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One of the most popular red varietals around the world, Pinot Noir is a delicate grape that’s difficult to grow. Native to Burgundy, France, there are only a handful of other appellations that are known for producing excellent Pinot Noir. Cooler regions of Northern California, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Yarra Valley in Australia, and a few cool regions of New Zealand rival Burgundy for making the world’s best Pinot Noirs.
With its distinctive soils and innovative planting and winemaking trends, this corner of the Pacific Northwest has found great success with Burgundy’s temperamental red grape. Charles Curtis MW shares his top Oregon Pinot Noir producers to know and the best wines to buy.
Our recent report on Oregon wines highlighted the state’s strong pinot noir offerings, and the list of the top wines that scored 93-plus points is dotted with some great values.
With the prices for Burgundy wines continuing to rise, including for its less-exalted offerings, thirsty pinot lovers are looking elsewhere for more budget-friendly pours that indulge their capacious palates for wines with nuanced fragrance, finesse and ethereal complexity. And that’s where Willamette Valley comes in as the top alternative for everyday consumers.
Oregon’s culinary values span a wide range, from its iconic marionberries to its subversively exotic doughnuts. But whatever you do, don’t overlook the treasure trove of Oregon-made pinot noir wine. The wine-making industry in the state is relatively young, but Oregon, and in particular the Willamette Valley, shares a latitude and climate akin to France’s Burgundy region, and that similarity to a world-famous appellation is what gives Oregon’s pinots an edge on other American-made pinots.
Through the ’90s and early aughts, while California winemakers were buttering up Chardonnay, dressing it in flashy new oak—and unleashing the virulent ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement in the process—winemakers one state to the north were quietly pursuing an entirely different style. Early failures with the grape in Oregon were history, as clones from France displaced material from California unsuited to the Willamette Valley’s shorter, cooler growing season. And as vineyard farming evolved and sites for Chard were selected with more intricate knowledge of soils and microclimates, the region has emerged as a producer of Chardonnays that rival great white Burgundies for brightness, complexity, structure and minerality.
In a state known for its exceptional Pinot Noir, it should come as no surprise that there are some gorgeous Rosés made from that noble Burgundian varietal. These wines are far from the frivolous pinks used to make frosé, though they’re certainly right at home in the Rosé all day category. Especially if the midday sip involves the kind of lavish lunch that tempts you to linger.
And, here’s a bit of welcome news during these dark days: Some tasting rooms around Willamette Valley have reopened, adopting stringent safety standards for guests. Here are a few producers of Pinot Noir Rosés to remember for your next visit, or to search out when ordering online.
Wine Business Monthly’s annual list of Hot Brands honors wineries, winemakers, growers and others within the industry who are making some kind of statement: experimenting with lesser-known varieties, utilizing creative winemaking techniques or voicing an unpopular opinion for the sake of moving the U.S. wine world forward. Hot Brands is more than a “best of” list, it’s a chance to explore new regions, varieties and winemakers that we think embody some of the latest innovations in the ever-growing, and ever-changing, wine market.
Pinot Noir might be notoriously difficult to grow, but it still manages to thrive in cool climates all over the world. When done right, Pinot Noir produces lighter-bodied wines of elegance and complexity. Some of the best examples hail from Oregon, which might be surprising considering it was just barely 50 years ago that the first Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs were released. Today, the state is home to almost 800 wineries, and this red grape continues to be the star of the wine scene. As one might imagine, it wasn’t easy to cull through a list of so many excellent bottles. But here are some top picks you will definitely want to have on your shelf.
Fourth-generation winemaker Véronique Drouhin-Boss is widely admired for her work in Burgundy (Maison Joseph Drouhin) and Oregon (Domaine Drouhin Oregon). She has been designated by her family as keeper of the family style, the person responsible for making sure that all Drouhin wines emphasise elegance, balance and sense of place. In 1987 her father, Robert, purchased land in the Dundee Hills of Oregon, established Domaine Drouhin Oregon and named Véronique as winemaker. This began the Drouhin family’s commitment to Oregon, which is an important and active part of their lives. Véronique, married to Michel Boss and mother of three children, lives in Burgundy.
Our modern wine culture has been built on the efforts and achievements of a community of passionate people—vintners, farmers, scientists, chefs, importers, marketers, the list goes on and on. Over the years, Wine Spectator has brought its readers many of their stories. Here, we profile more than 40 wine-world luminaries who made a difference.
As the pandemic continues, ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction will host its annual auction virtually, Nov. 8–14, raising funds for accessible healthcare services for Oregon vineyard workers and their families. A project of OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center (formerly Tuality Healthcare), ¡Salud! celebrates three decades of service in 2021.
