On the Trail in Oregon
There are some terrific wines coming out of Oregon led by many of America’s best Pinot Noir. The heart and soul of Oregon winemaking is the Willamette Valley. And just to be clear – it’s pronounced Will-AM-it as is Dammit! Years ago I was corrected by an native Oregonian and never forgot that! And it’s important to know because over three quarters of Oregon’s wines are from the Willamette American Viticultural Area.
The Pinot Noir of Oregon are as close as any US made wine to the style of the Old World, yet are still quintessentially American. By that I mean that Oregon is America’s Burgundian cousin. The main difference is more forward leading fruit flavor. Here I find more Bing cherry than berry and wonderfully structured wines that benefit from the cool and damp. A little fuller feel in the mouth too but still offering that zip of acidity that’s so Pinot Noir. I also find more consistency in Oregon than in the myriad of vineyard plots and producers that typify Burgundy. Oregon does have smaller, less “corporate” producers too, which I like because it’s more reflective of the Old World approach, but with the devotion to the grape of the New World style of winemaking.
One the white side there is Pinot Gris. And here too, Oregon carves out a unique approach, much more like the way Pinot Gris reflects the Alsace region of France rather than the lighter styled Pinot Grigio of Italy. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape variety and obviously the ground and environment, the terroir, has much to do with the kinds of wines made, but the winemakers in Oregon are very intentional in distinguishing their approach. I find the wines richer and fuller, juicy and textured but with nicely tingling acidity that make them especially fit for food.
Oregon is often compared to Burgundy as we noted above, but it is not on the same latitude contrary to how that is often reported. And there is generally more predictable seasonal patterns too. Actually, Oregon is about the same latitude as Bordeaux in France or Barolo in Italy so not as typically cold and wet as Burgundy.
As you would expect, other cooler climate white varieties like Chardonnay and Riesling do well in Oregon, but there’s really not a lot to find in the stores so I stay focused on the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The Willamette isn’t the only growing region either. There are really nice wines from the Columbia River areas that Oregon shares with Washington and further south in the Rouge and Umpqua River valleys. It’s in these places that we find Oregon Cabernet and Merlot but there’s not much of that at retail.
Let’s get on the trail and head to Oregon. It’s a lot more fun to drink the wine than write about – so let’s Sip!
Every Day Sip
2014 King Estate Pinot Gris $15
Always a pleaser, this is a solid every day Pinot Gris.
2014 Willakenzie Pinot Gris $18
Estate wine from the Willamette and really stylish for the price.
2013 Elk Cove Pinot Noir $14
Really, really tasty. If you see it, buy it. One of the better Pinot you’ll find for under $20
2013 Penner Ash Pinot Noir Willamette Valley $40
Spicy dark berry flavor and a silky feel in the mouth.
2012 Shea Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard Estate $40
Burgundian but without the dirt on the nose. Bright fruitiness.
2012 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Carter Vineyard $55
Rich and ready, another delicious Ken Wright single vineyard wine.