Saturday Pinot Noir Alfresco Tastings at IPNC 2016 Oregon Wine Fest

My IPNC weekend of Pinot Noir is winding to a close. Linfield College’s grassy campus in McMinnville, Oregon has absorbed countless gallons of spilt and spit Pinot.

After an afternoon exploring Champagne barrels at Claude Giraud’s seminar, I trundle off to IPNC’s alfresco rosé tasting. Vendors from Oregon and beyond try to keep their delicate pink wines cold. Charles Audoin pours the tidiest, driest, mineral, and most pale pinky of the bunch. It hails from Marsannay in Burgundy.


Leave it to Burgundy to get a Pinot Noir rosé right. Wish we saw more of these, but the French drink most of it.

Aside from the Pinot popsicles, a highlight included a beer break in the form of local favorite Heater Allen:


Their Dunkleweisen is delightful relief from this endless Pinot purgatory parade.

Just when I could use a nap, another Pinot Noir alfresco tasting opens in the fraternity quad. I hydrate myself and ready my liver for another power tasting.

Yesterday’s alfresco fest focused on 2013 Pinot. Today, we try 2014. Tables line and cluster throughout the quad.


I love the chunky, tannic, meaty and flinty Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru En Rue de Chaux by Bertrand Ambroise.

For silk, Halliday’s Coldstream Hills Hazeldene vineyard, Yarra Valley Australia 2015 is uncomplicated, smooth, brightened cherry, clove, and vanilla ease.


Another gem was Flowers’ palest of pale Pinot Noir rosé from Sonoma. It simply pleased me to no end with its easy, dry, but strawberried profile.


For the sake of something interesting, I enjoyed Foris’s Pinot Noir from Cedar Ranch, in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon.


Not much Pinot can handle the heat of Southern Oregon. But this comes with more coastal influence being further West. A green, peppery element gives character to tart black cherry fruit and tobacco. Not shabby.

After trying a slew of other Pinots the world over (Panther Creek showed class), I meet up with coworker compatriots and trundle into line for IPNC’s coup de grace, The Salmon Bake. I hope to post this Thursday, stayed tuned.


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Henri Giraud IPNC Champagne and Barrels Seminar

After IPNC’s casual Saturday lunch with endless Pinot poured under Linfield College’s ancient oaks, I toddle across campus for a class. Yes, about Pinot Noir.

My highlight at last year’s IPNC was trying Claud Giraud’s barrel-fermented Champagnes. By chance he came back to do: University of Pinot: Environmental Studies 370, painfully titled “The Man Who Whispers to the Oaks of the Forest”

So, this oak-whisperer, what’s the fuss? Well, most Champagne has forgone oak barrels for the clean modernity of stainless tanks and temperature control. Not Giraud.

Since the 1970s, they have turned back to primary, alcoholic fermentation in barrels. He likes them for the additional flavors they impart and the continuous fermenting vortex the barrel shape provides (think lees contact).


Today, Claud takes us deep into the Argonne Forest (with the help of a translator).  The Argonne is Champagne’s go to forest. Protected by a rain-shield, Argonne has poor soil, which slows tree growth, creating tightly-grained barrels. Every major wine region in France has a forest. The state controls all of them.

Claud has set up a tree-tracking system to follow the growth, soil pH, weather…basically the terroir of each tree before he requests a barrel be made of it. He works with three tonnelliers and three coopers (one stolen from Romanée-Conte, he gloats).

Before us sit two still wines. Each come from the same 2015 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The rub lays in how they were fermented. Barrel v Barrel:


First, from the hot, dry, sedimentary South of Argonne, Chatrices’ barrel-fermented wine.

APPEARANCE: a clear pale hay with raspberry highlights. AROMAS: medium intense strawberry, nutmeg, lime, vanilla icing, graphite. PALATE: Dry, tart, light in body with FLAVORS that etch enamel with green, saline citric acidity.

