by Dwight Casimere
Oregon Pinot Noir, specifically, that which originates in the Willamette Valley, is the most prized by wine lovers next to that which is produced in Burgundy.
Oregon is one of the few areas in the world that has the right conditions to produce one of the most fickle, thin-skinned grapes in vinous. A unique combination of cool nights, volcanic soil and intense daytime sun and the careful cultivation of carefully researched and cultivated clones has produced well-crafted wines that garner awards and top dollar year after year.
Wine lovers in Chicago had a rare opportunity to taste more than 200 Willamette Valley Pinot Nolirs, poured by the winemakers and owners themselves, at Pinot in the City. All of the big names were there, as well as some lesser-known small producers whose boutique wines have developed intense loyalty and an underground following among oenophiles. Few wines inspire as much passionate debate and fervent devotion as pinot noir. Those who achieve a new "find" jealously hang on to their sources. Pinot in the City pulled back the curtain on some magnificent wines that may have been hiding in plain sight all along.
Here are just a few of the favorites:
Sokol Blosser 2015 Estate Pinor Noir-$38.
This is, to me, the bench mark for good Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. CEO and Co-President Alison Sokol Blosser is a Second-Generation Winegrower, and clearly knows her stuff. The 2015 Dundee Hills is 100% Pinot Noir. It is a tight package of dark fruit flavor; deep purple plums, blackberries, ripe blueberries and hints of chocolate and mint going down. The wine has well-integrated tannins, giving it a smooth, polished finish. All of this is achieved by lengthy aging in neutral oak barrels which have the primary function of providing balance and velvety texture without imparting any added spice or smoke. The sublimely elegant fruit is allowed to sing its own aria to the applause of wine aficionados and critics alike.
Knudsen 2015 Pinot Noir-$55. Managing Partner Page Knudsen Cowles is a fountain of information on the genealogy of her terrific wines. Formerly known as Knudsen-Erath, the winery has emerged to create its own distinctive oeuvre.
Knudsen Vineyards is the acknowledged pioneer of winemaking in the Willamette Valley. In its prime location in the heart of the acclaimed Dundee Hills AVA, it overlooks the Willamette Valley and both the North Cascade Mountain range and majestic Mt. Hood. Wines are created by blending estate grown fruit from various Blocks among the foothills to create wines of uncommon elegance and complexity that express the unique terroir of the Dundee Hills. Layers of silty clay loam, reddish brown and red clay layers lie beneath well-drained soils rich in minerals. This is the same soil that produces the beautiful Douglas Fir trees and hazelnuts that we prize during the Holidays. The soil supports the growth of several types of highly coveted Dijon clones.
Over 45 years of winemaking speaks for itself. A rich and flavorful wine bursting with flavors of ripe red cherries, cranberries and pomegranate with a hint of cinnamon spice from long oak aging in new and seasoned oak. The wine has a long finish that is great with food. Allow it to breath for at least half an hour as you grill a giant Porterhouse or Cowboy Cut Rib Eye or Lamb Chops dusted with fresh Rosemary from the garden.
Van Duzer 2014 Dijon Blocks Pinot Noir-$50.
Florent-Pierre Merlier, Winemaker
This wine is aromatic and elegant. It starts with an appealing nose of warm, freshly baked cherry pie, with flavors of ripe strawberries and blueberries intermingled with banknote flavors of crushed rose hips, with brown sugar and star anise mid-palate. There's a bonus shot of licorice and vanilla after silky tannins give the wine a creamy texture leading to a long, mouth-watering finish. If you have some Humboldt Fog cheese handy, and one of the new CD or (preferably) vinyl releases of remastered sides by Miles or Trane, you just might have the makings of a perfect evening.
Johan Vineyards 2016 Farmlands Pinot Noir-$20
Jack Tragenza-Production Assistant
Not every respectable Oregon Pinot Noir has to set you back half a yard or more. Farmlands from Johan Vineyards is a prime example of "New Age" natural winemaking. Everything is natural, from the yeasts that develop naturally in the field, to the method used for fermentation, which is spontaneous, rather than inoculated. The wine is produced entirely by hand and all with estate fruit, just like the big boys! The result; a fresh tasting, delicious wine that's easy to drink and with fresh, ripe berry taste that reminds you of the sensation of biting into a blueberry pie that your grandmother just made and set out on the windowsill to cool. Its hard to believe that you're getting such an extraordinary wine for this price, but its definitely unhip to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Angela Estate 2013 Abbot Claim Pinot Noir-Yamhill-Carlton-$60
Jessica Endsworth, General Manager
Angela Pinot Noir has been a long time favorite and this year's vintage doesn't disappoint. The 2013 is no exception. This single vineyard wine is grown from fruit from a newly purchased vineyard, known for producing exceptional wines. Sleek and refined, this wine is pristine. Nicely rounded red cherry fruit with hints of orange peel and orange pekoe tea leaves with finishing notes of rich, Jamaican coffee and dark chocolate shavings. There's some lingering notes of truffles and wood ear mushrooms, and a hint of sassafras and cedar shavings that belie the wine's careful and lengthy oak aging.