Food & Drink

Northwest Wines: Pinot Noir drives Oregon wine industry

The Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area is southwest of Portland and is one of the original areas where Pinot Noir was planted in Oregon in the 1960s.
The Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area is southwest of Portland and is one of the original areas where Pinot Noir was planted in Oregon in the 1960s. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

When someone says, “Oregon wine,” the automatic thought often is “Pinot Noir.” This is because the noble red grape of France’s Burgundy region drives everything about the Oregon wine industry.

A new economic impact report shows that Oregon wine is worth $3.3 billion a year to that state’s bottom line, up from $2.7 billion in 2010. It’s also responsible for more than 17,000 jobs, thanks to the state’s 600-plus wineries and 950 vineyards.

Oregon is the nation’s fourth-largest wine-producing state (after California, Washington and New York), and while vineyards stretch from the Columbia River to the California border and from west of Portland to west of Boise (yes, it shares the Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area with Idaho), the vast majority of the wine produced in Oregon is in the northern Willamette Valley, less than an hour from downtown Portland. And while Oregon grows no fewer than 40 different wine grapes, the vast majority of the production is Pinot Noir.

Here are a few delicious Oregon Pinot Noirs we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the wineries directly.

Denison Cellars 2012 Deuxieme Version Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $26: This McMinnville-based winery creates four styles of Pinot Noir, and this shows fruit-forward aromas of Marionberry, black currant and plum with a whiff of smoked spices. The structure brings nice shoulders with black currant, grilled strawberry and elderberry. (14.5 percent alcohol.)

WillaKenzie Estate 2011 Aliette Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $48: This winery near Yamhill, Ore., started with plantings in 1992. Lovely aromas of dusty raspberry, black plum and orange oil include hints of violet, cotton candy, buttered toast and flint. Inside is a beautiful delivery of plum, blackberry and currant amid a rounded, elegant structure. (13.5 percent alcohol.)

Three Wives Wines 2012 Lone Madrone Vineyard Pinot Noir, Oregon, $20: Warm aromas of black cherry, blueberry and chai spices include cocoa and sandalwood. Those dark fruity and exotic notes push onto the palate with flavors of blackberry pie, plum, chocolate and vanilla. (14.5 percent alcohol.)

Saffron Fields Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $55: This is a gorgeous Pinot Noir opens with aromas of black plum, dark cherry, cocoa, toast and anise. The palate is magical with a delicious core of concentrated black fruit, surrounded by supple tannins and bright acidity that lifts it to satiny finish. (13.5 percent alcohol.)

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars 2012 Zena Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, $65: Flashy oak treatment shows with hints of caramel and mocha, backed by red cherry, red plum and raspberry with a pinch of mint and cedar. The drink brings more fruit and less oak, leading with boysenberry, cherry and rhubarb with orange oil in the finish. (14.5 percent alcohol.)

Durant Vineyards 2012 Bishop Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $65: This boldly expressive Pinot Noir begins with aromas of plum jam and boysenberry with milk chocolate and coffee. It’s all about black currant and fresh blueberry on the palate with nicely integrated blackberry and cherry notes. Juicy acidity and blueberry skin tannins lead to a finish of grilled strawberry and coffee. (14.2 percent alcohol.)

Chehalem Wines 2011 Ridgecrest Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $60: A yummy nose of dark plums, Bing cherry and ripe strawberry also shows a chunk of Heath Bar. Its supple entry brings rich strawberry and raspberry flavors which funnel into a structure of moderate tannins and mouth-filling pomegranate acidity that shows elegance on a substantial frame. The finish is lengthy with red currant and whole cranberries. (12.8 percent alcohol.)

Knudsen Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $55: There’s very little barrel influence to the nose of red currant, cherry, plum and blueberry with a sprinkle of white pepper. The drink is clean and elegant with black currant and dried blueberry flavors. (13.5 percent alcohol.)