According to Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, the State of Oregon has 321 wineries in 16 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas). It sometimes feels as though each and every one of them has a Pinot Noir to sell you, and nothing else.
Pinot Noir is good, so good it inspired a movie all about it (Sideways). It is a versatile wine that goes with a lot of foods. For me it is the default Thanksgiving wine anymore since we always have both turkey and roast beast (usually a standing rib roast). It goes well with both.
It is a picky grape, not easy to grow (it is picky about climate, it is susceptible to birds and pests and frost, etc.), it is not easy to harvest (it dries out quickly when picked due to the thin skin, easily damaged); it is not easy to ferment (a high number of amino acids makes it a tricky process); it is not easy to age. Which means that it is often produced in smaller quantities, and is often a bit pricier than other reds.
Yet here in Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley, pinot noir thrives. And pinot lovers flock to the region both for the quality of the wine and the amazing range of prices on the stuff. Here you can find a truly magnificent pinot noir priced in the high $70’s, certainly – but odds are you can also find one that will knock your socks off for around $30, sometimes even less. If you are lucky, you might even find a rose of pinot noir that will take your breath away for $15 – $20.
(Seriously, if you have never had a rose of pinot noir – made by limiting the amount of contact with the grape skin – you really should. This is not the cloyingly sweet rose we all regret ever trying several years ago. It is crisp, bright, and wonderful as a sipping wine. Try it slightly chilled on a hot July day. It is truly summer in a glass. For my money Sokol Blosser and Elk Cove make the best, but there are a lot of really good ones out there!)
But if you think that pinot noir or pinot blanc or pinot gris are all that you’ll find here, you are mistaken. In coming posts we will talk about the lovely tempranillos, the big and bold Italian reds, and even some of the lesser known white grapes – like Melon de Bourgogne, and Roussanne.
It may be the land of Pinot Noir, but the Northwest has long had a reputation for not just tolerating, but encouraging diversity. Why shouldn’t that extend to the grapes as well?