Welcome to a new era of Oregon wine. Gone is the total domination of pinot noir’s old (and new) guard. Sure, our signature grape remains a mainstay of any best-of list, but it finds itself among an ever-livelier crowd of gamay, rosé, and Auxerrois produced in Oregon’s idyllic vineyards.
Over two weeks of marathon tasting sessions—every label concealed from the judges’ view—our panel of local wine experts sampled bottles from wineries large and (very) small, and producers both young and seasoned. The resulting list of 50 wines is a snapshot of Oregon’s state of the art, circa 2012. Best of all, more than half of the bottles are under $30.
It’s a whole new world, and it’s delicious.
1. White Rose Estate Winery | 2010 Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills Apellation Series
Dundee Hills, $45
Sourced from three vineyards perched on the Dundee Hills’ east- and southeast-facing volcanic slopes, this world-class wine showcases the remarkable trajectory of winemaker Jesus Guillen’s career. Guillen began as a vineyard worker in 2002, but his sophisticated palate and passion for the art of enology launched him into the role of head winemaker in 2008. Since then, his balanced, elegant, and complex wines have earned him a respected place among the state’s wine elite. With rich flavors of cherry compote, baking spices, mushroom, and dill—a surprising element of the classic Oregon pinot flavor profile—along with a savory earthiness, this wine drinks beautifully right now, and will age well for at least five to seven years.
2. White Rose Estate Winery |
2010 Pinot Noir
White Rose Vineyard
Dundee Hills, $70
Thanks to Guillen’s winemaking prowess and owner Greg Sanders’s long-standing love of elegant whole-cluster wines, White Rose has produced a lineup worthy of both of the top spots on this year’s list. Grapes from the four oldest blocks of the hilltop White Rose estate vineyard (planted in 1980) were selected for this intense, weighty wine with notes of cinnamon sticks, cedar, wet leaves, and ripe red fruit. This gorgeous whole-cluster–fermented wine was processed with the winery’s signature old-world wooden basket presses to ensure soft tannins and delicate aromatics with a long, satisfying finish.
3. Elk Cove Vineyards | 2010 Pinot Noir
97 Points • Best Buy
Willamette Valley, $27
This beautiful, inexpensive pinot delivers what fans around the world think of as a classic Oregon version, with bold aromatics of black cherry and truffle that seem to jump right out of the glass. From one of Oregon’s pioneering wineries—boasting a legacy of nearly four decades of great wine—it offers luscious flavors of ripe red cranberries, raspberries, and cherries characteristic of 2010’s late-hanging harvest.
4. St. Innocent Winery | 2010 Pinot Noir
Eola-Amity Hills, $36
With heady scents of blackberry pie, campfire smoke, and black tea, this complex single-vineyard wine develops an earthy, floral undertone on the palate. It’s rounded out with soft tannins and great acidity that allow for both easy drinking now and development over time—guaranteed to please both the adventurous oenophile and the novice.
5. Willamette Valley Vineyards | 2009 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $45
Winemaker Don Crank selected the best barrels from Willamette Valley Vineyard’s sustainably grown vine blocks to create this lush and complex wine, offering aromas of grapefruit, plum, and cherries with multilayered flavors of Campari and orange peel. There’s enough spice, tang, and acid to rejuvenate anyone craving a truly different kind of pinot.
6. Atticus Wine | 2009 Pinot Noir
Owned by two passionate, diverse families—with roots in Hong Kong, Peru, Ireland, Greece, and Paris—Atticus Wine applies a worldly approach to Oregon terroir. This bottle’s complex aromas of dark fruit, Asian spices, and sesame oil deliver a silky-textured, layered palate, dark and deep and with just enough acid to keep things bright.
7. Walter Scott | 2010 Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills, $38
A labor of love from top local wine experts Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow, this small-production wine shines with the 2010 vintage’s unique flavors of Campari, cranberries, orange zest, raspberries, and rose hips. Aged for 15 months in French oak—30 percent new—this elegant, unfiltered wine perfectly balances sweet and bitter notes for a sophisticated sip.
