Pinot Noir

Syrah In My Pinot

The recent brouhaha over at Palate Press starting with an offhand Twitter comment by wine blogger Remy Charest and ending (maybe) with an article by winemaker Adam Lee of Siduri called up the frequent under-the-breath reference insinuating many California Pinot Noirs are so big due a dollop of syrah. It’s rather a silly idea if you think about it. Why? It’s already there, no not the syrah, but the syrah character. No additions are necessary.

All of this just shows the misconceptions of both writers and winemakers. Writers think California Pinot is so big because they put syrah in it while winemakers think they need to put syrah in their pinot to make it big enough to make the writers happy. The wonders the 100 point scale has brought us.

Just because you are the first does not mean that you’re the one and only. Burgundy is not the only correct example of pinot noir in the world. It is only one expression of that variety. It’s always interesting to me that the most ardent defenders of terroir are the ones most loudly damning the robust character of California Pinot Noir. Perhaps they should consider that powerful character is the terroir of pinot noir in California. There is a difference in claiming that a wine does not have terroir and not liking the style of a terroir. Successful California Pinot does not and should not taste exactly like Burgundy. That is only one standard and only one of the many expressions of pinot. California Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like California Pinot Noir.

In his excellent article, Syrah in My Pinot? A Winemaker Responds, Adam Siduri makes many good points, but one stands out. It all his years of winemaking he has never known any serious pinot noir producer to add syrah to their wine unless they openly admit it on their label or sales materials. I’ll add my own thirty years of experience to that and I too have never known any winemaker aspiring to make great pinot noir that added syrah to their blend without being upfront about it. The example of Castle Rock adding syrah to their pinot is simply a producer making a better wine. At that price point you can’t make a decent pinot noir without some help. If you insist on buying pinot noir under $15 your palate should be grateful they blended a bit of syrah in. The strange thing about consumers is that if they just bought a $15 syrah they’d get a great wine at a bargain price instead of insisting on pinot noir that needs to be “corrected” to make it pleasurable to drink. Excellent pinot noir is not for bargain hunters.

This does not mean that pinot noir cannot be manipulated out of showing its terroir as it so often is in California and, for that matter, throughout the world. Just because the natural character of California Pinot Noir is substantial does not mean that all extremes are acceptable. The essential character of pinot noir is its transparency, that unique ability to show the personality of the vineyard where it was grown. This transparency can show itself in wines of many different weights and concentrations. This is clearly seen within Burgundy itself.  Vineyard and winery manipulations that obliterate that transparency eliminate the reason to grow and make pinot noir in the first place. If you want to make massive, powerful wines there are a lot better varieties to work with.

The only reason to blend syrah with pinot noir is that you actually wanted to make a syrah to begin with. If you’re a winemaker and want to blend syrah with your pinot you’ve chosen to make the wrong variety. If you’re a wine writer and you want your pinot noir to taste like syrah you’re drinking the wrong variety.

Square pegs in round holes don’t work any better than they used to.


$25, That’s right only $25 for a beautiful pinot noir. Nothing yet exists in new world pinot noir like the 2007 Côte de Nuits-Villages from Domaine Gachot-Monot. Pure and electric this is a wine that lifts both your intellect and the meal. Certainly this would be $50 if it where from Oregon or California. We have a lot to learn and need to be a little more humble as winemakers here on the west coast. What struck me was the almost compelling urge I had to have a third glass.

It’s a bit depressing to me that I’ve not figured out to make a wine like this in America yet, but I refuse to quit trying. In the meantime, drink this beauty over the next three to four years.

Not surprisingly, imported by Kermit Lynch.

Gracing My Table

Grace, elegance, delicacy finesse: wine attributes not much treasured these days. Punch you in the face pointy pounders get all the glossy headlines. In the same way such wines anesthetize my palate, the heavy food required to stand up to these wines with glandular issues bloats us into a a culinary world that Botero would have painted. 

Then along comes a svelte, subtle beauty that reminds you that sometimes the experience of consumption is improved if it requires your brain to become more involved in the process instead of a sedated bystander. Such a wine touched me at a lunch at Chez Panisse recently. This very non-Botero like wine was the 2006 Menetou Salon Rouge of Domaine Philippe Gilbert. Not a place name likely to be familiar to many, but this almost moving wine comes from an area unknown by Americans for its wonderful sauvignon blanc (which I also love), which seems famous compared to its pinot noir, which no one knows they grow. In this relatively obscure Loire region the team of enologist Jean-Phillippe Louis and owner Philippe Gilbert have crafted a true work of art and, only due to the less than famous name, a bargain. This property started bio-dynamic agriculture in 2006 so, as good as this wine is, upcoming vintages must be staggering. 