Ok. Chatrices is zingy. How about La Controlerie?

La Controlerie sits mid-forest and gets more rain. AROMAS and FLAVORS flow with marzipan, toast, caramel, white pear, even plum. Controlerie is as dry as Chatrices but seems softer, readier.

Claude has us blend them, which, well, increases complexity and is a better sum of its parts (great job me). Just imagine how they would meld after secondary, bottle fermentation.

Here’s Claude Giraud extemporizing…

To prove his point, Claude has us try his best bubbles: Argonne 2002 Champagne:


This Argonne comes from his fruit in Ay. He views that Ay makes wines chalky, pointed, citric, pear and violets, briney, earthy, meaty, tailing with acidity.

75% Pinot Noir. 25% Chardonnay. 2002 was a good vintage but warm. It was fermented in barrels like today’s, but secondary in-bottle fermentation lasts 10 years. Dosage caps it with a low 8 grams per liter of sugar (beet sugar, since Champagne can’t grow cane sugar and colonialism is a no go these days).


The APPEARANCE looks a medium gold with vigorous but fine fizz. AROMAS smell of pronounced golden delicious apple, baked pear, marzipan, and lime rind. The PALATE is dry, with high acidity, medium alcohol and body, and a whiff of woody tannin. FLAVORS are bold with anise, pear, apple skin, a mild, pleasant pithy bitterness pervades. 2002 Arbonne is outstanding (5 of 5) Champagne. It demands your attention and probably a bit of food to tame tannins and the complex flavors.

Questions go another hour into finite details. My French is terrible but Claude manages them well. What a fantastic, narrow, but important part of winemaking lost to Champagne. Hell, most still winemakers do not think twice about each individual tree. Henri Giraud is brilliant stuff.

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IPNC Saturday Lunch

After two hours plus and fourteen glass on Australian Pinot (IPNC’s Grand Seminar), we break for lunch on the lawn.

Unlike 95F Friday, today is a pleasant 75F in the shade.  We sit with Dag Sundby, owner of biodynamic Johan Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. He’s brought some of his 2013 Pinot Noir.

Our sommelier Aaron swings by with bottles of interesting Chardonnay and Riesling and of course more Pinot Noir. We try a few lean, difficult ’07 Willamette Valley Pinots, bidding time until, magically, plates arrive.

Stone fruit salad sneaks in savory smoked scallops tucked beneath basil leaves. Very nice with this weather.


After playing pairings with the bottles on our table, a flaky seared Oregon albacore standing tall on green beans, salty olives and capers, heirloom tomatoes, and abutting a sliced organic egg bathed in herb dressing arrives.


How they plate these for 400 people, challenges the limits of mental logistics.

Lastly, well, you can take a guess:


At first most think it a joke. It turns out to be a tamale but with savory dark chocolate and hibiscus. Maybe the thinking was it would pair with Pinot. It does. However, visually, it leaves much to be desired and questions one’s definition of desert.

All in all, nitpicking is meaningless. This is a fabulous, creative lunch. On to afternoon University of Pinot.


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Wine Review: Rezabal, Getariako Txakolina rose, Txakoli Spain 2015

In Basque Country in Northern Spain, before Spain makes a right turn and becomes Southern France, sits a DO called Getariako Txakolina.  Let us pretend we can pronounce that.  The Gulf Stream chills this coastal corner of  the Atlantic (much like Bordeaux or Rias Baixas).


Maybe if I say it backwards

This Basque pocket mostly grows one red grape, Hondarrabi beltza (seriously??? Is that some Babylonian code?) Hondarrabi beltza just might be related to Cabernet Franc (possible with Bordeaux uproad).

With summer steaming, I opt for a rosé from producer Rezabal.


APPEARANCE looks a pale clear pink with rapid fine petilance.

AROMAS smell moderately of salt, slate, underripe strawberry, grapefruit.

