Winestein: Oregon, a mecca for U.S. pinot noir
Category: Recent Press
Published: November 28, 2012
Earlier this month, I visited Oregon, a mecca for U.S. pinot noir, where I tasted a range of wines and got to visit some of the small producers.
Yellowing vineyards offered a flash of color in the green, lush region where wineries appear to be nestled in the forested hills, unobtrusive parts of their rural communities.
Oregon's modern wine industry began a generation ago with people who planted Alsatian varieties - pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot noir. Yes, pinot noir is planted in Alsace, the cool-growing region of France. That first wave was followed by pioneering pinot producers. Many of them migrated from California finding the Golden State wasn't the best place for their chosen variety. Pinot noir is persnickety. Oregon is one of a handful of places that can do pinot noir well when conditions allow.
The 450 producers in Oregon are quite small, explaining why you don't know or hear more about Oregon. They don't have the reach or distribution of large, mega producers.
The best-known wines come from the Willamette Valley. Locals bristle as mispronunciation. The correct pronunciation is Will-AM-it. A popular slogan is the rhyme "It's Willamette, Dammit!"
Unlike West Coast regions, Willamette Valley vintages vary, often greatly. The last classic vintage in Oregon was 2008. Word was that 2012 also will be. Like other cool-climate areas, Oregon wines benefit from warm years. Give Oregon a good year and the wines are transcendent. Even wines from cooler, marginal years evolve and become quite good after five or more years.
California pinot tends to be fruity and intense. Burgundy often can be refined, reserved and earthy. Oregon is somewhere in the middle, a bit rustic, a bit earthy and a bit fruity, floral and spicy. A few make their way to Pennsylvania.
The Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area has six wine regions contained within it. One of them is Dundee Hills, the heart of the region's early pinot production.
For a good representation of Oregon and a pinot noir, try Stoller 2009 Pinot Noir. This has a cherry-vanilla nose with flavors of black cherry, herbs and cola with a spicy finish combined with nice weight and tannins. $23. â â â â 1/2
Willamette Valley Vineyards was Wine & Spirits magazine Winery of the Year in 2011. This year, winery president Jim Bernau was given the American Wine Society's Award of Merit. The entry-level Willamette Valley Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir is a straightforward wine showing fresh berry characters around a light body. $27. â â â 1/2
Routestock Cellars 2010 "99W" Pinot Noir is a more rustic wine, with intense pepper character and a dry berry note that calls to mind a red hybrid. $21. â â â 1/2
For all the wonderful pinot noir, Oregon's creamy, minerally pinot gris also are among the best in the world and their riesling can also be outstanding. Also, a lot of great beer comes from Oregon.
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DAVID FALCHEK, a Times-Tribune business writer, reviews wines each week. Contact him at email@example.com, @wineTT on Twitter.