Demystifying Oregon Pinot Noir

Best Oregon Pinot Noir

Ok, let’s cut to the chase, Oregon Pinot Noir is a bit of mystery to the casual wine drinker.  There seems to be a mystique surrounding it; everyone seems to know it is desirable, but most aren’t really quite sure why. I dare you to ask the person sitting across from you at your next dinner party “What is the big deal about Oregon Pinot Noir, anyway?” and see what they say. Chances are the mumbled response will include a “well the grape is difficult to grow, you know”.  True that. The Pinot Noir grape is difficult to grow, but there is so much more… in the next two articles, we will lay it out for you all you ever wanted to know about Oregon Pinot Noir, but were afraid to ask, including some of our top recommendations. Now at your next get-together, you won’t have to ask the question. You’ll be the expert!

Understanding Oregon Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Grape

“God made Cabernet Sauvignon. The devil made Pinot Noir.”*

So this is what we know: the Pinot Noir grape is the most difficult grape to grow in the world; but why? The Pinot Noir grape is very thinned-skinned which makes it susceptible to temperature fluctuations, sunburn, the elements and human handling.  Both climate and soil matter, the grape ripens early so it will not do well in a warm climate where there wouldn’t be enough time to develop the unique and captivating flavors before the acid levels plunge.  Additionally, the berries hydrate quickly and can then lose their aromatic qualities. However, this demand for a cool climate is tricky because the nemesis becomes the rain and moisture that can rot the thin-skinned berries and the equally fragile vine that is prone to fanleaf virus, mildew and disease. Soil matters because soil determines the complexity of flavors. You’ve all heard of the French term “terrior” or ”sense of place”,  this is where many of the adjectives (earthy, herbaceous, minerally, etc…) associated with a wine profile originate. So getting the soil right is paramount in order for a full spectrum of flavors to develop. Specifically, pinots prefer a bit of chalk or limestone inside the soil composition.

So where in this great big wide world can you find the ideal climate and soil conditions for the Pinot Noir grape? If you know this, then you will know how to pick a great Pinot Noir wineWhen looking to choose, select the right region and you are destined for a great Pinot Noir. Traditionally France’s Burgundy region is the original and most well-known Pinot Noir producing region in the world. After that, it is Oregon Dundee Hills and the Willamette Valley and California’s Napa, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast and Santa Barbara AVA’s. However, because climate and soil matter, each of these regions produces a distinctly different kind of Pinot Noir. So which is the right one is for you?

Best Oregon Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Well, it is a matter of taste…

So, first, let’s look in general terms at each of these locations, as each region produces a different style Pinot Noir wine. Then we’ll drill down a little farther.

Burgundy, France is a very limited area just south of Dijon and encompasses a mind boggling 120 appellations and 400 district soil classifications in a space of about 30 miles long and a little over a mile wide. The Burgundian style is known for its earthy and mineral notes. It tends to be less fruit-forward, more herbaceous and light with complex faint rose and violet floral notes and a raw or fresh cherry fruit, and usually a low sugar and alcohol content.

California …Bam! California Pinot Noirs take a huge leap in intensity and flavor compared to the Old World versions. They will be bigger, more full, lush and fruit-forward and will sport flavors of black cherry or black raspberry and even notes of clove, caramel and vanilla.

So how do Oregon Pinot Noirs differ from both of these? Oregon Pinot Noirs are closer to their French cousins than their domestic neighbors in the Golden State. At similar latitudes the gentle climate in Oregon highly resembles that of the Burgundy (Bourgone) region and creates lighter wines with great balance, good acidy and flavors of tart cranberry, Bing cherry fruit and secondary notes of mushrooms and stems. The mild summers tempered by chilly nights and fresh ocean air that make this cool climate create wines that have a unique beauty and elegance as opposed to the power and brawn of other regions. So to sum up the difference between pinot noir from Oregon against those of California is as one winemaker said, “the difference between ripe fruit and fresh fruit.”

 Enter the winemaker… click here to continue reading the drill down to Oregon Pinot’s.

*Andre Tchelistcheff, the father of modern California wine making

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