PALATE off dry, medium plus acidity, medium minus body, mild 11% abv and soda stream level fizz

FLAVORS are delicate but incisive, with citrus rind, strawberry, cream,      salt bordering on sardines of medium length. Good (3 of 5).

Rezabal makes a bright, twangy, fruity little fizzer. Think Vinho Verde but pink.  What a great way to chill off with summer charring us. It’s not amazing or challenging but interesting, unpronounceable, and delightful enough for a bottle to disappear.

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IPNC Master Class on Pinot Noir in Australia

After a Friday of drinking Pinot Noir from dawn until dusk at IPNC, I am not as Springtime fresh as I would prefer. But three hours of the 2016 Master Class on Pinot from Australia, yes, Australia await.

Let the charming accent and talk of dingos eating babies and shrimp on  barbies commence, while we tipple a grape about as far from its Burgundian origins as imaginable.

In truth, Australia’s Southerly fringes and hills can grow outstanding Pinot. James Halliday, Queens Order of Australia AM, prolific wine writer, and winemaker of Coldstream Hills introduces Australia’s varied history with Pinot Noir growing.

We ready ourselves for 14 wines. Here are the highlights:



James describes his own Coldstream Hills, Pinot Noir, Farm Vineyard, 2015

Our first wine, and arguably the cleanest and prettiest. It is a youthful purple color, fresh and delicate with bright raspberry juice, tomato, and light all spice. Very good (4 of 5) and will reward with a few years.

Deeper, woody, and tannic is 2013 Mount Mary Vineyard from Yarra Valley. This old vineyard (1971) provides red apple skin, cranberry, twang and savory notes that and lengthy (4 of 5).

Issues of VA, acid adjustment, and reductive over-sulfuring mar a few examples.


South of Yarra and Melbourne and Mornington juts out into the sea. Leafy green notes and meatiness overshadow a few. But Paringa Estate 2014 Mornington Peninsula shines. Made by a school teacher gone organic, it shows a rich purple color, pronounced dark cherry aromas backed by bacon and pepper. Bright acidity akin to orange peel tames the plump warm body full of spices. Very good (4 of 5). The cold coastal influence of Mornington is hard to ignore.

West on the other side are the Macedonia Ranges, with organic Bindi Kaye. Their 2014 is clean if a bit quiet aromatically with clove, rose, raspberry, and powdered chalk. The body is light, acid high, and overall a zingy little drink. Very good (4 of 5).

Eastern GIPPSLAND 2014 Bass Phillip Premium is inky, angry, hot,  woody, wild and meaty. Big stuff but too disjointed and possibly heat damaged.

Cold coastal GEELONG creates a disappointing wine By Farr 2012 showing its terroir and too much Brett.

TASMANIA, that chilly triangle dangling off South Australia, drums up the most excitement. Although they produce half a percent of Australia’s wine.

Home Hill Estate 2014 wins the group with a floral violet, tobacco, raspberry-laced nose. Acids and tannins create a bright, brambly, but balanced medium bodied Pinot. It is complicated and delicate and very good.

Dawson James’ 2014 Tasmanian Pinot brings more spice, orange, wood, leaf, tart cherry and in-check Brett. It’s dark but twangy, and very good (4 of 5).

ADELAIDE HILLS sits a skip west in South Australia and high in elevation (where it is cooler).

Ashton Hills Reserve 2014 works with bright cherry, eucalyptus, caramel, and a savory, earthen forest quality. It needs time to harmonize but is very good (4 of 5).


Somehow, this great panel brought 70 cases from Australia of fresh, interesting Pinot. They have moved away from big brooding reds, and seem to be finding success with mixed whole cluster and whole berry programs. I do not think they have mastered wild ferments on a whole and some chasing extreme climates seem to lead to mixed results in poor years. But in general, Australia’s Pinot scene is interesting, creative, and not just following Burgundy’s shadow.




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