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September #ChiWineChat: Let's Talk About Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

By John Lenart in Food on Sep 12, 2014 7:00PM

OK, I admit it. Last month for #ChiWineChat I chose something so out of left field that, well, frankly, no one found it. We're going to forget about last month and for this month I'm going to pick something more approachable and easier to find.

Cooler weather is upon us and as fall settles in I like the earthy notes that pinot noir offers. Arguably, the greatest pinot noirs in the world come from Burgundy. Now, I love Burgundy, but let's face it, the stuff ain't cheap. Because of this I'm always on the lookout for Burgundian style pinot noirs produced in other parts of the world that offer a better value. A while back I wrote about the exciting wines coming out of Fort Ross-Seaview. But in an effort to choose something more accessible I'm going to pick wine from an area that's easy for just about anyone to find.

This month let's chat about Willamette Valley pinot noir. (Like I really need a reason to taste and talk about pinot noir.)

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is about 50 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and runs from roughly Portland in the north, more than a hundred miles along the Willamette River to just south of Eugene. The climate is moderate with warm summer days and cool nights. Much like Burgundy, the Willamette Valley can provide ideal growing conditions for pinot noir, but also can present winemakers with challenges due to sometimes finicky weather and growing conditions. The Willamette Valley Wineries Association calls it “the promised land for pinot noir in America.” Perhaps not coincidentally, both the Willamette Valley and Burgundy are located at 45 degrees north latitude.

Although grapes were planted in Oregon as early as 1847 it wasn't until 1965 when David Lett, founder of The Eyrie Vineyards, planted the first pinot noir in Willamette Valley. Today it boasts about 20,000 acres planted in 632 vineyards throughout the valley; 11,503 of those acres are planted with pinot noir.

I was recently a comped guest at a wine dinner at Boarding House featuring the wonderful wines of Adelsheim. During the dinner, David Adelsheim talked about how even some of the great Domaines of Burgundy have bought vineyards and are making wine in the Willamette Valley, most prominently Domaine Drouhin.

One interesting bit of trivia I found in researching this article is that Oregon state law requires that any wine labeled Oregon pinot noir must contain 100 percent pinot noir. How Burgundian.

Okay, so let's get to it, shall we?

Today I'm tasting the 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Elk Cove Vineyards. 2012 is considered a classic vintage, perhaps one of the finest in Oregon history. After a season of near perfect growing conditions the 2012 harvest was rain-free, making the winemakers' jobs much easier. This wine was aged for ten months in French oak.

This wine is bright with a delicate color. The nose has dried cherry, fresh raspberry, and dusty rose. On the palate the cherry and raspberry flavors come right to the front, along with some black pepper and cocoa. Good acid and soft tannins lead to a medium-long finish.

I bought this wine for about $25 at Fine Wine Brokers (4621 N. Lincoln Ave.) in Lincoln Square.

Okay, so now it's your turn, go out there and taste some Willamette Valley pinot noir then Tweet about it, or post on Facebook, using the hash tag #ChiWineChat. Let me know what you're tasting and what you think about Willamette Valley pinot noirs. Then, next month I'll publish the most interesting Tweets or posts here.

Happy tasting.