinots poured at sumptuous lunch following the seminar was the South Block Reserve, Bethel Heights 1999. This is a wine at its absolute peak with great complexity, rich wild red fruit and those wonderful earthy characteristics that  pinot develops with age.