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08.13.2014

72 Pinot Noirs on a Sunny Afternoon: Tasting at IPNC 2014

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I go to a lot of wine tastings, and have come to really appreciate those that are produced well. It may not be immediately apparent how easily a large public tasting can be screwed up, but it doesn't take much to turn such an event from a pleasure to a chore.

Quite consistently some of my favorite wine tasting experiences have been at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, in McMinnville, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Both afternoons during this event, the "Al Fresco" tasting takes place, in which half of the attending wineries pour a wine for anyone who wants to stroll around in the shade of some stately old trees and taste wine. The wineries are well supplied with ice to keep their wines at the right temperature if it gets a little warm outside, the tasting isn't horribly crowded, and all the tables are staffed by the winery owner or winemaker, allowing for easy chatting and discussion with folks about their wines if that's your thing.

And my favorite part? Since it's outside, you can just spit on the lawn. I find it such a luxury if I'm not standing with a clear path to a spittoon, to simply lean over, check for cross traffic, and spit the wine onto the ground wherever I might be standing.

But I'm somewhat in the minority when it comes to spitting. Most people are sampling and swallowing from a mix of New World and Old World producers, ranging from Burgundy, to California, to Argentina, to Germany, with a healthy representation from local Oregon wineries, all vetted by a tasting panel who both select from a large pool of applicants as well as extend invitations to wineries they would like to see at the tasting.

In short, these afternoons are nothing short of idyllic for any Pinot Noir lover, especially if they are temperate, as they were a couple of weeks ago when I attended the 2014 event.

As I wandered around the tasting and recorded my impressions, I found myself gradually left with the impression that while the 2012 vintage was clearly a very good one in many places around the world, it was not nearly as interesting as 2011. This I found especially true for California and Oregon. What many people celebrated as one of the greatest vintages in a long time, especially after the tougher, colder years of 2010 and 2011, was leaving me wanting for some dynamism and verve.

Indeed, as I compiled the scores in preparation for this writeup, I was surprised just how much my preferences among the 72 wines tasted skewed towards those who were pouring 2011s. With a few exceptions, they make up by far the majority of the wines that scored higher than a 9 on my approximate scale. There were clearly good domestic Pinot Noirs made in 2012, but the more of them I taste, the more I feel slightly underwhelmed.

The single most impressive and surprising wine to me at this event ended up being the Premiere Cru Fixin from Domaine Drouhin. Its aromatics were off the charts, and I'm quite disappointed I can't find any to buy online. Drouhin produces very little of it, apparently.

My scores and notes for all of the wines poured at the two afternoons' worth of tasting follow.

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TASTING NOTES:

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2012 Brittan Vineyards "Gestalt Block" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $55
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky green wood and wet stone. In the mouth, wet chalkboard minerality and intense muscular tannins wrap around a core of raspberry and redcurrant fruit tinged with forest floor. Great acidity and length. 14.3% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Drew Family Cellars "Fog Eater" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California $45
Light garnet in color, this wine smells floral and stony with citrusy raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry and stunning wet stone minerality turns citrus peel and citrus oil through a long finish. Very faint tannins and fantastic acidity. click to buy.

2011 Joseph Drouhin "Clos de la Perriere" Fixin Premier Cru, Burgundy, France $60
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells remarkably of gorgeous candied raspberries, a sweet floral wash that leaps out of the glass and grabs you by the lapels to plant a big juicy kiss on your lips. That kiss tastes like fantastically juicy raspberry fruit draped in squeaky leather pants, tight and fine grained. Stunning to the point of disarming. 13.5% alcohol.

2012 Domaine Marc Roy Vieilles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France $78
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright piney raspberry and forest floor. In the mouth, the wine offers racy acidity that makes raspberry fruit incredibly juicy, even as it is dusted with complexity in the form of fine grained tannins and a rumbly earth and herbal note that lingers through the finish. Mouthwatering. 13% alcohol. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2011 Andrew Rich Wines "The Knife Edge" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $45
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, citrus, and dried herbs. In the mouth, lightly tacky tannin wrap around a core of raspberry fruit that is zingy with great acidity, and lingers long in the finish. 13% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Arnot-Roberts "Legan Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California $55
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green wood, juicy raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, lean juicy raspberry fruit is vibrant with fantastic acidity and has a wonderful freshness to it that lingers along with a purity of fruit in the finish. 12.75% alcohol.

2011 Brooks Winery "Janus" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $30
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of cinnamon, earth, forest floor and a hint of funk. In the mouth, that note of funk is quickly filed away as a unique character trait as bright raspberry fruit tinged with herbal notes and supported by leathery tannins lingers long and juicy on the palate. click to buy.

2011 Byron "Monument" Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California $60
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of nothing so much as sweet cherry fruit. In the mouth it is pleasingly bright and pure with cherry fruit backed by fantastic acidity. The sweet quality lingers, though aromatically rather than any true residual sugar, through a long finish. click to buy.

2011 Chehalem "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $60
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sour cherry tinged with herbs. In the mouth sour cherry, raspberry, and earth, all have a lean brightness and scents of forest floor that linger in the background. Great acidity and faint tannins. 12.8% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Et Fille Wines "Maresh Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon $42
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth bright cherry and cedar flavors are juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Aggressive tannins linger through the finish with notes of earth. This wine could use a couple of years to mellow in the bottle. 13.4% alcohol.click to buy.

2011 Illahe Vineyards "Illahe Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $40
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of smoky cedar, raspberry and dried flowers. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of raspberry fruit, and forest floor savory notes. The fruit lingers pure, long, and bright through the finish. 13% alcohol. click to buy.

