Pinot Noir is perhaps the marquee red grape varietal, associated with some of the world’s finest wines and especially those of Burgundy, France. Pinot is notoriously difficult to grow, does its best work in cooler climates, and is regularly described as the ultimate terrior grape. Perhaps more than any other grape, it expresses the characteristics of the place in which it is grown. In our postmodern age of celebratory locavorism—in which consumers seek out and praise the uniqueness, the story, and the intangible essence of local products—Pinot Noir is an ideal wine and an easy sell. It truly tells the story of place.   

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of those places. Pinot Noir has been grown in the Beaver State at least since the mid-1960s. Since then, production has soared and made Pinot the state’s leading red grape varietal. Willamette Valley Pinots vary greatly, thanks especially to several different soil types and microclimates. Some areas have “Jory” volcanic soils from ancient lava flows, which tend to impart bright red characteristics to Pinot. Other areas feature marine sedimentary (“Willakenzie”) soils that found their way to Oregon thanks the waters of the Missoula Flood. Pinot planted in these areas tend to produce deeper wines more purple than red in color. But that, of course, is just the beginning.

Food & Pinot Noir – Perfect Together!

Oregon Pinot Noir is a highly versatile and overall excellent food wine. It is an ideal accompaniment for Thanksgiving Dinner because it enhances lighter meats (eg. turkey, chicken, pork, duck). Light- to medium-bodied Pinots pair particularly well with a variety of fish and seafood options (eg. shrimp, scallops, crab cakes). Hardier, medium- to full-bodied Pinots nicely compliment lamb and more delicate cuts of beef. Full-bodied Pinots can handle richer dishes and fattier steaks. All styles of Pinot Noir taste great with a range of cheeses, hard or soft.

Pinot noir is also a great wine for vegetarians because it pairs delightfully well with grilled vegetables, mushroom-oriented dishes, salads, and, more generally, foods that hit the earthy side of the culinary spectrum. Pinot can also stand up to some spice, and it is a strong red pairing for a variety of Asian cuisines, including sushi and Thai food.

With such awesome diversity, it is helpful when pairing to know a bit about the particular terroirs and bottlings that Willamette Valley offers…

MWM Oregon Pinot Lineup 

2013 Ken Wright Cellars, Savoya Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA $64/bottle
The Savoya Vineyard was the first vineyard directly owned and developed by Ken Wright Cellars. The vineyard’s marine sedimentary soil produces more masculine Pinots with darker fruits and a degree of muscularity. The 2013 is medium- to full-bodied and begins with floral and spice notes on the nose. The palate is populated with flavors of black cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, and hints of leather and earth. This is a Pinot for turkey, duck, or lamb.


2013 Ken Wright Cellars, Abbott Claim Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA $60/bottle
Ken Wright’s Abbott Pinot appears light reddish-purple in the glass. This is a nicely balanced light- to medium-bodied Pinot with flavors of deep red cherry, rhubarb, forest floor, and nutty oak. It finishes long and would pair nicely with grilled salmon, a nicoise salad, or pasta with mushrooms and vegetables.

2012 Bethel Heights Aeolian, Eola-Amity Hills AVA   $45/bottle
92 Points,
Bethel Heights is a mainstay of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Terry and Ted Casteel have been making top-quality Pinots since 1984. The Aeolian is an elegant medium- to full-bodied Pinot that exhibits some of the warmth of the 2012 vintage and a bit of the wildness of the winds that blow across the Bethel Heights estate vineyard. Forward flavors of dark blueberry and dark cherry mesh well with an earthy minerality and pepper spice. For California Pinot drinkers looking to explore Oregon, this might be a good first step into a new world. Decant for 2 hours for optimal flavors.

2012 St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley $43/bottle
92 Points, Vinous/Antonoio Galloni
This is a well-structured, powerful Pinot with a rich, fruity nose and flavors of black cherry and deep raspberry along with notes of cola and allspice. This is a wine for richly flavored foods with complex, roasted flavors. There is enough tannin for this wine to stand up to (and pair nicely with) a grilled steak with sufficient fat content (eg. Porterhouse, Ribeye). Decanting for 2+ hours will improve the drinkability of this wine in its youth.

2012 Winderlea Dundee Hills Vineyards, Dundee Hills AVA $42/bottle
93 Points, Wine Spectator
A clear, deep red-colored wine that sits elegantly in the glass. This wine is medium bodied and boasts weighty, concentrated flavors of cranberry and dark red cherry that pop in your mouth thanks to a nice acidity that reveals itself in the mid-palette. It finishes strong with slightly drying tannins. After an hour of air, this wine started to reveal even brighter red fruit flavors. But overall, the deep flavors and balanced acidity make this an absolutely perfect Thanksgiving wine. Bring on the turkey!

