Oregon: It’s all about the pinot noir
Oregon is by far the nation’s most difficult state to make wine, and the winemakers have made it harder on themselves by picking pinot noir, the world’s most fickle grape, as their flagship. Oregon’s most important region, the Willamette Valley, is filled with obstacles. A lack of regular sunlight makes it difficult to fully ripen grapes, and the frequent frost during the spring and fall, a vine’s most vulnerable moments, makes this region fit for only those who are willing to put up with enormous stress. They seem to overcome the region’s significant difficulties and with 2002 being the best vintage the state has ever seen there is nothing but the highest expectations from this amazing region.
It is all about the pinot noir in Oregon and their production is often related to that of Burgundy. They share similar difficulties in terms of erratic climate as well as a character of pinot noir that no other region can replicate. Earth is the name of the game and the pinots from Oregon, and the state has plenty of it. In a warmer region pinot noir takes on a more fruity and jammy characteristic while in colder regions such as Oregon and Burgundy the wines breath a seductive aroma of lavender, dirt, and animal. It is the most sublime thing in the world of wine.
These two top quality wine regions also share a moment in history. Burgundy has long since been the leader in quality of pinot noir by leaps and bounds but in 1979 a wine from Eyrie Vineyards competed in a contest in France against the best Burgundy wines. Eyrie came second, trumping many of the world’s most renowned and expensive wines. Since then, there has been a frenzy to produce wines of truly amazing character and distinction in the Willamette Valley. Many Burgundian producers such as Joseph Drouhin have opened wineries in the Willamette based on the tastings of 1979. Quality instead of quantity seems to be the most important factor.
pinot noir is not, however, the only grape that has taken root in Oregon. Eyrie Vineyards also planted the first pinot gris in the United States and it is now the most widely planted white grape in the state. The pinot gris (aka pinot grigio) also lean toward an Old World style with their bright and minerally character. Chardonnay has also long been a favorite in Oregon, as it is the sister grape of pinot noir in Burgundy and seems only a natural fit in the Willamette. These wines are often crisper and less oakified than their California counterparts.
A few of my favorite producers that are represented in Utah are: Domaine Drouhin (the Lorraine is unreasonable, but great) Chehalem can be the richest of the bunch, Domaine Serene is as pretty as it gets, and while it is Oregon’s biggest producer, King Estate can often be really nice for the buck.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. He tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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