This beautiful pinot noir graces your table with its almost exotic floral, spiced aromatics and flavors that touch your palate with the complex thrust and parry of a champion fencer rather than the Braveheart broadsword of so many wines today. If purity is what you want in your pinot noir you’ll find it here - and find it for less than $25.

Marvelous Mendocino

Lots of places on the West Coast think of themselves as pinot prima donna, but there is a very real possibility that the least pretentious of all will claim the throne. Sideways loved the Central Coast. Oregon assumes (a little to quickly) the crown is theirs. Yet it seems time after time the most exciting pinots I’ve been tasting are from Mendocino’s rugged Anderson Valley.

Yesterday’s Taste of Mendocino was packed with enthusiastic tasters and expressive pinots. What's most exciting is, strangely enough, what these Mendocino pinot noirs lack. They are moderate in alcohol, missing a big price tag and offer more pleasure than attitude. They are brilliantly light in color, fragrantly lacy, exotically delicate and long on the palate. Pinot noir from Anderson Valley tastes like pinot noir - a claim many pinots from Oregon and the rest of California cannot claim. You'll not confuse a Anderson Valley pinot noir with a syrah.

We can only hope their increasing fame does not lead these growers down the path taken by so many Oregon producers who have given up the elegance that their cool climate can bestow on their wines in the headlong pursuit of points over purity of variety.

Some highly recommended Mendocino pinot noir wines from the tasting:

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90 Cases - Not Points

image1911299362.jpgA short note about a wine you can’t buy, but should be trying your best to find. I hate to write about wines that are essentially unobtainable, but for those that care about really distinctive wines you should get on this mailing list. La Fenêtre is a project by Joshua Klapper at Timeless Palates Wine.

His 2006 La Fenêtre Cargasacchi Jalama Pinot Noir is a marvel. A lovely garnet color with touches of brown, no purple is to be seen. The nose is high toned with hints of porcini, leather and hard, stony cherry pit fruit. At a 13.5% alcohol you can still taste the wine and the terroir. Damn this is a good wine and anybody that can make a wine like this is worth watching.

They were serving this by the glass at LA’s Water Grill, who said they got twenty of the ninety cases produced. What a great idea for a such a tiny production as far more people got to taste this lovely wine than if it had all gone out through their mailing list by the bottle.

Keep up the good work Josh.

Mobile Blogging from here.

[Posted with iBlogger from my iPhone]


Skating With The Love Puppets

We're sometimes marionettes when it comes to food and wine matching, but Love Puppets and skate can cut those strings. Skate wing is one of my favorite fish dishes and meaty, rich fish like this sometimes go better with red than white wines. Especially the way I cooked it, quickly floured and sauteed, then served with a beurre rouge - in this case accented with some pancetta and capers. Easy and delicious.

What better to go with skate wing and a red wine sauce than Love Puppets. The Love Puppets here (I'm not sure what you were thinking of) is a lovely Oregon pinot noir from Brandborg Vineyards. The 2006 Brandborg Vineyards Love Puppets Pinot Noir catches all the romance that is pinot noir. Very spicy, brightly fruity and charming, but with just a touch of the earthy, wild mushrooms notes that always highlight the best pinots this is a wine you can drink now or over the next several years. The San Francisco Chronicle placed it in their top 100 wines of 2008 and I can see why. Besides that, it's a bargain at only $30.

The real love puppets are the husband and wife team of Terry and Sue Brandborg who make this excellent pinot and a host of other wines from cool climate varieties in their decidedly very cool climate in the the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon, which they are so successfully pioneering.

All to often we seek romance in winemaking, but rarely find it in these days of corporate wine factories, but the Brandborgs are the real thing and you can taste their passion for both wine and each other in the wonderful wines of Brandborg Vineyards.
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Stellar Cellars


I was a guest, which is by far the best way to attend tastings like this, although as this was a dinner, it might be better to call it a drinking. Be assured I didn’t spit once. It never crossed my mind. One thing drinking old wines confirms is they don’t make’em like they used to. For better or worse, they’re different – more delicate and less alcoholic. It was a great evening with outstanding food, wine and company. What else is great wine for? Many thanks to Dr. Mike Dragutsky for inviting me to join in. Below are the wines with some short comments.

