When it comes to American Pinot Noir, Oregon leads the way
Check out Gabe's View for more wine reviews!
Pinot Noir is one of the great varietals of the world. The well-made versions of it can be awe-inspiring. The poorly made ones, well not so much. The problem can be that what some producers label as Pinot Noir isn’t really made in a style true to this grape. While blending is acceptable (and often wonderful) with almost any other varietal it’s rarely a good thing with Pinot. Sometimes producers add a dollop of Petite Syrah or Syrah to make the wine darker or firmer in structure. In other cases they add so much that it completely alters the flavor profile, making it unrecognizable as Pinot. And that to me is an issue because this great grape should shine. I’m going to look at three examples from Oregon that get the job done -- and then some -- at reasonable prices. As time goes on, more and more wine lovers are recognizing that Oregon is one of the go-to regions for well-made new world Pinot Noir. These wines are offerings that I have found to be excellent vintage after vintage.
When I was out in Willamette Valley a couple of years ago, Erath Winery was one of my “must” stops. They were among the first handful of producers from the area that I drank regularly, and helped me down the road to becoming a huge fan of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Erath plays a huge role in the history of Oregon wine, specifically those made in the Dundee Hills. Dick Erath planted his first vines there some 40 years ago, and made his first commercial vintage of wine in 1972. A couple of years later they were the first winery to build a facility in the Dundee Hills. They haven’t really looked back since; what they have done over the years is inspire many people to make excellent Pinot Noir in Oregon.
The Erath 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir is made from fruit sourced throughout Oregon; 95 percent of the wine went through micro-oxygenation and 5 percent was aged in French oak. The suggested retail price is $19.
Wild strawberry, vanilla and rhubarb aromas all leap from the glass when you pour this Pinot Noir. Those strawberry elements continue through the palate, and cherry is intermingled throughout. White pepper notes kick in around mid-palate and lead towards the finish, which also includes sour cherry, nutmeg and clove notes. This wine has terrific acidity.
It’s difficult to find good Pinot Noir at a fair price. This example from Erath is under $20 and provides a snapshot into the marvelous examples coming out of Oregon. I’ve had this release over many vintages and find that it’s consistent in style and quality.
If you go to your local wine shop and look through the domestic Pinot Noirs, the Benton-Lane Winery label is sure to get your attention. The postage stamp image is eye catching and has a classic look. I recall it grabbing my eye years ago. After reading a bit about the wine I ended up picking up a bottle the next time I ran across it. Benton-Lane Winery is a Willamette Valley Oregon producer making mostly Pinot Noir. There were founded by Steve and Carol Girard in 1988 and their first vintage was 1992. They have 138 acres under vine, and are sustainably farmed. Benton-Lane Winery produces around 30,000 cases per year.
The Benton-Lane 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is made from 100 percent Willamette Valley fruit. Barrel aging was accomplished over 9 months in French oak. Fewer than 20,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $26.
Enticing aromas of cherries, strawberries, violets and rose petals burst from the nose of this wine. Throughout the palate ripe cherry leads a rich and full-flavored attack, along with hints of cocoa and piecrust notes. A wallop of sour cherry emerges on the finish along with lots of mineral characteristics and plum pudding spice. This wine has good structure and nice acidity.
This release from Benton-Lane represents approximately two thirds of their output each year. It’s a widely available and fairly priced wine that shows off the charms of Pinot Noir specific to Willamette Valley. Red fruit characteristics with a nice mineral component are two of the things that come to my mind with Willamette Valley. This selection has those in spades and much more. This is a nice wine that delivers time and again.
Adelsheim Vineyard is a stalwart Oregon producer. As with Benton-Lane and Erath, many lovers of Pinot Noir likely received their earliest introduction to the sorts of wine the state can produce by tasting one of their releases. Several of their offerings are widely available, including a Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay with Willamette Valley designations that come in at friendly prices for folks seeking an entry point into Oregon wine. Adelsheim Vineyard has a history that dates back over 35 years. They currently have more than 170 acres under vine.
The Adelsheim Vineyard 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was produced using a combination of estate fruit (75 percent) and grapes sourced from other local vineyards (25 percent). Just over 17,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $32.
Bright and dark fruit aromas come out of this Pinot Noir’s nose, underscored by a touch of crème fraîche. Incredibly lively and fresh cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit flavors tell the story of this wine’s mid-palate. Those flavors are lush and alluring, leading to hints of licorice, spice notes and sour cherry that linger on the lengthy and memorable finish. Silky tannins, good overall structure, and firm acidity frame this wine.
At just over $30 this wine is a bit more expensive than the other two. That said, it’s still a nice value that will drink well on its own or pair with a wide array of foods. Mushroom-based dishes and pork come to mind as two examples.
All three of these wines are excellent examples of how good Pinot Noir from Oregon can be. The beauty of this region is the ability and propensity to deliver wines that well represent this great varietal. There’s an ocean of insipid Pinot Noir on store shelves. Finding good Pinot can be a hit and miss proposition. These three wines represent offerings that provide wide availability and a track record of consistent quality. If you taste any of these wines and enjoy them, don’t hesitate to try other offerings from the producers. Each of these folks makes other wines that are also worth your time, effort, and money.