It seems to me that Oregon Pinot Noir wines are becoming more and more popular everyday. Larger wine companies are taking interest and buying up properties that were once thought of as novelty. Foley Family Wines recently purchased the Four Graces Winery, following the in-roads that Kendall Jackson and Louis Jadot laid out with their recent purchases. And this got me thinking… what does anyone really know about the Willamette Valley in Oregon? The pioneers David Lett and Dick Erath blazed a trail and proved that amazing and long-lived wines could be made and grown there, but I doubt anyone really knows what any of this juice tastes like. One thing I’m always tasked with as a Sommelier, is telling people what different wines taste like in addition to what you should eat with them. So I am going to greatly generalize the Willamette Valley and the individual AVAs below, so that when confronted with a list you will be prepared to order a wine you love.
Light ruby to cranberry in color with perfumed aromatics that will also include raspberry, black cherry and cola. The palate seems to have a sweet fruity core even though the wine is dry with spices, cola, earthiness and truffle.
Food Pairing: roasted porcini mushrooms and polenta
Deep and dark ruby color with a rich, round mouth feel and silky tannins; this is a big wine. Big aromas of spices like anise or cloves then blackberries, blueberries, and roses. The palate will have the bramble fruit characteristics with espresso and clove developing into tobacco and cedar.
Food pairing: Roasted Duck Breast with berry glaze
The most age-worthy of all the wines but bordering on a rustic personality; this Pinot exhibits medium-plus to high acid, fine-grained tannins with a ton of earth and chocolate. What fruit you do find will be black cherries and plums.
Food Pairing: Chicken with Morels and Tarragon Cream Sauce
Due to high variance of soil and elevation this is a little harder to generalize but… they are either lighter and have a lot more red fruits like cherry and raspberry or dark cherries and dark plums. They all tend to have a lot earthy mushrooms and brown spices like allspice.
Food Pairing: Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce
These are full-bodied Pinots yet very elegant and even feminine in nature. Bright red fruits like raspberry or cranberry with plums and dark cherries notably high in acid and minerality but with a good structure that brings balance. These wines tend to be the bright and fruity Pinots of the Willamette, with a spicy finish.
Food pairing: Cedar Planked Salmon
These are the big boys on the block: the darkest in color and the most tannins, these wines tend to exhibit huge flavors of black fruits and earth. The fruits on the palate range from fig, cherry, mulberry, plum, olive or any combination thereof. The earthy components range from wet forest floor, mushrooms, truffles and dried leaves. Generally referred to as massive.
Food Pairing: Roasted Pork Loin with root vegetables
Obviously, this doesn’t cover elevation, soil components or individual winemakers. Every wine is different from year to year, too. I only hope that this will serve as a rough guide to help you enjoy the world of Oregon Pinots from the Willamette Valley. Also: don’t forget the whites and Rosés!