Lately it seems like nary a week goes by that I am caught in a conversation about two different Northwest wines gaining a lot of steam. The first is Malbec. You’ve heard me blab on about Malbec now at least a hundred times, so I’m going to spare you.
The second wine of frequent conversation, especially of late, is Pinot Noir. The Willamette Valley, just to the east of Portland, has been a great Pinot Noir region for many years. It wasn’t until a few years ago when the movie Sideways came out that people rushed to Sonoma and to the Willamette Valley to try this sophisticated wine.
As the Pinot grape has grown in popularity, the Northwest wine industry has been expanding its use. Now you can find Pinot Noir grapes being grown in several different AVAs throughout the region, and the first vintages are coming out of the bottle.
The argument that has ensued, is whether Pinot from the Wahluke Slope, or Columbia Valley is nearly as “good” as Pinot from one of the traditional regions. The answer I’m coming up with is that wine from different regions is different. That doesn’t mean that it is good or bad. It’s just different.
The frustration that I have is with winemakers, the wine industry and customers alike. Why is it that everything has to taste like a California Cabernet Sauvignon? I love a good Cab, but there is a reason why there are different varietals and different AVAs. After all, the root of varietal is variety. Not all good wine comes from California, and not all wines are Cabernet Sauvignon. If a Pinot Noir has Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics, it isn’t a good Pinot Noir.
My suggestion is to taste some of the region’s best standards before giving your opinion. One of the best wineries in the region for understanding the flavors of good Pinot Noir is Eyrie. The late David Lett started Eyrie Vineyards in 1965. His vineyards gained world renown, and put Oregon on the map as a Pinot Noir region in 1975.
Now crafted by David’s grandson Jason, the 2006 Eyrie Pinot Noir shows excellent characteristics of a fine Pinot Noir from any region. A brilliant bright red in the glass, with a nose of bright cherry and fresh earth, the wine opens on the palate with fresh fruit, tannin and acid perfectly balanced. The flavor and the finish are long and complex, with overtones of earth, Portobello mushrooms, cherries, currant, and elegant smoky flavors.
Another regional vintner that produces truly amazing Pinot Noir is Domaine Drouhin. With vineyards and facilities in both Beune, France, and Dayton, Oregon, the Drouhin family is in their 4th generation of making Pinot Noir.
The 2006 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir is filled with a nose and flavors of bright cherry, fresh berries, and spice. It has a very elegant, long, smoky finish, with a silky mouthfeel that makes you want just a little more.
Once you’ve found a baseline for flavor, I suggest that you try different versions of Pinot Noir from our region. I think you will find many that meet your palate.