1990 Cristal Brut, Magnum – A reminder of how great Cristal used to be. Toasty, creamy, long and very complex. Cristal today is a mere shadow of this wine.

1985 Kistler Chardonnay, Carneros – Rich and powerful, but a bit passed its prime.

1995 Puligny Montrachet, Enseigners, Verget, Magnum – Unfortunately showing quite a bit of oxidation already, but still quite exciting with a firm mineral backbone and great length. Drink up soon.

2005 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir, Ten, Santa Rita Hills – A powerhouse pinot with a lot of new oak.

1988 Bonnes Mares, Comte de Vogue – Not showing well at first, this bottle ended up by my place so I got to go back to it several times. By the end of the evening it opened into a graceful beauty with layers and layers of length and personality.

1997 Chateau Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, Magnum and 1997 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – I’ll comment on these two lovely, elegant and totally mature wines together as they dramatically illustrated how much better wines age in magnum. The Pichon Lalande was much fresher with brighter fruit and depth. These wines show how pretty wines can be from lighter years.

1989 Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac – Still velvety and rich with an expansive bouquet and a long seductive finish. Twenty years old is a great place for classic Bordeaux from excellent vintages.

1988 Chatau Guraud Larose, St. Julien – Silky, delicate and perfumed. Really lovely with an almost caressing texture. Drink up now while it’s so pretty.

1961 Chateau Bouscaut, Graves (Pessac-Leognan now) – Just a beautiful old wine that is still showing a touch of fruit freshness amid all the coffee, porcini and spice. With that nice touch of that earthy minerality that defines Graves. Long and graceful.

1988 Petrus, Pomerol – Wine of the night. An elegant, graceful wonder. Svelte and incredibly long and complex. A wonderful wine.

1979 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac – The definition of elegance. A perfectly proportioned wine. Subtly complex and endlessly interesting. As usual, a perfect Bordeaux.

1977 Taylor, Oporto – Will this wine ever mature? Still young, fruity, dark, sweet and powerful. Just plain great Port that will age forever.

Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa

Richard Sanford was one of California’s true pinot pioneers and was one of my first tutors on the great potential of pinot noir in America. I have found his wines to be consistently among America’s finest pinot noirs for decades. Sanford had his namesake winery ripped away from him from one of the Engulf and Devour Corporations of the wine world and today is making outstanding wines at his new winery, Alma Rosa. Richard and his wife Thekla are among the most gentle and artistic souls on the planet and it shows in their wines. I thought this interview with him was well worth sharing:

Real Pinot for Pinot People


Todd Hamina is an opinionated winemaker. Like all opinionated winemakers he can be controversial. He also happens to be making some outstanding wines. This should not be surprising as the politically correct usually make politically correct wines, which is just as boring in the wine world as it is in the real world. Todd had a solid winemaking foundation moving through important Oregon cellars such as Patton Valley and Maysara before founding his own label, Biggio Hamina, with the 2007 vintage. The results of that education are evident in his new wines.

Those of us who cut our teeth on European wines many decades ago often accept today's supercharged wines with grudging respect and wistful memory of those more elegant, balanced wines of our past. I ran into Todd today and tasted some of his first releases and I can only say that I was blown away by his wines, which took me back to a day when wines lived by verve not power.

I was so impressed with Todd's wines that I bought two bottles almost out of disbelief. When I retasted them with my dinner I liked them even better than I did before. These are genuine wines made without regard to current fashion that were only guided by the vision of the winemaker and nature. Love them or hate them they're Todd's wines, a personal statement.  I loved them.

The 2007 Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne, Deux Vert Vineyard just astounded me.  Firm and bright with zinging minerality and a long clean, truly dry finish, this is the first American Melon that I've tasted that will actually remind wine drinkers of the great wines of Muscadet, where the only really great examples of this variety have been produced. When I tasted this wine, from the excellent Deux Vert vineyard in the Yamhill Carlton AVA, I could only think what a shame it is that these fine grapes have been wasted in previous vintages by less thoughtful winemakers, but I'm thrilled that someone is now finally taking proper care of them. I would confidently show this wine to the most devoted Muscadet drinker.

