Nobody in the New World has hung their hats on Pinot Noir more than Oregon, which began planting the persnickety red grape of Burgundy, France, in the late 1960s.
Today, Oregon has nearly 14,000 acres of Pinot Noir planted, primarily in the northern Willamette Valley. It makes up more than 55 percent of the state's wine grapes. By comparison, California has nearly 40,000 acres of Pinot Noir, but it makes up only 8 percent of the state's wine grapes.
Pinot Noir is a suave wine that emphasizes elegance over power. Oregon Pinot Noirs in particular are higher in acidity, meaning they pair particularly well with food, particularly ham, risotto, turkey, veal and duck. But it also is one of the few red wines that works well with salmon, too.
Because it is difficult to grow and produce, Pinot Noir is not inexpensive. However, we have put together a list of wines we've tasted recently that range in price from $12 to $38. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Torii Mor Winery 2011 Deux Verres Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $38: Using grapes from eight vineyards, this complex Pinot Noir opens with aromas of black cherry, cassis, light toast and earthiness. It's followed on the palate featuring red currants, cherries and dried strawberries, backed by pleasing acidity, some earthiness and a near absence of tannin.
Lumos Wine Co. 2011 Five Blocks Pinot Noir, Oregon, $25: Grower/winemaker Dai Crisp has created a fascinating Pinot Noir that fills the nose with youthful notes of cherry juice, blueberry and cherry fruit leather. On the palate, it continues that fruit-forward approach with more cherry and raspberry flavors, backed by a structure that leads with food-friendly acidity over tannin.
Ross Andrew Winery 2011 Meadow Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20: It's rare for a Washington winemaker to make a wine with Oregon grapes, but this wine from Woodinville winemaker Ross Andrew Mickel is the exception. It offers aromas of dusty cherry and violet with hints of cocoa, truffle, tar, cigar leaf and nutmeg. Inside is a suave palate of Bing cherry, raspberry and chocolate with a pleasing balance of tannin and pomegranate acidity.
Del Rio Vineyards 2011 Estate Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley, $28: One of Southern Oregon's most highly regarded vineyards features Pinot Noir from its oldest block and youngest blocks. Tones of dark strawberries, Bing cherry and dried currants are backed by notes of blueberry, tar and cranberry, giving it a rewarding texture of tannin and acidity.
Torii Mor Winery 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $24: Winemaker Jacques Tardy has crafted a wine that shows brightness from beginning to finish as it flashes tones of red cherry, raspberry, blueberry, tobacco and saddle leather. The structure is that of a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir with cranberry acidity and righteous tannins, a combination that will serve it well at the table featuring pork or salmon.
Underwood Cellars 2011 Pinot Noir, Oregon, $12: The intriguing aromas of this affordable Pinot Noir send out fruity hints of cranberry and boysenberry as well as complexity from just-picked rosemary, forest floor, porcini mushroom, saddle leather and fresh-baked brownie. There's some depth to the drink that hints at juicy flavors of raspberry and Montmorency cherry with a backing of sandy tannins. A light hand with the barrel allows the spotlight to shine on the finish of Rainier cherry, crushed leaf and black olive.
Raptor Ridge 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $29: The aromas of this young red create memories of cherry juice, strawberry, fresh plum and a faint hint of moist truffles. There's refinement on the entry of raspberry and black cherry with a touch of milk chocolate. Cranberry acidity makes for persistence with nicely tamed tannins. A sense of savory conjures up thoughts of pairing with Mongolian Beef.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greathnorthwestwine.com.