Pinot Noir

Burgundy: Scott Paul Selections New Releases

scottwrightFamily2005 Those of you that read my post last last March know that I am a fan of Scott Wright's (pictured left with his wife Martha and daughter Pirrie) wines. He makes wines under the Scott Paul label in Oregon's Willamette Valley and selects and imports some very fine Burgundy as Scott Paul Selections. What I love about the wines that Scott both makes and imports is their purity. They are wines made with a delicate hand that respects the vineyards from which they come. Balance, grace and refinement are the best descriptors of his wines. The easiest place to obtain these wines is probably directly from Scott Paul, which you can contact by email or by phone at 503-852-7305. If you're lucky enough to stop by their tasting room in Carlton, you'll find some of his French selections available on the tasting bar right next to his own wines from Oregon.

  • Crémant de Bourgogne, Domaine Huber-Vedereau - 100% pinot noir and you can taste it. At $22 this is an amazing value, unfortunately only 100 cases were produced so grab a case while you can. The flavors and aromas are more fruit driven than yeasty lees driven, but there's more than enough toasty character to keep it interesting. Very long and bright with a creamy texture. Lovely bubbly.

  • Champagne Brut Réserve, Domaine Marc Chauvet - Here' a Champagne very high on the "wow" meter. Grower Champagnes like this are so much better than the big commercial brands that it's embarrassing. This is a wonderful wine with a lifting brightness powered by bubbles and brilliant citrus flavors laced over a complex base of fruit and toasty lees. A finish designed to exercise your saliva glands. 65% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay 100% delicious ($45)

  • St. Veran, Champ Rond, Domaine Thibert Père & Fils, 2006 - Firm, crisp and mineraly with a bright green apple and honeysuckle fruitiness, this charming chardonnay is a great bargain at $24 as it clearly displays some of the best characteristics of the more expensive Burgundian chardonnays to the north. Match with some fresh dungeness crab and you will find inner peace.

  • Gevrey Chambertin, Clos Prieur, Domane René Leclerc, 2006 - There is a wonderful grace and purity in this very fine pinot. Starting shyly at first, as befits its youth, the flavors grow and expand until you are totally seduced. The refinement in each aspect of this wine is very impressive with silky, but firm tannins tying everything together in a perfect package. It needs three or four more years to really open. For a Burgundy under $50 there is a lot going on in this wine. ($44)

  • Pommard 1er Cru, Clos de Derriére St. Jean, Domaine Violot Guillemard. 2006 - The expected tannic punch never arrives in this surprisingly silky, velvety young Pommard, which is an AOC that usually packs structure to spare. However, this wine is still very closed and demands aging so it is not a wine to buy for dinner this weekend. I believe this will age into an outstanding wine.  As it comes from Burgundy's smallest Premier Cru vineyard at a ¼ acre and produced only 23 cases, I think it's worthy or getting the aging it deserves. As you are unlikely to find this in a floor stacking at SafeWay, I suggest you contact Scott Paul ASAP. ($75)

  • Echezeaux, Domaine Jean-Marc-Millot, 2006 - Here's pinot in all its glory. Richly textured, velvety, silky and endlessly aromatic with flavors that never seem to end and this wine is just getting started. Perfect color, beautiful fruit and richly complex tannins show everything that makes pinot great. (Price: if you have to ask...)

  • Romanée St. Vivant, Grand Cru, J.J. Confuron, 2004 - I tasted this wine last March, and it's just as beautiful and just as nowhere ready to drink as it was then. Given five or so years, this will be an outstanding wine. ($225)

  • Pinot Noir, La Paulèe, Willamette Valley, Scott Paul Wines, 2006 - Not every American winemaker would like to show his pinot after such a line-up, but Scott Wright obviously knows his own wine. While he is not trying to make Burgundy in Oregon, you can tell what his palate has been honed on. While more fruit-forward and flowery than the preceding Burgundy selections this very fine pinot noir displays the balance and grace that brought winemakers from California to Oregon in the first place. While certainly drinkable now, I would wait a few years, which will bring out even greater complexity.

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tonysoter Winemaker Tony Soter is a member of that rare club that has made both exceptional cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. I’ve always thought that the approach that each of these varieties requires is so diverse that it makes it difficult to find winemakers that can handle both with equal dexterity. Tony has proved over-and-over again that he can cross that bridge with style. Having known Tony and his wines for several decades now, since he made wines at Spottswoode, I think there is a “Soter-icity” in his wines that have made both him and his wines so successful and respected. The key elements to the Soter style are elegance, un-amplified vineyard character and balance.

