Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Oregon Feeds the Beast!

My name is John and I am a hedonist!

This is a declaration I feel compelled to make after attending – for the second consecutive year - the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). The event is held annually the last weekend of July in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley - the acclaimed American Viticultural Area (AVA) where pinot noir is king.

While my affection for pinot noir and its versatility was the primary catalyst for the return trip, I must admit that memories of the “incredible edibles” prepared by a host of talented chefs from all over the northwest made the decision easy.

In fact, in a few short days we participated in and consumed wine and food at three multi-course dinners, two luncheons (all outdoors in perfect weather conditions) and a Champagne brunch featuring food almost too visually appealing to eat – almost! In addition, we attended and sipped wine at four seminars and two evening receptions, featuring more than 100 wineries from Oregon, Burgundy, New Zealand and California.

Now, before you get the impression that this was an out-of-control bacchanalian orgy, let me emphasize that the more than 400 people attending this event were under control. I saw no evidence of stumbling, bumbling or slurring. I did, though, observe many people spitting wine into Styrofoam cups or pouring their wine into dumping vessels. (By the way, spitting is an acceptable practice in wine tasting, particularly when the taster must evaluate multiple wines.)

And no, I didn’t observe anyone drinking from the dump bucket like the actor in “Sideways.” However, I do think we West Virginians have genetic advantage when it comes to accurately expectorating. It comes from generations of our kinfolk who were adept at hitting a spittoon from great distances in saloons where such feats were commonplace and necessary to avoid bodily harm if the expectorant missed its target.

So, what were we discussing? Oh, Oregon pinot noir.

While Oregon boasts 16 other AVA’s, the Willamette Valley and its sub-regions such as Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains and Eola-Amity Hills, represent the best of the best producers of pinot noir. And while pinot noir is the mainstay of the area, wine makers are justly proud of whites such as pinot gris, pinot blanc and chardonnay which are also widely produced.

But pinot noir was the feature of this trip and I came away from the event with a major epiphany regarding this wine. In the past, I’ve always thought of pinot noir (particularly the wines produced in America) as being ready to drink when they reach the market. While this is generally true, I also discovered that pinot noir can benefit from years of aging in the bottle.

At one of the evening al fresco dinner events, I was served two 20-plus year old pinot noirs from Oregon. Both of them were delicious and still full of life. The 1987 Adelsheim exhibited caramel aromas along with cola and cinnamon flavors while the 1988 Elk Cove had a bouquet of leather and earth with flavors of ripe cherries and nuances of spice.

Other wines throughout the weekend confirmed this impression of the age-worthiness of pinot noir as I sipped excellent older wines from Burgundy. In addition, we were served several white Burgundies (chardonnay), including ones from Chablis and Beaune which were both more than eight years old and still drinking quite young.

I also drank absolutely stunning wines from Domaine Serene, R. Stuart, Chehalem, Ponzi, Bethel Heights, Domaine Drouhin, Scott Paul, Patricia Green and Van Deuzer. From Australia, Bindi Pinot Noir was excellent as was the Felton Road from New Zealand. From California, I loved the wines of Hirsch (Russian River), Laetitia, and Robert Sinskey.

Next time, I’ll focus on the theme of the IPNC event: “Sustainability Without Sacrifice.” While that kind of sounds like a description of my work ethic, it really deals with issues in the vineyard.

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