A recent obsession with Oregon Chardonnay now extends beyond the queen of the whites and into the vineyards and cellars of those working with the area’s other notable red wine grape — Pinot Noir.
Central California isn’t the only region to experience a “Sideways” effect, though the producers of the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue valleys have quietly known for decades that they have something special with Pinot Noir. Nothing terribly hedonistic a la “Sideways,” yet still sexy and seductive. The rust-colored volcanic soil of the Dundee Hills area of Willamette in particular is well-suited to pinot noir and produces some of the best in the state.
The cool Oregon climate also draws comparisons to Burgundy, the esteemed Pinot Noir growing region of France, and the wines often reflect this style. Central California, because of the warmer climate, produces rounder, more fruit-forward pinots, while Oregon’s growing season is longer, producing complex, drier-style wines that work well with food.
Sounds like Burgundy, right? Indeed. During a recent sampling, we found Oregon pinot noirs to be wonderful food wines, working well with a number of grilled meats such as lamb, salmon and pork. We also see Oregon Pinot Noir as an ideal picnic pairing. So slip a bottle (or two) in your basket with the fruit and ham sandwiches. Here are a few to consider.
• Ponzi Vineyards 2021 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. What’s that commercial about happy cows make the best cheese? That’s what we’re envisioning here. Namesake winemaker Luisa Ponzi describes abundant groundwater, combined with a dry summer, which made for large, high-quality grape clusters for this vintage. Spicy cocoa-coffee and tea notes add nuance to classic pinot noir cherry flavors. Again, well-balanced acidity pangs of Burgundy, which makes this wine well-suited to food. $35.
• Willamette Valley Vineyards 2021 Estate Pinot Noir. This wine will pair beautifully with traditional Pinot Noir dishes including lamb lollipops, duck breast with fruit compote, herb-crusted pork tenderloin, cedar plank grilled salmon, mushroom risottos and aged cheeses. Excellent choice for dinner party wine. $39.
• Stoller Vineyards 2021 JV (Junior Vines) Estate Pinot Noir. The richness of Dundee Hills comes through in this approachable and balanced wine, ripe with strawberry, red cherry and earthen-spice impressions. Light oaking keeps the emphasis on the high-quality fruit. Throw some pork chops or salmon on the grill and let the games begin. $27.
• Argyle Winery 2021 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Ripe and ready to drink but not at all flabby. Juicy dark cherry and plum come to mind, along with some nice bakery-spice impressions. Ah-ha, cherry pie. Just the sort of thing you need on the table during a barbecue. Burgers, ribs, pinot noir. Sounds like a good time to me. $29.
• King Estate Winery 2021 Oregon Pinot Noir Signature Collection. One of our favorite new wineries. We so enjoyed recent tastings of both its Signature Collection chard and pinot noir that we snapped up a couple of cases for late summer entertaining. The purity of fruit and clarity of the wine is exactly what you need when the heat is on. This pinot wows with its soft mouth-feel but rich, full-bodied fruit. $25.
• Erath 2021 Pinot Noir Oregon. A neighbor had us over for a first: Barbecued pizza. As in on a grill. I couldn’t think of a better pairing than this versatile pinot. The unpretentious, screw-cap wine doubles as a great house red, working well with lots of foods from roasted chicken to pasta to burgers to pizza. Simple, fruity, easy to drink. $20
Photo by Elina Sazonova