Submerged in Pinot Noir: IPNC 2007

Hello from sunny McMinnville, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where I am spending the weekend attending the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration. I’ll be spending three days practically submerged in Pinot Noir along with several hundred other attendees and more than sixty featured Pinot winemakers from all over the world. This event is regularly billed as one of the best Pinot events in the country, so I’m very happy to have been able to steal the time to attend. One of the things I’m most anticipating about this conference is a chance to taste through a good selection of Burgundies, along with the wines from a number of Oregon Pinot producers that I have not yet tried.

In an effort to create a more intimate event, while still allowing a lot of people to attend, we were broken into two groups this morning after a nice breakfast on the spreading green lawns of Linfield College. One group stayed on campus for seminars of various kinds, while the rest of us decamped into groups small enough to cram into touring buses. Each group then headed off to various wineries throughout the Willamette Valley.

My group headed out to Maysara Vineyards, where we got the opportunity to taste through some Oregon and French wines supposedly in the context of discussing the meaning, relevance, and value of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas — also known more commonly as appellations).

I’m not sure exactly how we were supposed to have a meaningful conversation about AVAs with a wine from the Dundee Hills, a wine from McMinnville, a wine from Alexander Valley in California, and a Nuits St. George Burgundy in front of us. About the only “conclusion” I could draw was that AVAs actually exist, a revelation that will no doubt astound many readers.

The winemakers of these wines, as well as our tour guide and moderator Eric Lemelson seemed equally unsure as to the point of the discussion, so mostly we ended up talking about the winemaking, with a brief detour into the definition of terroir.

Luckily the wines were decent, and the view out the windows of the tasting room onto Maysara’s steeply sloped Biodynamic vineyards was lovely, as was the lunch we ate on the crushpad of the winery after we finished our tasting.

Here are the notes on the wines that we tasted as part of our morning’s session.

2003 Domaine Lecheneaut Morey St. Denis, Burgundy
Light garnet in the glass this wine has a nose of spruce-like forest floor, raisins, mulling spices and wet sawdust. In the mouth if offers lovely tart cherry and plum flavors with a smooth round texture, nice acidity, and a pleasant finish. 500 cases made from 20 year old vines. 8.5/9.

2005 Lemelson “Stermer Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a meaty nost with additional aromas of raspberry and soy sauce. In the mouth it is somewhat subdued, with pleasant flavors of wet earth through which emerge flavors of cranberry and cherry. The acid balance is excellent and the wine has good length in the mouth, though the flavors don’t quite resolve into anything very interesting by the finish. 8/8.5

2005 Maysara “Delara” Estate Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, OR
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of floral and plummy aromas, a hint of green wood, and a very strong aroma of raw hazelnuts. A bit out of balance at first, but improving with air, the wine offers primary flavors of cranberry and spice held together with a reasonably tangible tannic structure that leans heavily on the back palate and feels somewhat empty on the front palate. Despite this bit of awkwardness, the flavor and the complexity of the wine are good. Biodynamic. 8.5

2005 Goldeneye “Migration” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley
Light garnet in the glass this wine smells of dried meat, soy paste, dried leaves and a hint of orange zest, which might sound a little odd, but seems to work. In the mouth it offers spicy fruit flavors and a bit of alcoholic heat amidst a smooth, balanced body that incorporates notes of incense as it heads down the throat. 8/8.5

2004 Goldeneye Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley
A light to medium garnet color, this wine has an intriguing nose of curry spices, raspberry, and something very subtle that that resembled artichoke at times and tarragon at others. In the mouth it is gorgeously textured with lovely cranberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of umami buoyed up by excellent acid. Overtones of spice and floral notes evolve on the finish, which is substantial. Probably the best wine I have had from this winery. 9

2004 Domaine Lecheneaut “Les Damodes” Nuits St. George, Burgundy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells like crushed hazelnuts and fresh river mud. Anyone who enjoys a good dose of dirt in your glass will love this wine. In the mouth it is beautifully silky, with fabulous acid balance and a core of redcurrant fruit and floral notes that are at the moment subsumed into a bog of wet earth flavors. Presumably over time the floral and fruit aromas will emerge in the bouquet, but for now this wine tastes like dirt, but in far from a bad way. Terroir is not wine that tastes like dirt, but it’s hard to avoid thinking that you have a pretty good sense of what the place Nuits St. George tastes like after drinking this. 9

2005 Maysara “Mitra” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Light ruby in the glass, this wine has aromas that immediately made me think of Crayola crayons, along with the faintest bits of high-toned floral and candied fruit aromas. In the mouth it is soft and plush, with the texture that I really enjoy from Pinot Noir. Excellent acids float flavors of tart plums and a distinct taste of stems (the wine is 25% whole cluster fermented) and the grip of light tannins continue through a finish that incorporates coffee aromas. Biodynamic. 8.5

2005 Lemelson “Meyer Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Light garnet in color this wine has floral aromas mixed with plum and cough syrup. In the mouth it offers pleasant flavors of cranberry and a nice earthy undertone, but is somewhat disjointed and does not resolve to a strong finish, leaving one with a mouthful of above-average flavors that don’t reach beyond into anything greater. 8

2005 Maysara “Jamsheed” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a nose of plummy fruit with some other more mineral aromas in the background. On the tongue it possesses bold bright fruit that leans towards the dark end of cranberry with excellent acidity and a very pretty balance. Some what simple in nature, it is nonetheless a very pleasing wine. 8.5/9

2004 Maysara “Estate Cuvee” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a stemmy nose that combines green wood aromas with plum and herbal notes. In the mouth it has a nice weight on the tongue and dense flavors of cranberry, plum, and muddy river water, all of which are livened up by great acidity that keeps the wine singing through a nice finish. 8.5/9

2006 Maysara “Roseena” Rose of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Pale orange-pink in color, this wine had a nose of old socks and strawberry jam that made me initially reluctant to drink it. Surprisingly on the tongue it was very pleasant, with good acidity and a mineral aspect underlying basic, crisp flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Contains some portion of Pinot Blanc. 8.5

2004 Maysara “Delara” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a rich savory nose of miso soup and other savory aromas. On the tongue it surprises with deep resonant cranberry and plum fruit, as well as a dark Vegemite-like flavor that surfaces briefly in the mid-palate and then fades seamlessly into the fruit which lingers through a substantial finish, supported by very fine tannins. 9

Moe and Flora Momtazi purchased an old wheat farm in 1997 with the hopes of building their vision of a sustainable winery. After spending several years reclaiming the land in a completely organic fashion, they had their first harvest in 2001, and starting in 2005 their winery is a Demeter certified Biodynamic property. With beautiful plunging hillside vineyards, the winery produces several Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Gris, a rose of Pinot Noir, and an off-dry Riesling, many of which are named for ancient Persian gods and goddesses. The winemaking is done by the gregarious Todd Hamina, and I believe production levels are around 3000 or so cases.