2011 J. Christopher "Sandra Adele" Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon $38
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of juicy raspberry and herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors are dusted by sandpapery tannins, even as they shine with citrus brightness. Long finish. 13% alcohol. click to buy.

2011 Knez Winery "Cerise" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California $43
Cloudy garnet in color, this wine smells of cedar, dried flowers and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit is lightly coated in dusty tannins that increasingly flex their muscles as the wine lingers for a long time on the palate. Forest floor and herbs scents linger as well. 13.1% alcohol.click to buy.

2011 Maison Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France $47
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cedar with a hint of brown sugar. In the mouth a mix of raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors are zingy with bright acidity, and roughened up slightly by sandpapery tannins. click to buy.

2012 R. Stuart & Co. "Autograph" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $60
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, wet stone, and wet earth. In the mouth, the wine is bright and fresh, with flavors of juicy earth, cherry, and raspberry. Excellent acidity keeps it lean and long. Faintest of tannins. 13.2% alcohol. click to buy.

2011 Red Car "Zephyr Farms Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California $68
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cedar, raspberry, and herbs. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit is juicy with fantastic acidity, but not without the gravitas of earth and green herbs. Long finish, faint tannins. 12.9% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Rhys Vineyards Pinot Noir, San Mateo, California $??
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a combination of brown sugar and green wood, unusually savory and herbal. In the mouth that green wood and green herb character persists, staining juicy raspberry fruit with a distinct arboreal quality. The fruit has a crystalline minerality to it that is quite compelling. 60% of this wine was fermented with whole clusters. Long finish. click to buy.

2012 Sandhi "Sandhi Sanford & Benedict" Pinot Noir, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California $65
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of green herbs, wet earth and a touch of red berries. In the mouth, wet wood and earth mix with juicy raspberry fruit, under a throw blanket of tacky tannins. Good length. Great acidity. 13.5% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Siduri Wines "Rosella's Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $48
Medium purple in color, this wine has a very floral, super juicy raspberry aroma. In the mouth the wine has a purity of cherry fruit that lingers long and juicy through the finish. 14.6% alcohol. click to buy.

2012 Syncline Winery "Celilo Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, Washington $30
Light to medium purple in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and black raspberries. In the mouth, juicy, black raspberry fruit is enveloped in dusty tannins that turn grippy through the finish. Bright acidity and nice length. 12.8% alcohol.

2012 Talley Vineyards "Estate" Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, Central Coast, California $30
A bright light garnet color in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and herbs. In the mouth the wine has a bright smoothness to it, as if it has been polished to a high gloss, as it delivers sweet cherry fruit and faint tannins to the waiting taste buds. Hard not to like. click to buy.

2012 Dominio IV Wines "Mulberry Street" Vitae Springs" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $??
2012 Bachelder Bourgogne "La Petite Charmotte" Nuits-St.-George, Burgundy, France $??
2011 Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon $60 click to buy.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2012 Ambroise, Maison "Rue de Chaux Rouge" Nuits-St.-George Premier Cru, Burgundy, France
2011 Anne Amie Vineyards "Twelve Oaks Estate" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 Domaine Charles Audoin "Le Rozier" Fixin, Burgundy, France
2012 Bergström Wines "Bergström Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Bodega Chacra "Barda" Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Argentina
2012 Brandborg Vyd & Winery "Ferris Wheel Estate" Pinot Noir, Elkton, Oregon
2011 Domaine Decelle-Villa "Les Crots" Nuits-St-George Premier Cru, Burgundy, France
2012 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 Dublére, Domaine "Les Pitures" Volnay Premier Cru, Burgundy, France
2012 The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Fougeray de Beauclair "Clos Marion" Fixin, Burgundy, France
2012 Foxen Vyd & Winery "Foxen, Le Encantada Vyd." Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California
2011 Hamacher Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
2011 Harper Voit Wines "Harper Voit Strandline" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 J Vyds & Winery "Robert Thomas Vineyard" Pinot Noir, California
2011 J. Hofstätter "Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano" Pinot Nero, Alto Adige, Italy
2011 La Follette Wines "DuNah Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
2012 Mission Hill Family Estate "Martin's Lane" Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
2013 Mt. Beautiful Wines Pinot Noir, Canterbury, New Zealand
2012 Navarro Vineyards "Deep End Blend" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Medocino, California
2012 Patricia Green Cellars "Freedom Hill Vineyard " Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Peay Vineyards "Peay Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
2012 Ransom Wine Co. "Ransom Selection" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Saint Rémy, Domaine "Barrique" Pinot Noir, Alsace, France
2012 Seven Springs Estate "Seven Springs Estate" Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 Stoller Family Estate "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 Swiftwater Cellars Pinot Noir,, Washington
2011 Utopia Vineyard "Estate Reserve - Paradise" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2010 Villa Maria Estate "Taylors Pass" Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
2011 Walter Scott "Clos des Oiseaux" Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Alexana Estate Vyds & Winery "Revana Vineyard Estate" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Colene Clemens Vineyards "Adriane" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 The Donum Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros, Sonoma, California
2012 Dragonette Cellars "Radian Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
2011 Weingut Dr. Heger "Achkarrer Schlossberg" Spätburgunder, Baden, Germany
2012 Hyland Estates "Coury" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 La Rochelle Winery "Freestone Hill Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
2012 Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Scott Paul Wines "Audrey" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2011 Sokol Blosser Winery "Estate Cuvee" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2010 Wooing Tree Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2011 Alloro Vineyard "Alloro - Riservata" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 Benton-Lane Winery "Estate" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2012 King Estate Winery "Backbone" Pinot Noir,, Oregon
2012 Patz & Hall "Gap's Crown" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
2011 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany
2011 Westrey Wine Co. "Oracle Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2012 Archery Summit "Red Hills Estate " Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon,

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