Chances are if you are a Pinot fan (and not just a “Peeno Noir” fan) you have tasted the wonders of Oregon. Ten years ago, your parents might have been talking about how much they love bold, deep colored Pinots from California and every winemaker in Oregon probably winced in pain. Pinot Noir, the grape that saw a dramatic (and very real) increase in production in the United States following the release of Sideways, is not a wine that should be ever considered full bodied (or dark in color for that matter.) California winemakers became notorious for making Pinot Noir with up to 25% Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, etc, which dominated the flavor profile. People got mad and Pinot Noir lovers are a particular breed of hot-headed, passionate people. Pinot is a tempestuous grape that needs a lot of care and attention (like your older racist uncle or a prize show dog) and most of California’s wine territory is too hot to make Pinot properly. If you look just to the north however, the beguiling Willamette Valley offers Pinot Noir fans everything they want from Burgundy with an earthy, savory twist.
Oregon’s wine region is relatively small in comparison to its neighbors (Washington and California) and three-fourths of its vineyards are located in one area: the Willamette Valley AVA (pronounced will-AM-ette valley, damnit!) Inside of this AVA are six smaller sub-regions that produce the best Pinot Noir in the state: Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee Hills. Much like the Burgundy region in France, the best Pinot grows on the southeastern facing slopes of the Valley. These areas experience diurnals (no, not a double urinal) which help produce balanced fruit. Oregon weather is variant (between the grapes and the weather Oregon’s wine country is basically Toula’s family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) with heavy rainfall some years yielding tart, elegant wines (perfect for aging) or hot, dry weather which make fruitier, hedonistic pinots.
Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette describes Oregon Pinot Noir in two words: “Cranberries and Earth.” The high acidity in Oregon wines don’t scream cherry or plum, but they do have a complexity that is unmatched by their southern counterpart.
Oregon’s second most popular grape, Pinot Gris, is also really exciting. Oregon Pinot Gris (which is the same thing as Pinot Grigio, tell all your mom’s friends) has characteristic stone fruit flavors like nectarine and peach, but it also varies away from the green apple and sweet lemon/lime flavors in Italian Pinot Grigio. Oregon Pinot Gris can be bone dry from high acidity and simultaneously demonstrates tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and lychee. Pinot Gris from other New World producers like New Zealand or South America can often be so light in body that they taste like water (and not yummy plankton-filled New York City water), but Oregon Pinot Gris has body that can hold up to chicken or salmon pairings. GET THIS IN YO’ LIFE.
So here’s the sitch about starting in on Oregon wine:
You can’t buy it cheap-cheap. Remember what I said about Californians blending Pinot with other grapes? Part of the reason for that is cost. With more and more young people demanding cheap wine and Pinot being difficult to grow everywhere, some people cut corners. Oregon winemakers don’t do that, but as a result, the cheapest Oregon Pinot Noir is about $20. It will be $20 very well spent!
You will enter into next level shit at $40. When you think about how much you have to pay for a glass of mediocre Burgundy at a trendy wine bar, buying a $40 bottle (aka spending $10 a glass for basically a touch by Tilda Swinton (aka God)) is worth it.
Be adventurous! Try Oregon Pinot Blanc (which is made from the Pinot Noir grape) and of course stock your fridge with Pinot Gris.
Here are a few great wines to try:
Ponzi Vineyards – “Tavola” (Pinot Noir) – $27.00 @ Brooklyn Wine Exchange
99 West (Pinot Gris) – $11.96 @ Astor Wine & Spirits
Harper Voit – “Surlie” (Pinot Blanc) – $19.99 @ Astor Wine & Spirits
Antica Terra – “Angelicall” (Pinot Noir) – $95.00 @ Brooklyn Wine Exchange (This is for Kanye moments only.)