The 2007 Biggio Hamina Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is nothing short of a profile in winemaking courage as few have the guts to make real pinot these days. This is real pinot noir for real pinot noir drinkers. Those that prefer pinot that tastes more like syrah won't like this wine and should leave it for the those that love pinot for its natural, refined personality. The color is  a delicate, inviting translucent garnet. It's rare to see pinot this color anywhere these days and I applaud Todd's courage to let real pinot characteristics show through in his wines. Pinot does not naturally have a lot of color and you can bet the dark wines you see these days are made by some sort of cheat. Enzymes or other varieties are all to often used to add an unnatural depth of color to pinot noir. If you can't read through a glass of pinot, something is amiss. The nose is lifting and fresh with earthy truffle and orange zest spice layered over lively bitter cherry fruit. The finish is long and clean. I could only think of excellent pinots from lesser Burgundy appellations like Marsannay and Fixin when I drank this beauty.

Both of these wines are an astounding 12.5% alcohol, which makes them almost freaks these days. Tasting wines like this makes you realize what a critical issue alcohol is as you can taste so much more in these wines simply because all the nuance is not overwhelmed by alcohol. For delicate varieties like pinot this issue has gone out of control as high-alcohol pinots are just boring and pointless to drink because they don't taste like pinot anymore. If you want a big wine get something from a big variety like syrah, not a delicate variety like pinot.

Another astounding fact about these wines is that they are also both $20 or less a bottle. I know, like you, I thought such wines did not exist in America. Actually for all practical purposes they don't, but now at least two do. Hopefully, soon there will be a lot more.

Todd will be releasing some single vineyard pinot noirs, syrah and pinot blanc from the 2007 vintage and I can't wait to taste them. If these wines are any indicator they should be something very special indeed.


Vignerons Oregon Style

arcane 2006PinotNoirReserve In todays ever more corporate world of winemaking, the old image of the small wine farmer, or as it is called in French, vigneron, seems a quaint part of winemaking history. However, there are still really winemakers crafting small amounts of outstanding wines in somewhat simpler surroundings than the winemaking temples constructed by the big name wineries. In fact, Oregon is full of them.

The green, rolling hillsides of the Willamette Valley are a patchwork of tiny growers and winemakers with productions measured in hundreds of cases instead of thousands.  Buying wines from these small producers can be like walking through a minefield, but when they’re good, they’re very good.

Two such pinot noirs recently tasted are the 2006 Dalla Vina (soon to be re-christened Terra Vina due to a lawsuit) Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (146 cases) and the 2006 Arcane Cellars, Dundee Hills, Kelly Vineyard, Pinot Noir Reserve (105 cases). These excellent wines are spiritual cousins. Both are balanced, elegant wines with a classic, translucent garnet color, a spicy nose layered with black truffles, bright fruit and that essence that the Italians call sottobosco, or undergrowth in the forest. After the hyper-clean fat, cherry fruit style of so many New World pinots, these wines are a real treat. As they are both under 14.5% alcohol, emerson gris you can still actually taste the nuance in these wines.

Great wines from small producers is not limited to red wines as proven by the 2007 Arcane Cellars Del Rio Vineyard Viognier (95 cases) and the 2007 Emerson Vineyards Pinot Gris (only $15 by the way). As someone who has rarely tasted an American viognier that I liked, finding them too blowsy and without backbone, I was stunned by this firm and dry Southern Oregon effort. I’m starting to get the idea that Southern Oregon may be a New World home to viognier. The Emerson Pinot Gris is both refreshing and a refreshing change for its bracing dryness, unlike so many other Oregon pinot gris wines that try to make up for lack of body and flavor with residual sugar. On top of it, it may be the best value in Oregon gris that I’ve tasted.

It’s always risky to buy wines from small producers as often you end up with faulted wines. Yet, the best small producers often make better wines than bigger wineries with better equipment and far greater resources. While buying wines from small producers that you’ve never heard of can be like playing craps, sometimes you win the jackpot.

Tualatin Treasure Hunt

wvv There seems to be an accepted treasure map for pinot noir. You follow the clues and the dotted line and, arrive at the "X" and the treasure will be yours, with a little digging. The components of the map are simple and the endpoint is always a small, artisanal producer. However, it seems this map can sometimes blind us to treasures somewhat easier to attain.