For many years Tony has divided his attention between his projects in California and Oregon, but last year he and his family made the trek north on a permanent basis and officially set up housekeeping in Oregon full time. Fortunately for us, his winery in Oregon, Soter Vineyards has been slowly increasing production and more people will be able to enjoy these lovely wines made by Tony and his winemaker James Cahill. However, make no mistake, this is still a very small winery and many releases are essentially sold only on their website.

Their two new releases of pinot noir are the main focus of their production, full of Soter-icity and should be available in most major markets. It’s worth pointing out that both of these wines are under 14% alcohol, which unfortunately has been less common in Oregon lately. They are well worth seeking out.

  • 2006 Soter, North Valley Pinot Noir - a relatively new wine for Soter that debuted with the 2004 vintage and they decided to keep. Crafted from a blend of estate and purchased fruit the North Valley delivers the Soter style at a more moderate price and in slightly larger quantities. Typical of the 2006 vintage, the North Valley is forward and fruity with bright touches of cassis and wild blackberries on the nose and on the palate. Graciously silky from start to finish those that like their pinot velvety will be well satisfied. It’ll be better next year, but why wait? (Find online)


  • 2005 Soter, Mineral Springs Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District - The Yamhill-Calrton District is proving to be home to vineyards capable of producing rich, voluptuous wines of great character, Shea Vineyard being the most famous example. The Mineral Springs section of that AVA is the leg sticking down on the right if you’re looking north and is an area to watch. Soter’s young Mineral Springs Vineyard, situated high on a hill with a spectacular view of the Coast Range, has all the potential to be a great vineyard, which you will understand when you taste this very fine pinot noir. The color is a rich ruby that is just translucent. On the nose expansive aromas of wild strawberries mix with black raspberries, vanilla and black truffles. The tannins in the finish are wonderful for their silky, but firm character that bodes well for those with the patience to age. A perfect example of Soter-icity. (Find online)
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An Immense Wine

Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Marcassin Vineyard 2003
95 points | $120 | 450 cases made | Red
"An immense wine that’s rich and concentrated, with taut, supple, firmly structured blueberry, wild berry, and blackberry fruit that coats the palate. No shortage of tannins either yet it’s very deep and persistent, ending with smoky oak touches. Drink now through 2013. From California."—J.L.

Tasting notes like this always confuse me. Is pinot noir supposed to be an immense wine? If it's not (and I don't believe it is), why do you give it 95 points? If you tasted a syrah and noted it was light you would give it a lower score. Should not that standard apply to pinot noir, which is famous for its elegance and complexity not it's girth. Immense to me should be a criticism, not a compliment for great pinot noir. I offer no criticism for the wine here, which I have not tasted. However, these notes just don't seem to be describing pinot noir to me.

California Burgundy

heartyburgundy Here's a riddle for you: When can you make Echezeaux in California? The answer: You can't, you have to wait until California comes to Burgundy. That's exactly what happened in 2003. I was living in Italy that year, our house tucked into the foothills of the Alps, and we baked for months. The television was full of the horrible news from France as thousands died from the heat. Burgundy was not one of the fatalities of that hot summer, but the vines and the wines did suffer as they did throughout Europe.

My gracious host for dinner last Saturday, winemaker Tony Rynders, brought me back to that sultry summer when he pulled a bottle of 2003 Echezeaux Domaine Dujac (find online) from his cellar. I admit I can't help but be thrilled by the appearance of a Dujac at any time.

Let's make no mistake about it, this is a very fine pinot noir. However, there is little to remind you of Burgundy, much less Echezeaux in this wine. Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but at $200+ a bottle I think picking a few nits is allowed. This is big pinot in the California style and I don't mean that as a criticism of the California style, although I prefer it in my California wines and not my Burgundy wines. While touches of stemmy whole cluster fermentation lighten the wine in a blind tasting you'd be hard pressed to spot this as a Burgundy. This comparison is interesting because it does not so much put down the Echezeaux as remind you how good the best California pinot noir can be.

