The Wine Cellar: The international Pinot Noir Celebration
by Rene Corton
Each summer, pinot noir enthusiasts gather at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, to taste, discuss, and analyze great pinot noirs.
This year, the event included participants not only from the U.S., but from Chile, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, and the Cote D'Or in Burgundy, France.
In my next column, I will discuss the merits of the recent pinot noir vintages and give my personal rating of the numerous wines I tasted at the celebration. For now, though, some tips on visiting the Oregon pinot country.
The best months for the trip are August, September, or October. Driving south on I-5 from Woodinville, take 43 West toward Newberg, Oregon, and stop at Rex Hill Winery. You will find a classy tasting room, good wines, and maps to other Willamette Valley wineries.
Continuing toward McMinnville on 43W, you can also stop at Sokol-Blosser and Erath in Dundee and Chateau Benoit. These and other wineries are beautifully located right in the vineyards with great views of the surrounding valley and excellent tasting rooms with warm welcomes for amateurs and experts alike.
Six miles north of McMinnville is the Carlton Tasting Room, which is located in an old bank. Taste here with Jay. Then, following your map, visit Oak Knoll and Elk Grove Wineries.
Although the festival's official activities begin Friday morning and end with a grand brunch on Sunday, real wine nuts, including me, arrive several days early to visit wineries, taste at the Oregon Wine Tasting Room with Patrick (tell him Rene sent you), and eat at Nick Peirano's Italian Cafe in downtown McMinnville.
Nick's is an institution, with its great fixed price menu, magnificent minestrone, and an excellent list of reasonably priced top-notch Oregon wines. The cafe is usually full of winemakers and pinot noir aficionados who are likely to insist you share a glass of their selected pinot noir.
This year I was pleased to discover another great restaurant just down the street. Cafe Azul is where the talented Claire Archibald serves up amazingly good southern Mexican cuisine which was delicious with pinot noir.
South of McMinnville, visit the Lawrence Art Gallery-Oregon Wine Tasting Room. Alfie's restaurant on the second floor is a good lunch stop. Taste with Patrick and be prepared to be both educated and entertained. Allow some time to visit the art gallery with its large collection of paintings and sculpture by local artists. Round out the day with visits to Bethel Heights and Amity Wineries.
A final word; learn to spit. You will be tasting 25-100 wines each day, which is quite overwhelming, not to mention intoxicating, if swallowed. The tasting rooms will all have containers for spitting and dumping your wine after you have tasted. If you are not sure how to spit, ask at the first stop and they will be happy to instruct you, and they do appreciate sober tasters.
It's also a good idea to take some notes to help remember what you like. And if you buy wine, which you should, be careful about leaving it in a hot car or the trunk. Heat can ruin wine. Leave it in your air conditioned room and if the weather is hot, the back seat is much cooler than the trunk.
Au revoir and bonne degustation.