So it was with only moderate expectations that I opened a bottle of pinot noir from one of Oregon's largest producers. After all, big guys don't make great pinot noir: right? Apparently that's just plain wrong as the 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Tualatin Estate Vineyard, is easily one of the very best Oregon pinot noirs I have tasted from the difficult 2006 vintage, or any other recent vintage for that matter. This is an exceptional American pinot noir that, unlike most, doesn't just offer simple rich dark cherry fruit, but exhibits real complexity. Starting with a perfect pinot hue of translucent ruby and the slightest touch of garnet, it then offers that most seductive of pinot noir noses: smooth wild strawberry fruit is laced with those funky, earthy aromas like mushrooms, truffles, dried leaves and, yes, a bit of the merde the French so lovingly refer to when discussing the nuances of Burgundy. What this wine is, most of all, is interesting as it's not dominated by simple ripe fruit, alcohol or wood, but the terroir of their Tualatin Estate Vineyard. The wine is unique because the vineyard is unique and, most of all, because winemaker Forrest Klaffke lets it retain its distinctive personality. This is an outstanding Oregon pinot noir that will please those that cut their teeth on Burgundy instead of California.

The 2006 vintage was difficult for Oregon's winemakers with all-to-many making wines exhibiting candied fruit characteristics and unbalanced alcohol levels. This wine is an exciting exception to that rule.

Picnic Pair

willamettevv Somebody just asked me what I was doing on Labor Day. I thought it strange they ask so far in advance, then glancing at the calendar realized it's this coming Monday. How did that happen? Where did summer go?

As we approach the last picnics of the season, I just tasted two wines that are picture perfect picnic wines. Both are from the 2007 vintage and produced by Oregon's Willamette Valley Vineyards. Better yet, they're both priced less than $20. Their clean, crisp and just off-dry Riesling is an absolute charmer. Flowery with a tart citrus bite balanced by a hint of sweetness, this is a wine you can drink with almost anything - or nothing for that matter. At only 10% alcohol, you can actually enjoy a few glasses without worry. Their Whole Cluster Pinot Noir always makes me wonder why more producers don't make this style of wine, which is clearly inspired by the bright, fresh wines of Beaujolais. Using whole clusters of grapes fermented by carbonic maceration, Willamette Valley Vineyards has produced an explosively fruity, silky fruit-forward wine. This is no fruit-bomb, but a zesty, refreshing pinot noir that lends itself to gulps instead of concentration.

In a world where everyone seems to be trying to make Romanée Conti and sell wines priced in the stratosphere, its great to see wineries like Willamette Valley Vineyards pay equal attention to simpler, pleasure-driven wines that can be enjoyed on an everyday basis.


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Heart of Stone


Scott and Lisa Neal are lost on a windy, dusty gravel road in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range. They didn’t mind being lost as they were more explorers than tourists. Fate was with them as they soon chanced upon a for sale sign behind which spread out what they were looking for: a place to plant a vineyard. It was a promising site with rolling hills, a rainbow of soil types and the warm protection of the lovely, inappropriately named, Muddy Valley. So in 1998 Scott and Lisa started to plant their vineyard. They didn’t yet have a name, but fate was soon to step in again. During a walk on their new property Lisa spotted a large boulder that, with closer examination, revealed its unique heart shape. So Coeur de Terre Vineyard was born and an appropriate name it is as everything about Scott and Lisa’s vineyards and wines truly come from their hearts and the earth on which they live.

Coeur de Terre is one of the undiscovered gems of Oregon winemaking. The passion and precision with which the Neals are pursuing their dream of making great wine is impressive to say the least. In my opinion they have the potential to be one of Oregon’s most interesting and distinctive wine producers. From their lovely new winery and tasting room to their vineyards, which are planted in blocks by soil type and exposure, everything at Coeur de Terre shows their deep connections to the art, nature and science of winemaking.

