With over 19,000 acres of Pinot Noir planted, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become one of the United States’ premiere growing regions for the red grape from Burgundy since it was first planted there in the 1960s. That is more than double the amount of all other varieties combined growing there, highlighting the fact that this 100-mile-long region between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range is prime Pinot Noir country. In fact, more than 80 percent of all the Pinot Noir cultivated in the state is grown in the Willamette Valley, which is home to over 700 wineries.
To the west, the Coast Range shelters vineyards running along the Willamette River from frigid Pacific air and rainstorms, while on the opposite side the Cascade Mountains provide a barrier to the arid, desert-like climate of eastern Oregon. Temperate summers with cool nights, sunny autumns, and a combination of volcanic and sedimentary soils offer perfect conditions for ripening grapes with complex flavors and vivid acidity. Thanks to the number of French families who have put down roots here, Willamette has been called the Burgundy of the Pacific Northwest, producing New World versions of Pinot Noir that have been likened by many to those from their home region. Concentrated yet elegant, these will pair well with roast or fried chicken, grilled pork, risotto with mushrooms, or pan seared veal chops.
Hamilton Russell Oregon 2018 Bramble Hill Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Oregon
Well known for their South African wines, Anthony Hamilton Russell and his wife Olive now set their sights on making classic European style Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley fruit. Their 2018 vintage is aged in François Freres French oak for 14 months and has aromas of ripe cherry, caramelized orange peel, and cinnamon. It is generous on entry with flavors of red raspberry, black cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The tannins are silky-smooth, and the finish is accented by a bright splash of pleasant acidity.
Ponzi Vineyards 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley Oregon
Dick and Nancy Ponzi produced their first barrels in 1974; the 2018 vintage represents the second year the winery crafted a reserve wine with 100 percent estate grown grapes. It is fermented in small lots with 40 percent whole cluster, aged in oak for 20 months, and then 10 months in the bottle. It is cherry red with aromas of strawberry and red raspberry and is spicy at first sip with notes of anise, clove, and dried Mediterranean herbs accenting the red fruit flavors. The tannins are velvety, and the finish has a nice touch of spice.
Domaine Serene 2017 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon
Ken and Grace Evenstad first came to the Willamette Valley in 1989 and named their winery after their daughter Serene. The estate’s first vineyard was named after their son, and today Grace continues to oversee Domaine Serene and the production of world-class Pinot Noir. The 2017 Evenstad Reserve is ruby-garnet colored in the glass with aromas of cherry preserves, forest floor, and red raspberry and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and brown baking spices. It is drinking beautifully right now but don’t hesitate to hold for a few more years.
Domaine Drouhin 2019 Laurène Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Oregon
The well-known family that founded Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune in 1880 decided to plant vines and establish a winery in Oregon in 1989. The current estate encompasses 235 acres in Dundee Hills overlooking the Willamette Valley. The 2019 Laurène is bright ruby in color with aromas of cassis, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black cherry. On the palate there are flavors of red currant, freshly picked cherry, and brown baking spices. The tannins are velvety and well-structured, and the finish goes on and on.
Bergström 2020 Le Pré du Col Vineyard Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Oregon
The 16 acre Le Pré du Col vineyard was planted in the Ribbon Ridge AVA in 2006 and roughly translates to the “field on the hill.” The vineyard is a partnership between the owners, the Hill family, and Bergström Wines, who are responsible for maintaining the vines. This delicious wine is garnet colored with aromas of dried Shitake mushrooms, cedar, tobacco leaf, and black fruits. There are flavors of sweet black and red fruits, Oolong tea, and cinnamon with velvety tannins and a nice splash of acidity in the post palate.
Belle Pente 2017 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Oregon
Belle Pente released their first Estate Reserve Pinot Noir in 1997 and since that time has selected individual barrels that represented the best expression of their vineyard to create this flagship wine. Once aerated, you can find aromas of black cherry, brown baking spices, and cassis; the winemaking team uses 12 percent whole clusters in the fermentation which makes itself evident in the green tea and brambly aromas found in the bouquet. There are astringent tannins with flavors of red and black fruits, cigar box, dried Mediterranean herbs, and anise. Drink now or through 2035.
Cristom Vineyards 2013 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Oregon
Established in 1992 by the Gerrie family, Cristom Vineyards’ 240-acre estate boasts 90 acres of vines which the winemaking team farms using organic and biodynamic principles. They also use integrative pest management techniques to facilitate healthier grapes and soils. The 2013 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir was tasted out of magnum. It has heady aromas of ripe black raspberry, red cherry, and red cassis. In the mouth there are red and black fruit flavors accented by a touch of freshly ground black pepper, nutmeg, and allspice. The tannins are silky smooth, and the finish has a bright splash of acidity at the very end. Drink now or keep in magnum for another 10 years.
Nicolas Jay 2018 L’Ensemble Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon
Music industry entrepreneur Jay Boberg and Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo became friends in 1988 when Jean-Nicolas was studying in the United States. Afterwards Jean-Nicolas returned to work at his family’s Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy and Jay became well established in the world of music. The two formed Nicolas Jay after a 2011 visit to Willamette Valley. Their 2018 L’Ensemble is dark garnet colored with a purple rim. It has aromas of red and black fruits accented by notes of charcuterie, cherry cola, and licorice. There are complex flavors of toasted brioche, cranberry, ripe black fruits, dried Mediterranean herbs, and vanilla with silky, powdery tannins. Drink now or through 2034.
Ken Wright Cellars 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Oregon
Ken Wright and his family founded Ken Wright Cellars in 1994 in downtown Carlton, and since that time he has been very involved in town planning for this historic community. He currently makes 13 different single vineyard bottlings in the northern Willamette Valley. The 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir is ruby colored with aromas of blueberry, dried herbs, cinnamon, and freshly picked black cherry. It has flavors of cranberry, pomegranate, and red raspberry with pleasant touches of creosote and licorice. Drink now or through 2033.
Stoller Family Estate 2018 Reserve Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Oregon
Stoller Family Estate is widely recognized as the first LEED Gold Certified winery in the world and one of the foremost sustainable wineries in the Pacific Northwest. This reserve wine is fermented in oak vats and stainless-steel tanks and was allowed to go through full malolactic fermentation while aging for 12 months in French oak barrels, giving it a creamy texture on the palate. It has aromas of cherry cola, dried cherries, red plum, and forest floor. In the mouth there are flavors of ripe red fruits accented by cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice with creamy mouthfeel and rounded tannins.