While the best vintages are always from warm years, which produce ripe grapes that become rich, complex wines, it is also true that more is not better especially when it comes to pinot noir. Extremes of all types overwhelm terroir, in this case erasing Echezeaux and replacing it with an excellent pinot noir of indeterminate origin. As I remember the brutal and deadly heat of that summer it is amazing that Dujac produced a wine as good as this very hearty Burgundy.

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Wright On! Power to the Pinot!

ken wright It was more cocktail party than wine tasting, but the line-up on the table was incredible. It’s always a rare opportunity to taste such a broad selection of outstanding wines. Instinctively I went into power tasting mode, moving down the table methodically, focusing on the wines while the other guests focused on the conversation. It was very clear who the geek in the room was. I’m not a big fan of tasting wines in such conditions, but you do what you have to do.

While these were big name labels, more often than not the wines were less than big time. This always seems to be the case these days: the more famous the wines the more so-so they are. Just as my palate was about to be lulled to sleep from all the oak and alcohol something happened. I put my nose in the next glass and suddenly I was jolted into focus. The brightness of the wine in my glass stood out among technically well-made, but dead wines surrounding it. I tasted it again and then again to be sure. Indeed this was a special wine.

The wine was the 2006 Ken Wright, Pinot Noir, Abbott Claim Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA (buy online) and the first sniff tells you you’ve found something special. The nose lightly lifts out of the glass with a lively wild blackberry essence laced with a warm truffled earthiness. The first sip greets your tongue with a little acid love bite followed by a complexity that dances across your palate. All to often heavy handed overripe fruit dominates wine today, but not here as the gracefully ripe fruit lifts the wine more than weighs it down. The finish is long and firm and still a bit closed as this is a wine that needs two or three more years to revel its complete character.

Few winemakers have given us more fine pinot noir over than years than Oregon’s Ken Wright and with this wine he once again proves that powerful pinot is not powerful, but a wine that gains its power from complexity.

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Pair of Fives


    pair of fives Brilliance is a word that can mean many things: luminosity, intelligence, perfectly executed and, when it comes to flavor, lively and electric. All of those things come together in these two seductive, brilliant wines that are great values to boot coming in at under $25.

    • 2005 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, Imported by Louis/Dressner Every time I’ve served this wine each person at their first sip is taken back for a second as they ponder what has crossed their palate. Each knows that they have experienced something special. This is an extraordinary wine is that is is just so alive that it makes you take more pleasure in living. Concentrated elegance and finesse. (Buy online)

    • 2005 Bourgogne, Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Joseph Voillot. Imported by Vintage ‘59 Imports – Anybody who thinks there are no great values coming out of Burgundy be prepared to be proven wrong. This racy, bright pinot noir also comes packed with loads of flavor and complexity on its rather electric acid frame. Here’s a pinot that can both sing and dance. A short stint in your cellar of two or three years will give you quite a bottle of pinot. (Buy online)

    A pair of 5’s may seem a long shot to those that think a lot of chips are required to get great wine, but sometimes a pair is all you need. These days it’s hard to imagine such a winning hand at this price range from anywhere other than France.

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Beaux Vin

beaux vyrd pinot 06 Oregon’s Beaux Frères is not only making some of America’s finest pinot noirs, but is also that most rare of things: a winery with courage. Vintage after vintage winemaker Michael Etzel shows the courage of his convictions and produces dramatically distinctive wines with a personality all their own. Some dismiss the success of Beaux Frères as mostly due to the fame of Etzel’s brother-in-law and partner, famed wine critic and publisher of The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker, but considering the stunning quality of these wines I can’t help but believe they would still be sought out by collectors everywhere with or without Parker’s impact.

While a bevy of authors have pilloried Robert Parker for dragging the wine industry down the road of standardized, jammy wines, his own winery is the polar opposite. The Beaux Frères Pinot Noirs are tight, structured wines with a decided spritz from natural CO2 when young. That’s right they’re a little fizzy. These are truly natural wines and the little spritz is a result of the natural, cool slow malolatic fermentation practiced by Etzel.  None of their wines are manipulated to make them ready to drink young and even the precocious 2006 vintage produced wines that need a minimum of several years of bottle age to unfurl their now tightly wound personality. These are wines that do not try to mimic Burgundy, but that set their own unique style, both as Oregonian and an expression of Etzel’s winemaking art.

