4 Relatively Impressive Things to Say About Oregon Pinot Noir
April 17, 2015
by Matt Duckor
“CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR? PSSSHHHTT.”
Drive an hour south of Portland—Oregon’s capital of culture—and you’ll stumble upon the Willamette Valley, one of the country’s most exciting wine regions. The Valley produces all sorts of wine—chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling—but is best known for its pinot noir. The pinots produced in Oregon are luscious and mineral-driven. More importantly, they don’t shove any fruitiness in your face the way, say, California wines do. (Go ahead, try a Cali pinot next to an Oregon one. The California pinot will probably be full of black cherry, raspberry, and cranberry flavors; the Oregon pinot will taste earthy.)
“WILLAMETTE IS THE BURGUNDY OF AMERICA”
“Earthy” is a term (of endearment!) often applied to pinot noir from France’s Burgundy region—which, by the way, is the gold standard of all the pinot noir on Earth. How do Oregon wines taste so much like Burgundy’s? It’s all thanks to the climates of the two wine-producing regions being incredibly similar. Both are defined by their year-round mild conditions, where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. Neither places get too warm (the temperature inches above the unfriendly wine growing mark of 90 °F only a few days each year), which is an environment where Pinot Noir thrives.
“YOU CAN PAIR THIS STUFF WITH ANYTHING. ANYTHING.”
Pinot noir is a great in-between wine when it comes to food. It’s light—but not too light. It’s complex—but not so overly showy that it demands the attention of everyone at the table. It can pair with fish like salmon or halibut without overpowering them, yet also stand up to foods as rich and gloriously fatty as a juicy Peking duck.
“I’M A DUNDEE HILLS MAN MYSELF, BUT I CAN GET DOWN WITH OTHER SUB-APPELLATIONS”
The Willamette Valley is divided into six major growing areas, or sub-appellations. Get to know this list—memorize it, even, for bonus points with your in-the-know friends—so you know what to look for when you head to your local wine store to buy that next batch of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton District, and Dundee Hills.
3 BOTTLES TO BUY
2012 Soter North Valley Pinot Noir – $28 Soter consistently tops wine snob lists for the best Pinot Noir in Oregon. But most of their wines are expensive—their flagship pinot sells for $150. This North Valley is an entry-level bottle, but it’s a good indicator of why Soter is so beloved.
2013 Maison L’Envoyé Two Messengers Pinot Noir – $27 Crisp and fruity with a hint of meaty spice: This is the pinot noir we want to drink every day.
2013 Bow & Arrow Rhinestones – $25 Winemaker Scott Frank is a star in the Willamette Valley. He makes wines that are full of earthy funk, but not too off the beaten path to be enjoy with family and friends over a backyard cookout.