I don't know if it's residual hype in the wake of the movie "Sideways," or if it's because the medical world has declared that red wine, especially from thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir, is good for your heart … but people are really drinking the heck out of some Pinot Noirs these days.
I've noticed particular interest in wines from Oregon's Willamette Valley, which has been revered by wine experts from all over the world as one of the very best places on earth to grow the finicky Pinot Noir grape.
In the 1970s, Eyrie Vineyards' Pinot Noir gave Burgundy veteran Joseph Drouhin a run for his money at a blind tasting that compared some of Burgundy's top wines with North American Pinot Noirs. After that, Drouhin decided to found his own winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where he continues to make outstanding though pricey Pinot Noir. (Highly recommended by this sommelier!)
Willamette Valley spans over 150 miles from just north of Portland to south of Eugene, with the Cascade Mountains to the east. The long, cool growing season in this region is ideal for this very hard-to-grow grape.
If you look at a map of Oregon's wine regions, you'll notice an abundance of red dots marking where wineries are located—there's a reason why so many winemakers choose Willamette for their growing sites. Here are some great examples:
Siduri is a fantastic producer that makes only Pinot Noir. Siduri has vineyards in both California and Oregon, in Willamette Valley. These wines are not cheap, but they are worth every penny, ranging from around $25 to $50. They are all bottled unfiltered and unfined, resulting in bold, juicy fruit character with a bit of classic earthiness. Truly special and worth every penny.
Ken Wright is known for its amazing single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Priced around $60 per bottle, these are not for everyday casual drinking (unless that is within your price range), but they are indeed fit for collecting or for making an ordinary meal very memorable.
Chehalem 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir (around $28) is made from Chehalem's three estate Vineyards: Stoller, Ridgecrest and Corral Creek. This wine is full of intense red berry fruit and toasty, smoky oak. Chehalem is also a great source of incredible single-vineyard Pinots, though they carry a steeper price tag.
Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve Pi-not Noir (around $35) is considered Adelsheim's top-of-the-line Pinot Noir. This is a really big wine, with lots of smoky, woody notes and ripe red cherry fruit character. This one definitely deserves to be drunk with smoked or grilled meats and veggies.
My mom taught me a long time ago that you get what you pay for. "If you buy cheap shoes, you end up with cheap shoes," is, I think, what she said.
Sure, Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley may be, for the most part, more expensive than those labeled simply "Oregon" or those from California, but they really do offer something special, something more.
If you are truly a lover of Pinot Noir (and not just one of those Hollywood-induced converts), you owe it to yourself to delve into these special wines. Get your wallet out and your palate ready. You're in for quite a ride.
See Lesley McHardy at Bravo's Annual Sante South Wine Festival on April 22, at 6:30 p.m.