For Burgundian winemakers in the Willamette Valley, sustainability isn’t simply a buzzword, but a way of life honed over generations. Meet four historic estates honoring their heritage in the vineyards of Oregon.
Whether it’s a plain cheese from Domino’s or a Margherita made with buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, and tomatoes straight from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the key here is simplicity (and not that much fat). Chianti Classico really does work like a charm, but so do other midweight reds, like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or even Pinot Noir from Oregon.
We went big in our tastings of Oregon wines this year. We uncorked more than 800 bottles in our largest review of the state so far and found plenty of evidence to substantiate its reputation for making consistently top-notch pinot noir, with a smaller but potentially even more impressive selection of chardonnay.
Women are fearless leaders in the wine industry. Through remarkable innovation and daring, they continue to push boundaries and dazzle the palate. Whether as newcomers or as members of a centuries-old family winemaking heritage, they have one thing in common: determination. Taste the fruits of their efforts in these five delicious wines.
That it’s such a draw for so many Burgundians of note is sufficient to tell you that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a developing wine region to be followed, and still a land of discovery. Charles Curtis MW highlights his pick of the producers, along with 12 great wines to try
A blind tasting of Pinot Noirs back in the mid-1980s – long before Oregon was established as a wine region – was the spark that led to the establishment of this famous Burgundian-American winery.
They were the first Burgundians in Oregon, and like all trailblazers they found it hard. Thirty years later, Veronique Drouhin is producing some of the finest American Pinot and Chardonnay. Véronique Drouhin first went to Oregon in 1986 when it was a fledgling wine region with only a handful of producers. Her father Robert, head of Maison Joseph Drouhin, believed in its potential for Pinot Noir, and in 1987, after numerous visits over the years, he bought what she calls “a beautiful field” in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley. Both are now American Viticultural Areas but in the mid-80s “they had no notion of AVAs”, Véronique recalls. Drouhin chose the land because – in terms of elevation, aspect and latitude – he considered it “remarkably similar” to Burgundy.
Created in 1987 on Oregon’s Dundee Hills by Robert Drouhin, for whom the gentle slopes overlooking the Willamette Valley bore a striking resemblance to his native Burgundy, Domaine Drouhin now covers 52ha of mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay. Robert names his daughter Véronique as winemaker from the start and the Cuvée Laurène’s first vintage was 1992, the year Véronique’s eldest daughter was born.A very strict barrel selection, it has been made every year since, winning regular citations as one of America’s best-expressed examples of Pinot Noir.2015 was an exceptional vintage, matching if not surpassing the superb 2014, the wine described by Véronique as: ‘Intensely aromatic and complex on the nose, the palate is captivation, displaying great concentration with refined texture, beautifully balanced with a long aftertaste.’While being totally Oregonian, it could match a premier cru from Vosne-Romanée. Thirty-two years on, Robert Drouhin states: ‘Skilled get more refined, methods evolve, but what’s important is what is transmitted from generation to generation: the search for excellence, the intellectual curiosity, the sense of values, passion, the respect for terroir.’ The Cuvée Laurène 2015 reflects this well: 94pts, drink 2020-2030
Oregon is a wine territory where Pinot Noir dominates, both in plantings as well as state of mind.I recently tasted a few dozen Oregon Pinot Noirs – admittedly a small cross section, as there are over 500 producers in the state that craft a Pinot Noir – to get an idea of the status quo for the varietal in the state.
I mentioned my affection for the wines of Maison Joseph Drouhin in my recent Burgundy itinerary for the Village of Beaune, and there is a reason why these wines captured my heart – the Drouhin family. Wine tasting and winery visits for me go beyond what’s in the glass, because what’s in the glass is a product of history, people, energy and passion. And for these wines in particular, you will also find complexity, elegance and finesse – the hallmark characteristics of Drouhin wines first imparted by Joseph Drouhin 139 years ago.
Robert Drouhin is the recipient of Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award (DSA) for 2013. As the head of Maison Joseph Drouhin from 1957 to 2003, he developed the company, founded by his grandfather in 1880, into one of Burgundy’s most important négociants.
It’s true, Oregon wines fly free.Taste wine for free when you visit participating wineries by showing your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and in-bound boarding pass. Purchase a case of Oregon wine and check it for free on your return Alaska Airline Flight. **Free tastings are excluded during holiday weekends and special events. Oregon wines fly free from Medford, Eugene, Portland, Redmond and Walla Walla.For complete info visit: www.oregonwinesflyfree.org
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