Pinot Madness - Printable Version

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- Randy Caparoso - 08-03-1999 11:09 PM

Okay, folks. More about the REAL red wine (sorry, Zin lovers). On the way back from France and Germany I was privileged to take in the International Pinot Noir Conference in lil' ol' McMinnville, Oregon. Pinot orgiastics, with wine geek buffets sandwiched in between. Some quickie notes on the personal favorites picked out from the 200 or so tasted there:

1. 1997 Beaux Freres, Yamhill - Full sized (for a Pinot) and luxuriously endowed (black fruits over reds, with pungent, smoky spice). Like a super model (Pinot, not Sports, Illustrated), what's not to love?

2. 1997 Bethel Heights "Southeast Block Reserve," Willamette Valley - Haven't been crazy about everything done by this winery, but this one takes the cake (one that wasn't "left out in the rain"?) -- juicy, densely layered, well ripened Pinot spice with tobacco smoke and luscious black fruit quality. Something to sink your teeth into between bites of strongly wood smoked pork chops.

3. 1997 Bonnes-Mares, Domaine Fougerayde Beauclaire - Can't say this is "predictably" good stuff, because when tasted alongside a bevy of West Coast beauties ("wished they all could be...") the French stuff doesn't always come up like a rose. But this was nice -- intense, sweetly scented perfumes ("eau de Pinot?" -- now that sounds sexy!), with a palette of smoky, earthy, silken textured flavors held tightly together by youthful tannin and a zingy center.

4. 1996 Chehalem, Ridgecrest Vineyards "Rion Reserve," Willamette Valley - A most complete wine, with a top, bottom, center, and lots of gracefully extended flavors in between -- smoky, richly oaked, lush fruit (who cares if there's lots of oak? -- no one who drinks DRC) emanating from an elegantly poised, concentrated, dried fruit core.

5. 1996 Giradet "Barrel Select," Willamette Valley - Another surprise for me; rich, spicy fruit qualities manifested in a bright, perfumey fragrance and ultra-fresh, soft, luscious, mouth watering flavors with an orbular feel. Just another way of saying "tastes great and less filling" in the fine and delcate manner of the grape.

6. 1996 Ponzi "Reserve," Willamette Valley - A more perennial winner, this time truly up to snuff -- sweet, plush, lush just-picked black cherry quality (imagine the juice popping in your mouth, with the slippery skin and seed phenolics inundating all the way up into the back side of the nostrils), following up with fine, velvety, balanced, harmoniously and densely textured qualities.

7. 1997 Archery Summit Estate, Willamette Valley - You're probably getting the idea that the Oregon grown Pinots were making a nearly clean sweep on this particular weekend, but I can only call it as I see 'em. The Archery was right on the mark here; rich, spicy (smoky, vanillin oak mingling effortlessly with brown spice varietal nuances) fragrances, followed by firm, gracefully balanced, medium body filled out with rich, almost meaty fruit qualities.

8. 1996 Chambolle-Musigny "Les Cras," Domaine Roumier - Fine, penetrating Pinot spice fragrance in the nose -- ah, the Burgundian purity -- along with lush, rounded, yet firm, balanced, buoyant richness on the palate.

9. 1997 WillaKenzie "Aliette" - Dark, wild, sultry, feminine perfumes of cinnamon, peppery and sandalwoody spice clinging to fresh, sweet black fruit; firm, smoky, tightly wound and slippery qualities on the palate, extending beyond sinewy tannins into realms of wispy tobacco and chocolate covered berries. As the Pretenders might say, "you bring the biker out in me..."

10. 1997 St. Innocent "Seven Springs," Willamette Valley - More Oregonian shenanigans -- intense, juicy (blue and black berries), soft leather and crackling spices in the nose, and finely layered, smoky rich flavors rolling over slightly tough tannin carrying through the finish.

11. 1997 Littorai, Sonoma Coast "Hirsch Vineyards" - Almost mysterious Orientalized fragrances of sweet, gingery spice, dried plum and sour cherry; the flavors of the same tucked into a tough, lean, yet compellingly compact, rather petite and handily proportioned quality on the palate. Dangerously sweet and dandy in a Lolita-ish sort of way.

12. 1997 Neudorf, Montere (New Zealand) - Effusively rich, raspberry/plummy richness of fruit in the nose, with a Pinot spiciness veering more towards beef bouillon and new leather than classic incense-and-peppermint. Soft leather glovey feel juxtaposed with zesty acidity and juicy, picquant berry flavors; finishing finely with an easy sense of balance.

13. 1996 Panther Creek "Freedom Hill," Willamette Valley - Good, smoky spice -- autumn fruit melded with French oak -- in a rich, slightly aggressive, but sensuously fleshed out, palate gripping style.

14. 1996 Dundee Springs "Reserve," Willamette Valley - Lush, lovely blueberryish Oregon style Pinot aroma; fine, flavorful medium body, finishing soft and lacy on the palate.

15. 1997 Cosentino, Sonoma - Frankly, California style Pinot as a group were rather poorly represented in the 1999 IPNC; this lone success succeeds with fragrant, richly oaked, smoky, well ripened fruit, and is very finely textured and balanced within a medium-full structure on the palate.

16. 1996 Amity, Willamette Valley - Spicy perfume, with fresh, open red fruit qualities in the nose and on the plate; soft, pliant, and generous on the palate.

17. 1996 Clos Vougeot, Antonin Rodet - Tight but smoky/spicy concentration in the nose; firm, slightly sharp edged, but persistent flavors packed into a finely textured structure.

18. 1997 St. Innocent "Temperance Hill," Willamette Valley - Redolent with wild berry and smoky oak spice in the nose; soft, refined, medium body.

19. 1997 Tualatin Estate, Willamette Valley - Winemaker Joe Dobbes appears to be breathing life into this longtime listless property; vinifying a Pinot with sweet, spicy perfume with gamey leather nuances, following up with silken textured flavors shored up by fine tannins adding to a soft leather feel.

20. 1997 Rippon, New Zealand - A wine that puts the finer qualities (exuberant fruit) in front of the more troublesome aspects (namely, tongue curling acidity and excessive "animal") of the burgeoning NZ style; giving sweet cherry and mint leaf spice intensity in the nose with just hints of gamey leather, and bright, upbeat, wild berry fruit flavors revved up by lively acidity and firming tannins.

Finally, I did do a quick go-around of some wineries to catch up on the development of the '98s. For those who are interested, you should expect everything you know about the best Oregon producers, but in spades. In other words: Ken Wrights are more seamless and refined than ever, Chehalems more viscous and concentrated than ever, Rex Hills more supple than ever, etc. It should be a banner year in terms of sheer quality, but certainly no different in respect to the consistency and style already established by this small community of artisans in, say, 1997 and 1996.

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 08-03-99).]