2016-08-01 / Wine Notes

Oregon's Pinot Envy

Robert D. Richards, CSW

Every summer, McMinnville, Oregon, a town of some 33,000 residents, plays host to the International Pinot Noir Celebration. While it may seem strange that this small Pacific Northwest town would host such an auspicious-sounding event, it actually makes perfect sense. McMinnville is located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley — home to more than 18,000 acres of vineyards, the bulk of which are planted with Pinot Noir grapes.

McMinnville alone has 1,330 vineyard acres. That’s approximately one acre of grapes to every 25 residents. If an average yield is about four tons of grapes per acre, then that translates to… Well, you get the idea.

Oregon’s climate is well-suited to growing Pinot Noir. The grape thrives in cooler climates and ripens in a relatively short growing season. Located on the western side of the Cascade Range, the Willamette Valley experiences a marine climate — replete with cooler temperatures and fog — the ideal conditions for a grape whose origins lie in the Burgundy region of France.

Pinot Noir is a light red wine that often shows notes of cherry, cranberry, raspberry and plum. The wine is typically high in acid but low in tannins. Pinots are versatile and can pair with a variety of foods, including roasted chicken, duck (or other game birds) and salmon. Pinot also is a good match for dishes that use mushrooms, including pizza.

The wine’s culinary versatility doesn’t stop there. If you’re eating out and your dining partners are ordering a diverse array of entrées — ones that would ordinarily call for either white or red wines — Pinot Noir might just be the perfect compromise that enhances the tastes on the table without needing to purchase different varietals (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Here’s a sampling of Oregon Pinots that have made it across the country into the state store. •SCM

Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2013
(#42282, $24.99)
This wine displays notes of cherry and coffee. A late-season rain required some artful growing techniques, including using helicopters to dry out the vineyards. This Pinot spent 11 months in French oak barrels.

Jigsaw Pinot Noir 2013
(#39548, $18.99)
The black cherry and spice notes are what we’ve come to expect from a Pinot Noir, and this wine does not disappoint. This is an affordable second label of the Ransom Wine Co., which operates both a winery and a distillery in Oregon.

Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir 2011
(#37371, $17.99)
Plum and dark fruit aromas with notes of minerals and spice highlight this award-winning wine. Total production was fewer than 6,700 cases. This wine is named for the producer’s left-handed daughter, Cali.

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