A business trip to Portland (delightful!) gave us the opportunity to sample recent vintages of Pinot Noir from Oregon. The state has been steadily advancing the quality of its Pinot Noir wines and growing the number of wineries since David Lett planted the first vines at Eyrie Vineyards in 1966. Many wine experts (self-anointed and otherwise) called it a noble experiment but one unlikely to succeed. Early vintages went beyond promising, the world took notice and the industry grew steadily to where more than 400 wineries now regularly validate Lett’s vision, including the later pioneers who moved into new areas, such as the Dundee Hills appellation.
For our recent adventure, we tasted a score of Pinot Noir wines in the $20 to $50 range and a few of the higher-priced spread ($50 to $100) from the 2006 vintage, which seemed to be produce more intense wines with higher alcohol than those from the previous three or four vintages. The following are our nine favorites (including one 2007 we liked), ranked in order from the top. Fine Oregon Pinot Noir often has the velvet touch and fine fruit with balanced acids that make it a match for salmon, chicken, pork and other dishes that fall on the lighter end of the complexity and intensity spectrum. The 2006 wines offered more tannins and in their younger years will be better with heartier beef dishes and even barbeque, which is just fine for Southern California, where we often keep the outdoor grill active through fall. The wines:
1. Archery Summit, 2006, Red Hills Estate, Dundee Hills, $80. Mid-dark color; sharp cherry and varietal nose, hints of oak; mid-body to big, tannins need time; long rich finish. A match for all beef dishes, veal and lamb.
2. Archery Summit, 2006, Premier Cuvee, Dundee Hills, $45. Dark color; distinct varietal nose, earthy, stemmy (a term I use to indicate the secondary aroma found from wines typically made in open-top fermenters where they punch the cap down regularly); bigger body; tight. All beef dishes.
3. Cristom, 2006, Sommers Reserve, Willamette Valley, $44. Mid-dark brick color; sweet, stemmy nose; bid-body, good tannins, good finish. Tri-tip, filet, veal.
4. Domaine Drouhin, 2006, Laurene, $60. Mid-brick; classic varietal nose, hints of oak; balanced, some finesse, long finish. 16-16.5. Pork loin and veal, plus lighter beef dishes.
5. Dusky Goose, 2006, Dundee Hills, $59. Mid-brick; light, stemmy PN nose; round, ripe, velvet finish, a little short. Veal, salmon.
6. J. Daan, 2007, Willamette Valley, $21. Pale brick; PN nose, berries, earthy; mid-body, mid-viscosity, long finish. Good value. Veal, beef with lighter sauces.
7. Iota Cellars, 2006, Pelos Sandberg Vineyard, $40. Mid-to-dark brick; ripe grape aroma, higher alcohol; long finish. Beef and even barbeque.
8. Carlton Cellars Roads, 2007, Pinot Noir, $45. Blend of three vineyards. Light-mid red; sweet fruit, dusty; soft, round, good fruit. Salmon, pork loin, veal.
9. Westrey Vineyards, 2007, Justice Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Pinot Noir, $22. Light raspberry nose, earth; mid-body, good structure, a little hot. All beef dishes.