There are many ways to describe Oregon pinot noir: elegant, lithe, complex, remarkable are four that come quickly to mind.
Since the first pinot noir vines were planted in the Willamette Valley a half-century ago, grape growers and winemakers have refined their knowledge and skills with the most maddening of red wine grapes to create a reputation that is refined and renowned.
Most of the roughly 600 wineries in Oregon make one or more examples of pinot noir. Some make a dozen as they drill down into the essence of the grape to bring out nuances that can perhaps be discovered only within a specific vineyard.
Fortunately for Northwest wine lovers, experiencing Oregon pinot noir is as easy as a modest drive to the Willamette Valley, southern Oregon or the Columbia Gorge.
Here are several delicious examples of Oregon pinot noirs we’ve had the opportunity to taste recently. All won gold medals at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition.
Et Fille Wines 2013 Heredity Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $34: The French phrase “et fille” translates to “and daughter,” which describes the concept at this Willamette Valley project of Howard Mozeico and his daughter, Jessica. Blueberry juice and pomegranate begin to describe the lithe structure of the mouth feel, which opens with tangy acidity and balanced tannins. (12.6% alc.)
Knudsen Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $55: This historic vineyard established in 1972 by the late Cal Knudsen now is a small-production winery that captures the beauty of the Dundee Hills. Cranberry sauce, dried raspberry, mint, cedar and pink peppercorn aromas lead to a drink of refinement. Plump raspberry, fresh cranberry and ground savory flavors combine to make this a quintessential example. (13.5% alc.)
Lumos Wine Co. 2013 Five Blocks Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25: This rewarding, spicy and fruit-filled pinot noir opens with aromas of cranberry sauce, strawberry taffy, blueberry jam, fresh spearmint and California peppercorns that lead to suave flavors of blueberry and pomegranate. (13.2% alc.)
Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $32: Florent-Pierre Merlier’s largest production bottling is a delicious red that startles with licorice elements in its opening aromas, backed by cherries and spice. On the tongue, there are more cherries and licorice, plus a hint of blueberry, leading to well-managed tannins in its close. (13.5% alc.)
Elk Cove Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $29: The Campbell family has built a long record of crafting fine pinot noir, and this latest version yields cherry, blackberry and blueberry aromas and flavors, plus subtle spices and cedar elements. It closes with firm tannins and lingering fruit. (13.5% alc.)
Carlton Cellars 2014 Seven Devils Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25: This gorgeous example of Oregon pinot noir opens with cedar and spice aromas layered over cherries, red currants and a tiny bit of sweet blueberry. The fruit lingers from midpalate through a finish of well-managed tannins. (13.8% alc.)
Wy’East Vineyards 2014 Vinette’s Cuvèe Estate Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $36: Using grapes from the Hood River, Oregon, area, this sublime pinot noir presents a beautiful nose of dusty strawberry, red currant, blood orange and white pepper with flavors to match, offering glimmering brightness of acidity with fine-grained sandy tannins. (13.6% alc.)
DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Élevé Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $34: This winery near Medford, Oregon, has crafted a delicious red with subtle spice, forest floor and dark cherry aromas, followed by dark cherry, loganberry and chocolate on the palate and closing with a long, satisfying finish. (13.4% alc.)
Willamette Valley Vineyards 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $30: Deep cherry and cranberry aromatics reveal underlying oak, spice and forest floor. On the palate, it reaches from front to back with cranberry and red currant emerging as the wine finishes with juicy acidity and just-right tannins. (13.4% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.