2012 St. Innocent Momtazi Vineyard, Mcminnville   $39/bottle
92 Points, Vinous/Antonoio Galloni
91 Points, Wine Advocate
This is a complex wine that reflects the heat of the afternoon sun, the cool, windy evenings, and the rustic soils of the McMinnville hills while retaining the dark beauty of its intense, ripe fruit. It is aromatically complex with layers of blue and black fruit. In the mouth the dense blueberry and blackberry flavors and roasted eastern spice notes are layered with rich peaty, peppery flavors. Ripe tannins balance with its acidity into a finish that integrates both its dark, wild fruit and nuanced spices. Serve with braised meats, stews, sausages, mushroom dishes, or cassoulet.

2012 Westrey Justice Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA $39/bottle
92 Points, Vinous/Antonoio Galloni

Winemakers Amy Wesselman and David Autrey founded Westrey in 1993 with the goal of focusing on “Texture and terroir amidst post-industrial splendor.” The Justice Vineyard is one of the premier vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills, located adjacent to Bethel Heights. This wine is moderate reddish purple color in the glass. On the nose, it offers aromas of black cherry, fennel, and smoky oak. In the mouth, this drinks as a medium-bodied wine that boasts flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, and a touch of white pepper. This is a versatile wine that is soft on the palette and can drink well on its own or with a variety of food pairings.

2011 J. Christopher Lumiere, Eola-Amity Hills     $37/bottle
91 Points, Wine Advocate

This J. Christopher bottling highlights the specific terroir of Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA as well as the cooler conditions of the 2011 vintage. Bright red in color, the nose offers vibrant cherry, huckleberry, and dried roses. On the palette, bitter cherry and blackberry are complicated by smoky black tea. Good juicy acidity provides an excellent lift. Finishes with dusty tannins and a bit of florality.

2013 Patricia Green Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley  $35/bottle
92 Points, Vinous/Antonoio Galloni

“Deep red. Sexy red and dark berry aromas, with suggestions of five-spice powder and smoky minerals emerging as the wine opens in the glass. Pliant raspberry and floral pastille flavors are given lift and focus by tangy acidity and a suggestion of white pepper. The spicy quality repeats on the clinging finish, which features gentle tannins and resonating red berry character.”

2013 Patricia Green Balcombe Vineyard, Dundee Hills AVA  $35/bottle

This is an excellent medium-bodied pinot with bright red raspberry and earthy rhubarb flavors as well as hints of forest floor and black licorice. This is drinking superbly right now and showing excellent balance of fruit, acidity, and some tannin and oak. This would pair extremely well with white meats, salmon, and other grilled medium fishes. It also drinks fabulously on its own.

2013 Adelsheim Willamette Valley $29/bottle

This wine displays red aromas (candied cherry, pomegranate and raspberry) on the nose and the palate. In addition, one finds a light touch of brown spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, all-spice). This medium-bodied wine is nicely textured with seamlessly integrated, silky, polished tannins. Pair it with salmon, ahi, veal, pork, poultry (esp. duck), beef or hearty vegetarian entrees.

2013 Ponzi Vineyards Tavola Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley $28/bottle

Warm aromas of ripe plum, cola, tobacco and cayenne frame the floral notes of violet and dried rose petal in the nose. The medium-bodied plush and silky mouth shows spicy black cherry and sweet almond while the juicy acidity and soft tannins make this wine dangerously approachable.

2011 J. Christopher Willamette Valley  $27/bottle

The kid brother of the Lumiere, this cuvee blends Pinot grapes from three different AVAs in the Williamette Valley (Eola-Amity; Dundee Hills; Chehalem Mountains). This is a light-bodied wine that shows the influence of the cooler 2011 vintage: bright red fruit and flavors of bright raspberry and tart cranberry. This is an excellent choice for the Thanksgiving table! 

2013 Planet Oregon Pinot Noir, Oregon  $22/bottle

Tony Soter (Soter Vineyards) has long been committed to sustainable farming. Planet Oregon is his chance to make wines for a broader audience and make a bigger positive impact on the planet. His mission is simple: to craft and bottle delicious young Pinot Noir that is fresh, silky and suggestive of Oregon summer fruits... cherries and berries of all kinds. Grapes are sourced only from Certified Sustainable vineyards and bottle in a Certified Sustainable winery.

2014 Underwood Pinot Noir, Oregon  $14/bottle

Ripe cherry, tart cranberry, and light cola. This young, medium-bodied pinot has soft tannins and mild acid. It is simple and easy drinking.