In the world of wine, pinot noir might be the most cherished, celebrated and debated.
There’s a charm; almost a siren’s call that beckons wine lovers to return again and again. Yet it presents myriad challenges for viticulturists and winemakers who will use polite terms such as “finicky” in public when they would rather use the coarse and colorful language of the vineyard and the cellar.
As a result, pinot noir ranks among the most expensive for consumers to acquire because of the work to get the grapes ripe and the attention the wines demand in the cellar. This rings true in its native home in Burgundy, as well as the Pacific Northwest.
And while the Willamette Valley of Oregon has earned its reputation for pinot noir, there are success stories elsewhere in the Northwest. And fans of pinot love to make new discoveries.
Here are six examples of pinot noir in the Northwest that have shined in recent judgings. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or order directly from the wineries.
Panther Creek Cellars 2018 Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $25: Tony Rynders creates single-vineyard wines from the likes of Carter, De Ponte, Kalita and Lazy River, and there are seven sites within his assemblage that are the flagship for Panther Creek. This is a cheerful wine with the fruity characteristics of fresh raspberry and blueberry. Tea-like tannins underscore the cohesive structure and let the fruit shine. Berry pie a la mode sums up the berry, spice and vanilla that linger on.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2016 Estate Pinot Noir, McMinnville, $26: Ariel Eberle, who helped the Burger family earn the 2019 Oregon Winery of the Year from Wine Press Northwest magazine, used fruit from the family’s scenic site just outside of McMinnville for this gem from an acclaimed vintage. It displays aromatics of smoked herbs, earth, cherry and spice, then adds cherry, red currant and pomegranate on the palate with a complex, lingering finish.
Battle Creek Cellars 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $38: This project of the Precept Wine group and its winemaker Sarah Cabot drew from all three Willamette Valley vineyards that are under her purview — Battle Creek, Roe and Yamhela — for this medley that’s beautifully fruity and backed by sweet baking spices. The perfumy nose presents dark red notes of strawberry, cherry vanilla and Craisin with a pinch of violet and muscovado sugar. As a drink, it stays dark; huckleberry and black currant are joined by boysenberry preserves and pomegranate, setting the stage for a finish of black cherry and red currant.
Mt. Hood Winery 2018 Estate Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $38: The Bickford family and their Hood River winemaker, Rich Cushman, continue to show with their 2018 Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir why they are regularly awarded platinums for their work with Oregon’s signature grape. Cushman’s light touch with new French oak over 12 months creates a youthful and fresh style that leans toward sweet blue fruit, joined by cocoa-covered pomegranate and cherry pipe tobacco. There’s vibrancy from stem to stern, picking up watermelon and cherry notes along the way.
Bayernmoor Cellars 2017 Bayernmoor Vineyard Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $39: Patent attorney Larry Harris purchased 100 acres of forest east of Everett, and decided which 6 acres would be best suited for viticulture. His decision to establish it with Dijon clone 777 pinot noir has proved to be a delicious move, thanks in large part to the work of his winemaker, Brian Carter. This project signals a step beyond the norm for Carter, a master blender of big Washington reds, but his talent and degree from Oregon State University help explain his success with this rather delicate expression of pinot noir. Rose petal, saffron, sage and blood orange aromas lead to classic and fruity pinot noir flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Secondary notes of moist earth, sage and Black Forest Cake set up the food-friendly finish of Rainier cherry and caramel.
Bluebird Hill Cellars 2017 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $49: Like many Willamette Valley wineries, Bluebird Hill Cellars, owned by Neil and Sue Shay, makes an array of pinot noirs. And its 2017 estate reserve is a superb example with spice, cherry and herbal aromas backed by a juicy mouthful of black cherry, spice, blueberry and some earth in its finish. Venison tenderloin dusted with cracked black pepper and thyme beckons for a perfect pairing.
Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.