8. Apolloni Vineyards | 2009 Pinot Noir
94 Points • Best Buy
Willamette Valley, $26
The Apolloni estate vineyard’s south-facing slopes are carefully cultivated for low yields of complex, sustainably grown fruit. The 2009 vintage benefited from a warm, dry fall that allowed for the development of lush, ripe grapes. They infuse this unusual wine with flavors of dried fruit, tea leaves, and dried roses.
9. Tyee Wine Cellars | 2009 Pinot Noir
94 Points • Best Buy
Willamette Valley, $24
Brooding yet balanced, Tyee showcases the darker side of pinot noir, with firm tannins, shadowy floral scents, and flavors of cranberry, bitter orange, and black cherry. Its complexity results from the unique blend of grapes from the estate vineyard’s young and old vines.
10. Evesham Wood Vineyard | 2010 Pinot Noir
Le Puits Sec Vineyard
Eola-Amity Hills, $36
Boasting aromas of pomegranate and black currant, this pinot’s nose is soft and delicate. Dried lavender accents flavors of ripe red fruit and a savory midpalate. Sourced from the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge, known for its shallow volcanic basalt soils and low fruit yield, this wine is certified as organically grown by Oregon Tilth.
11. Hawks View Cellars | 2010 Pinot Noir
Hawks View Vineyard
Chehalem Mountains, $35
A select blend of sustainably farmed grapes from the Hawks View estate vineyard results in a balanced wine, marked by aromas of violets and plum. Strong but well-integrated tannins round out flavors of marionberry and chocolate for a bold but elegant glass.
12. Haden Fig | 2010 Pinot Noir
93 Points • Best Buy
Willamette Valley, $30
This bright and tangy selection is perfect for pairing with Oregon seafood. With an herbaceous nose boasting notes of dill, orange peel, and raspberry, it develops into a gorgeous dark-fruit palate with a touch of minerality, bright acid, and a long, pure finish.
13. Ardiri Winery | 2009 Pinot Noir
Chehalem Mountains, $34
The only wine on our list to make an appearance two years running, this estate pinot noir continues to impress with its rich flavors of cassis, dark cherry, and black pepper, balanced by big, luscious tannins. A note of menthol on the finish adds a refreshing touch to a deliciously dark wine.
14. Utopia Vineyard | 2009 Pinot Noir
Paradise Private Reserve
Ribbon Ridge, $55
Utopia owner Daniel Warnshuis’s first private reserve release is a lush garnet beauty presenting bold flavors of rose petals and ripe red fruit. The single-vineyard wine’s elegant tannins and spirited acidity balance with complex spice.
15. Lazy River Vineyard | 2009 Pinot Noir
Lumpkin Family Estate
This robust wine showcases the savory side of the versatile pinot noir grape with big, balanced flavors of soy sauce, truffles, dry earth, blackberries, and dried flowers on the palate. A long finish offers notes of barbecue smoke and charred meat.
16. Tyee Wine Cellars | 2009 Pinot Noir
Estate Barrel Select
Willamette Valley, $35
Offering sweetly herbaceous aromas of fresh English peas, mint, and red plums on the nose, this pinot rounds out with ripe red cherries and a touch of vanilla on the palate. A bit shy out of the glass, it will develop into a true beauty within a few years.
17. Domaine Drouhin Oregon | 2009 Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills, $65
A truly classic Oregon pinot noir: lightly oaked and luscious, it shines on the palate with notes of pure red cherries and black currants. Produced entirely with grapes from the Drouhin family estate in the Dundee Hills, it offers a vivid sense of place.
18. Adelsheim | 2010 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $55
This blend of estate and non-estate wines showcases the Willamette Valley in a single glass. Winemaker David Paige carefully selects the best characteristics from different soil types, clones, and barrel characteristics for a wine that’s satisfying and extremely drinkable, with flavors of bright raspberry and soft, musky cedar.
19. David Hill | 2009 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $50
The first signature cuvée from winemaker Jason Bull, this big, bold pinot bursts with lush flavors of blackberries and dark plums. Thanks to its full-bodied profile and robust tannins, it will hold its own against bold dishes like grilled meats.
20. Libra | 2008 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $35
Complex and slightly heavy aromas of anise and dried dark fruits give way to a surprisingly lively palate with plenty of acid and bright red-fruit flavors.
Slide Show: Behind the Scenes of the 2012 Wine Tasting