Oregon, namely Willamette Valley, produces far more delicate, earthy Pinot Noir than that of warmer climates such as Sonoma. If you tasted a Sonoma Pinot Noir back in January, you may recall it had bold red fruit flavors. The Pinots of Willamette more similarly resemble Burgundy, France in their profile by exhibiting higher levels of acidity along with lower alcohol content. Pinot Noir is a great wine to try if you are seeking the health benefits of red wine but don’t find the astringency of tannins to be favorable on your palate. It’s light profile makes it a great red wine to pair with fish, especially northwest salmon, as well as mushrooms or roasted hazelnuts. (As I type this, i’m dreaming of a grilled salmon salad with chopped hazelnuts and cherry vinaigrette.)
Willamette Valley is not a region that has a romantic story to start their wine production history. In the early to mid 1960s, one of the most influential wine programs in the world, University of California at Davis (UC Davis), determined, based on scientific data, that Willamette Valley would be an ideal growing location for cooler climate grape varieties. Based on this, in the mid 1960s, Charles Coury and David Lett headed up to Willamette to plant the recommended grape varieties. (Lett planted his vines in what became known as Eyrie Vineyards). Oregon got its Cinderella moment when, in 1979, they won top honors at a serious wine competition in France, when up against all the famous Burgundian producers. This shook up the wine world (which was still shocked after the famed Judgment of Paris just 3 years earlier in 1976 when Napa beat Bordeaux) and brought much acclaim, as well as recognition, to Willamette Valley. Since this time, Willamette has exploded from 34 bonded wineries in 1980 to 908 in 2019, according to the Oregon wine census.
The bottle I selected this week is from Willamette Valley Vineyards, which I picked up as I perused the wine section at Costco last week. Pinot Noir is another grape that needs a little bit of time to breath, so pour your glass an hour or so before you want to start drinking it (Buying a decanter or aerator will assist with this. A decanter allows you to pour the entire bottle, if you plan on serving it the same evening. An aerator exposes wine to oxygen as it pours, decreasing the time the wine needs to open up.) As you pour your wine, you will notice the much lighter ruby color that you can easily read thru if you tip the glass. It also has subdued legs. The bottle I selected smells of Flintstone vitamins with iron, red cherries, strawberry runts candy, cranberry juice, a faint hint of bandaid, and pomegranate…an eclectic mix for sure! This dry wine has the classic high acid, low tannin presentation but this has a bit higher alcohol on the palate at 13.5%. The flavors of sweet red cherries, little wild strawberries, cherry coke, smarties candies (the American version), and pomegranate emanate on the palate. All the lovely fruit flavors pair very well with the slightly sweet salmon meat. Overall, this wine is nicely balanced and wonderful to drink!
(If your are curious, the salmon is the Pesto Butter salmon from Costco cooked on a traeger.)