One of the most promising things about Coeur de Terre is their decision to expand their plantings based on a massal selection. Today, most wineries buy all new vine stocks based on clone and rootstock from commercial nurseries who start the vines and do the grafts. However, despite all the attention to individual clones of pinot noir, most winemakers agree that site always trumps clone. In other words, each clone reacts differently to each site, which makes some sort of an exact clonal stew recipe for great pinot noir a ridiculous fantasy. What you have to do is observe each individual vine, regardless of clone, to see which ones love the micro-climate of your site. A massal selection means that you take cuttings from the most successful vines on your site instead of relying on individual clones purchased from a nursery that may or may not be right for your vineyard. It seems obvious that it would be best to plant your vineyards based on individual vines, regardless of clone, that clearly thrive on the unique micro-climate of your vineyard, but very few vineyards choose this course. This is the laborious process that the Neals have selected to propagate the best vines for their unique site throughout their Coeur de Terre Vineyard. It should be noted while this practice is rare in the new world, it’s not exactly cutting edge as it is the traditional method of propagating wines in Burgundy, a region that has made more than a few exceptional pinot noirs over the centuries.

coeur The current releases from Coeur de Terre are all excellent wines that are well worth laying down as they will certainly improve with bottle age. By today’s standards they are moderately priced and good values. The 2006 Riesling has excellent structure and a brightly fruity dryness. Notes of petrol are just starting to peek out behind the young, fresh citrus aromas and flavors. I think this will develop into an outstanding riesling with a few years in the bottle. The 2006 Estate Pinot Noir is one of the better balanced 06 Oregon pinots you’ll find. It is rich, but firmly structured as you would expect from the McMinnville AVA. Its bigger brother, the 2006 Renelle’s Block Pinot Noir, is a bolder, more powerful version of the 2006 Estate. Both show ripe black fruit with hints of cassis layered over coffee and bitter chocolate highlights. The Renelle’s Block is still a bit closed and brooding and really requires two or three more years of bottle age to show all it has to offer. The 2006 Estate is certainly enjoyable now, but will be much better in a year. It should be noted that production of all of these wines is in the hundreds of cases, not thousands, so supplies are limited and you can expect them to sell out.

Scott describes their wines as, “time and place in a bottle.” I would add soul to that list, for Scott and Lisa have also put their souls into their wines.

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:


  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Pointless Points and Some Good Wines

circle the wagons There is no worse situation for tasting wines than big trade and consumer tastings. The format is always the same; a hotel ballroom with tables arranged like circled wagons waiting for the Indians to attack staffed by local wine reps with knowledge or not of the wines being poured. The room is crowded, hot and it's tough to get through the crowds to taste and harder still to get to a spit bucket in time. It's difficult to think of a worse situation to judge a wine.

The format is not really the problem. After all, these events are really cocktail parties designed to entertain trade or consumers. Serious tasting is not on the menu and that's not a reason to attend. If you go for serious tasting, you'll be frustrated. It's a party, not a tasting and I think distributors and other wine shows have every right to put on such events as that's what people, professionals and consumers alike, really want. After all, there's nothing wrong with having a good time with wine.

What's unfortunate is that some writers and bloggers attend these wine keggers and actually score the wines they taste. I don't care if you're using the 100 point scale or a 10 point scale (which after all is just an abbreviation of the 100 point scale) to try to accurately score wines in such a situation is a disservice to your readers. The reason it's not legitimate is that the results are not repeatable. Everyone knows that if you took the same wines and blind tasted these writers that they would come up with different scores. To repeat scores comparing wines tasted in perfect conditions to the same wines tasted in perfect conditions is difficult at best. To assume that you could repeat them going from the terrible circumstances of mass tastings to prefect conditions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest. If a writer cannot be assured that their ratings would be repeated within a few decimal points if they retasted the wines under different circumstances they should not publish those scores. It not only shows disrespect for those that make wines, but those that drink them.

That being said, I offer a few notes of my favorites from a trade tasting of over 100 Italian wines in Portland Oregon hosted by Columbia Wine Company. As usual, all are recommended, but are points-free.

Admiralty Imports

Barolo Canubi, Brezza, 2001 - A classic beauty that is nowhere near ready to drink. Big time tar and roses in this wine.

Barolo Chiniera, Elio Grasso, 2004 - All you could want from one of Barolo's greats. Rich, powerful and structured.

Barbaresco Riserva, Gallina, Ugo Lequio, 2001 - Another elegant classic with great balance. An excellent nebbiolo.

Sagrantino Montefalco, Antonelli, 2004 - Deep, rich and powerful with substantial tannins. Needs age or some wild boar right now.

Brunello di Montalcino, Caprili, 2003 - Finally Brunello that tastes like Brunello instead of barrique. Earthy, structured and complex.

Toscana VDT, La Gioia, Riecine, 2004 - Yet another lovely wine from one of my favorite estates in Tuscany. As always with Riecine, the balance of this wine is impeccable. This is their Super Tuscan. 


