Food & Drink

The perfect pinot noir? Try some from Oregon

Pinot noirs can be the most ethereal of wines. They also can be expensive. A single bottle of 1945 French Domaine de la Romanee-Conti sold at auction in 2011 for $123,899. Top California pinot noirs regularly top $50 a bottle.

The trick is to find a good pinot for around $20 to $30 a bottle. So a group of Oregon pinot noir producers has set out to create exactly that category.

Why is pinot noir expensive? Growers call it “the heartbreak grape” because it’s so finicky and hard to grow. Thin-skinned, it’s susceptible to sunburn, rot, mildew and fungus. It needs a cool climate, with just the right soils, and even then it tends to low yields.

But when it comes out right, the proper descriptor is “sexy.” It can be silky, subtly fruity, even a little funky. It can be as complicated yet rewarding as a love affair.

Pinot noir is as sensitive as a lover as well. It reflects intensely the location where it’s grown.

In France’s famous Burgundy region, considered its home, pinot noir can smell of roses and violets, with earthy undertones of wet leaves and mushrooms. Aged pinots can have an intriguing funkiness _ in the good sense, I always add.

In California it can be fuller in body, more powerful, with aromas and flavors from black cherries to cloves.

In Oregon, where growers say their climate is more like Burgundy’s, it tends to be lighter of skin, more delicate, with subtler aromas and flavors from tart cherries to truffles.

Pinot noirs are marvelous with a wide range of dishes. They’re the “red-wine-with-fish” pairing for salmon, tuna and such. They go with lighter meat dishes such as roast chicken. They’re good with creamy casseroles. They match hearty beef dishes, which is why pinot noir is the wine both to make boeuf bourguignon and to drink with it.

The search is on for top-notch, affordable pinot noirs. So in Oregon this year, 12 wineries that produce pinot noirs in several price ranges have banded together to put forth their “least expensive, highest production, early release wines.” Wines whose flavors express “the essence of Oregon.”

Pinot noir is important to Oregon. Overall wine production rose from 1.6 million cases in 2004 to 2.8 million cases in 2014, according to the Oregon Wine Board. And more than 60 percent of Oregon’s total vineyard area of 21,000 acres is devoted to pinot noir.

Wineries are small. More than 70 percent of the state’s 676 wineries produce fewer than 5,000 cases a year, the board said.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

2014 Anne Amie Vineyards “Winemaker’s Selection” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore.: aromas and flavors of black sweet cherries and semisweet chocolate, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $25.

2014 Ponzi Vineyards “Tavola” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and cloves, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $27.

2014 Chehalem “Three Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: aromas and flavors of black cherries, bread dough and semisweet chocolate, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $32.

2014 Erath Winery Pinot Noir, Oregon: ruby hue, floral aromas, flavors of black plums and brown sugar, smooth finish; $19.

RECOMMENDED

2014 A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir, Oregon: floral aromas, flavors of ripe red raspberries and strawberries, crisp and lively, hint of minerals on the finish; $19.

2014 Adelsheim Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: aromas and flavors of black cherries, black raspberries and spice, smooth finish; $32.

2014 Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: aromas and flavors of tart cherries, spice and earth, crisp acids, firm tannins; $20.

2014 Chehalem “Three Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: aromas and flavors of black cherries, bread dough and semisweet chocolate, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $32.

2013 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir, Estate Bottled, Willamette Valley: ruby hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, mulberries and cloves, full body, smooth finish; $25.

2014 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: hint of oak, intense aromas and flavors of tart cherries and spice, silky finish; $29.

2014 Montinore Estate “Red Cap” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (from organic grapes): dark ruby hue, hint of cedar, flavor of black plums and mocha, firm acids and tannins; $20.

2014 R. Stuart & Co. Winery “Love Oregon” Pinot Noir, Oregon: dark ruby hue, aromas of red raspberries and plums, smooth body, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $28.

2014 Rocco “Gravel Road” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: dark ruby hue, aromas and flavors of vanilla, black cherries and cocoa, ripe tannins, silky finish; $30.

Fred Tasker can be reached at fredtaskerwine@gmail.com.

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