The current release of 2006 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir, The Beaux Frères Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge is nothing short of exciting. In his notes Etzel describes this wine as, “a beauty and can be drunk young.” However, he must mean in relation to his wines from previous vintages as compared to other 2006 Oregon pinots this wine far from being ready to drink. The nose is already exotic with layers of black truffle, porcini and dense, black wild forest fruits, but it is not yet resolved and you can just sense the greatness that is to come as the components intertwine and integrate. The wine hits your tongue with a thousand tiny little bites from the firm acidity and the slight spritz of the CO2, but then quickly expands dramatically into the voluptuous textures you would expect from this forward vintage. What strikes you as you taste and smell this wine is the endless swirling of exotic characteristics that make the wine change from second-to-second as you savor each sip. If you must drink this wine now, please give it at least an hour in a decanter before serving. However, at $80 a bottle you may want to give it the respect it deserves and wait at least five years before releasing the treasure inside.

Beaux Frères produces wines of great integrity and character because they are made by a winemaker with the same attributes. Mike Etzel makes what he believes. These are wines that must be on anyone’s list of the best American pinot noirs. (Buy online)


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Pinot Nero, Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, 2002

Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark plum notes. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry, wild strawberry expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. A fine effort that reminds me of Pousse d’Or Volnay in years past.

Pinot Noir, Pisoni, Estate, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2003

What a lovely wine. Deep ruby in color, but still translucent. Expansive velvety nose full of spices, violets, vanilla and a rich earthy bittersweet black cherry fruit. Velvety and creamy on the palate, it still packs a crisp acid bite to hold it all in balance. The finish is very long and makes you stop and experience the full sensation of each sip. A shade hot in the finish, but the other qualities of this wine more than make up for this slight fault. It should age beautifully over the next five or six years. Expect to pay big bucks if you are lucky enough to find a bottle.

Pinot Noir, Belle Pente, Carlton-Yamhill District 2003

Here is an estate that embodies the potential for greatness in Oregon pinot noir. With this wine they blow away the stereotypes about the ultra-ripe 2003 Oregon vintage and produce a rarity - an under 14% alcohol 2003 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. While may pinots of this vintage taste of raspberries with a burn at the end, Belle Pente has produced a lovely balanced wine that tastes only of pinot noir and Willakenzie soil. There is no jammy, hot pinot here.  Everything wine at Belle Pente exceptional and complex. Certainly not wines for the masses considering the quantity and style, but in my opinion an exceptional winery in all facets and this wine is clearly one of the best 2003 Oregon pinots produced.

Rising Star: Mazzolino

Exciting New Wines from the Oltrepo Pavese

MazzolinonoirbottleWines from the Oltrepo Pavese have never gotten much attention outside of Italy - actually outside of Lombardy for that matter. This was for good reason and the light, often fizzy wines of region were only good for cheaply quenching the daily thirst of Milano and Genova. However, even the Oltrepo Pavese is not immune to the quality revolution sweeping over Italian winemaking.

Tenuta Mazzolino is blend of French and Italian culture and vines. This is easy to understand because you can easily have lunch at Mazzolino and dinner in France. The estate was purchased by the Braggiotti family in the 80’s and under the leadership of Sandra Braggiotti they have invested heavily in replanting vineyards and building a new winery. She then imported French enologists Jean Francois Coquard and Kyriakos Kynigopoulos as her winemakers and together with agonomist Roberto Piaggi they have created a formidable range of wines produced from chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and the star of the group pinot nero (pinot noir).

Recommended wines:

-Mazzolino: A bright, fresh and fruity wine from the local bonarda vine (their one nod to indigenous varietals). Fermented and aged only in stainless steel to preserve the zesty, fresh cherry flavors of this grape.

-Corvino: A complex and clearly varietal 100% cabernet sauvignon. Brilliantly colored and full of sweet fruit flavors. This is a forward wine that drinks well now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

-“Blanc” and “Noir” are the top wines of this estate. “Blanc” is an elegant and multi-faceted chardonnay that is a cross in style between Burgundy and Sonoma. Toasty oak aromas are evident in the nose and on the palate, but do not overwhelm the well-structured fruit as only 25% new oak is used. “Noir” is their premier wine and one of the most interesting pinot noir wines in Italy. The fruit is clean and brilliant yet offers layers of earthy complexity. Like the chardonnay this wine is a hybrid of Burgundian and New World styles. Once again only 25% new oak is used so the oak is a compliment to the lovely fruit, not a dominating flavor.