Neil Empson Selections

Franciacorta Cuvee Brut, Bellavista, NV - Consistently my favorite Champagne method sparking wine producer from Italy. This wine did not disappoint with its creamy, frothy texture and toasty fruit.

Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, 2006 - A big step up from industrial pinot grigio. Bright and citrusy with ripe, fresh apply fruit and good depth.

Soave Classico, Pieropan, 2006 - As always, just a stunning value in a crisp white that offers real complexity beyond its bright, refreshing character. A great white wine producer.



Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T., Sardegna, Barrua, Agricola Punica, 2004 - A dead ringer for Spain's Priorat wines from an old carignane vineyard on Sardegna. Deep, rich and powerful with a touch of porty ripeness.

Bolgheri Sassicaia, Sassicaia, 2004 - A perfectly politically correct wine with just the right amount of everything. Svelte and stylish. Their website is just terrible.

Toscana IGT, Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponte, 2005 - Deeply colored, powerful, rich and velvety with big, sweet oak highlights. A modern Italian wine of the first degree. Not for traditionalists. 


Wilson Daniels

Castello di Volpaia:

Chianti, Borgianni, 2005 - This is a very, very nice Chianti for the price. Real character and personality. Best of all it tastes like sangiovese, not merlot.

Chianti Classico, 2005 - You can see what a great estate this is by its straight Chianti Classico, which is a structured beauty with touches of black truffle and porcini mixed in with the ripe clean fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva, 2004 - A potentially exceptional wine with a few more years in bottle. Great character and complexity in a balanced wine of great length.

Coltasalla, 2004 - Always outstanding, Coltasalla is a single vineyard wine produced from sangiovese and mammolo only. Happily there's not a French variety to be found in the blend. A wine of great depth, complexity and personality that needs to be aged.



Prosecco, Zardetto, NV - I've been seduced by this charmer for years. A delightful little pleasure.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2007 - As with everything Giacosa produces, their Arneis is a perfect example of this variety.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, 2005 - Smooth and velvety with a richness without heaviness. A good reminder how much I love wines from Valpolicella. This is a ripasso, which adds the extra texture on the palate.

Delle Venezie IGT, Pinot Noir, Kris, 2007 - This is just a pretty little pinot noir. Serve lightly chilled at summer picnics, with Asian food or pizza. Light, fruity and delicious, it's almost more like a dark rose than a red wine. Totally charming. It's a little sad to see it called pinot noir instead of the Italian pinot nero, but I understand the marketing decision.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Valdipiatta, 2004 - A blend of 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese) and 15% canaiolo that fortunately is not overwhelmed by a brief voyage in barrique before going into large casks. The angular, rustic character of Vino Nobile is preserved in this interesting wine. The edgy character makes this a great steak wine.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I have enjoyed, most under $20.

Veneto Bianco IGT, Anselmi, San Vincenzo, Italy, 2006 - The lovely light gold color is a proper prelude to the balance of this excellent wine. So few producers get the concept of balanced richness in white wines. Substantial without the least bit of heaviness or cloying fruit or oak, the smooth creamy texture has just enough bite to keep it refreshing. As usual this wine is a tremendous value offering far more complexity than almost anything at this price point. Best of all, the second glass is better than the first. ( find this wine )

Riesling, Bergterrassen Fedespiel, Johann Donabaum, Austria, 2006 - A delicate flower of wine. A lacy mixture of floral and mineral. This is a style of wine that just does not exist outside of Austria, Germany and Northeastern Italy. If it does, I have not tasted it. Lean and delicate, this is one of those wines if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss all it has to offer. The finish is dry, but mellowed by the lovely fruit. (find this wine )

Riesling, Private Lumpkin, Lazy River Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon, 2006 - While inspired by Old World Wines, you’ll know right away this wine is from the New World. Richly aromatic with ripe apricots and pungent petrol notes, this wine is quite lush with a bit of sweetness accentuated by its fruit-forward style. Not for aging, but perfect for the best Asian cuisine you can find.

Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Essence, S.A. Prüm, Germany, 2006 - All charm and pleasure in this nice riesling for everyday drinking. Just off-dry, but with plenty of acidity to keep it alive, this is a wonderful wine for summer parties or for just keeping in your refrigerator for a glass when you get home from work. A very good starting place for those that don’t know the pleasures of riesling as it’s inexpensive and easy to find. One of those nice wines to enjoy without thinking too much about it. ( find this wine )

Nebiolo (yup, one b) d’Alba, Cappellano, Italy, 2003 - This is just a wonderful bottle of nebbiolo that is an amazing value. Unfortunately they don’t make enough to make it easy to find. Try Chambers St. in Manhattan and cross your fingers. A classic nebbiolo with lifting aromatics laced with tar, spice and that taught floral character only nebbiolo achieves. Still tannic and closed, it will improve for many years. Better than many expensive Baroli for a fraction of the price. Great wine from a great producer. Imported by Louis/Dressner

Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley, Skipper’s Cuvee, Dobbes Family Estate, Oregon, 2006 - This wine makes you wonder why more pinot noir producers are not looking more seriously at Southern Oregon. While the majority of top Oregon pinots are from the Northern Willamette, this wine is so good it should pique the interest of quite a few producers. Richly colored and very aromatic, it exhibits the classic cool climate personality that brought growers to Oregon in the first place. Compared to the price of most Oregon pinots these days this is a great bargain. ( find this wine )

Washington Red Table Wine, Three Wives, Remy Wines,  2006 - Young winemaker Remy Drabkin is someone to watch. Her tiny production under the Three Wives and Remy labels may be hard to find, but I suggest you try to get on her mailing list now. This release, a kitchen sink blend of Bordeaux an Rhone varieties from Washington is a very nice wine at a very nice price. Rich and brightly fruity, this is a great wine for sausages fresh off your grill. Remy has done a great job of crafting a distinctive wine with a clearly Northwestern style.

Rosso Orvietano, Rosso di Spicca, Tenuta Le Velette, Italy, 2005 - I love little Italian wines like this charming wine. Light, with an earthy fruit and lean, zesty character, it’s a perfect wine for simple pastas or pizza. Best drunk with a light chill in stubby bistro glasses on a warm Wednesday night, on your patio, with a dinner you quickly whipped together. Better yet it only costs about ten bucks.(find this wine )

Châteauneuf du Pape, Les Bartavelles, Jean-Luc Columbo, France, 2006 - Since Châteauneuf became a wine region on steroids, much loved by the Barry Bonds steak house crowd, it’s been hard to find a Châteauneuf you can drink with out blowing your palate and the next day. Here is a very nice wine, not a great wine mind you, but a very nice wine that is a pleasure to drink. Make no mistake this is not a light wine, but by New World standards it is quite restrained. With an alcohol level around 13.5% (many hotshot CdP’s push 16%), this is wine that can be drunk with ease and you can still go to work the next day. Most importantly, this is not a simple raspberry fruit bomb, but a wine that offers real varietal character and a rich earthiness and balance that is clearly and thankfully French.

Veneto Rosso IGT, Catullo, Bertani, Italy, 2002 (60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% corvina) - Normally I can stand these new wave Italian wines, but this is a very nice effort. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon overwhelms any touch of corvina character, but what I like is that that the wine is not overdone. You can taste the oak, but it is not over-oaked and is not at all over-extracted and still actually tastes like it not only came from Italy, but the Veneto. A nicely balanced wine that will pair well with lamb or veal. It is mature and ready to drink.

Moulis, Château Maucaillou, France, 2003 - It was with a tinge of sadness that I opened my last bottle of this excellent Bordeaux, but it was only a tinge. This wine, like most 2003 Bordeaux, is ready to drink. Frankly, I think letting wines from this super-hot vintage age is a very bad idea. The wines are lush and easy without the definition that is the hallmark of classic Bordeaux. Wonderfully fragrant, rich without ponderous fruit and with a long, soft cedar spiced finish I just adored this wine. As befitting the a last bottle of good Bordeaux, I served it with the best lamb chops I could buy. ( find this wine )

Pinot Noir, Corral Creek Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Chehalem,  Oregon, 2001 - I know that the 2001 vintage forced Oregon producers to a more lean style, but I admit that I love these wines as they age and wish more producers would make wines like this in more forgiving vintages. The nose is wonderfully layered with orange peel, spiced wild cherries and touches of wildflowers, vanilla and tart blackberries. Firm and almost taut on the palate with a graceful, almost delicate character with hints of tar, candied bitter orange and wild strawberries. I think this wine is perfectly ready to drink now and , in fact, may be at its high point. The tannins on the finish have evolved into that dusty, silky texture than only pinot noir achieves. A very good wine at its peak. ( find this wine )