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Valley of Dreams – Oregon Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir.

All winelovers have an opinion about it.

For those new to the world of wine it can offer a pleasant entry to reds: “Not nearly as harsh as that cabernet or syrah you gave me. It’s soft. It’s feminine.”

Yes at entry level this grape can be gentle and subtle but at its peak it has a power and an endurance that mortals treasure in their memories forever.

Of all the red grapes it seems to inspire the most passion.

This Magnificent Life Oregon Wine
Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (photo: Jenny Hill)

Some folk sip casually on a favourite cabernet or merlot in their home country; they may have enjoyed tempranillo or sangiovese as they travelled to those grapes’ native lands; true buffs study to decipher the great cabernet blends of Bordeaux, but when you are introduced to a good year from a good domaine in Burgundy, that’s when the hats come off. There are pages of quotations from great writers about the miraculous effects triggered on the palate and mind by the noblest red burgundies, all pure pinot noir.

Uneasy lies the head…?

So Burgundy is king, but that does not stop the rest of the world from dreaming of a tilt at the crown.


Consistent tilters are the heartstoppingly beautiful vineyards of Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand, the southern states of Australia … Victoria and Tasmania, and the East Coast of the USA. California has been performing creditably for many years, but the power to upset now seems to be moving to a cooler valley one state north.

The Willamette Valley in Oregon.

No surprise it is around 45° latitude, the same as Burgundy.

Grapes know a good thing when they feel it.

TML recently had the extraordinary fortune to taste some of that valley’s finest.

The first thing we were taught was to pronounce it correctly.

WHY-lamette not WILL-amette. SO much to learn …

The wines were brought to Sydney by Steven Naughton founder of PinotNOW based in Melbourne. He gave up a perfectly stable career in the absorbing world of IT to take on the boring task of tasting and selling fine pinot noir from the world’s aforementioned premium districts. Plus the bubbles from one of the youngest and most vibrant champagne houses, Brimoncourt. Tough decision.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life
Steven Naughton founder of Pinot NOW, what an enthusiast!

Not only could he now show us some 30 Oregon wines, he introduced us to three winemakers who had made the trip Downunder. Affable, articulate and far too modest about the wonderful wines they had nurtured.

Meet the winemakers

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life
Dave Paige awaits the crowd to savour his pinots

Dave Paige showed us Adelsheim, a family venture now 40 years old, which grew up with the Oregon wine industry.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life

Dave poured a super chardonnay (the white grape of Burgundy) lively and fresh with white fruits and peachy notes. His two pinots were the eye-openers. Not Bourgogne, not Otago, but … Oregon. Classic red/black fruit, finely structured and elegant. The Elizabeth’s Reserve presented even more complexity in richer darker fruit. Said Dave of the wonderful crisp finishes: “Those acids and tannins just happen in our land, you can’t make them turn up.”

Harry Peterson-Nedry was there for Chehalem (pronounced Chuh-hay-lum) a local Native American word meaning gentle land or valley of flowers. He showed us a riesling, a pinot gris and a chardonnay. All bright, lively and delicious, worthy of separate reviews, but we’re on the path of pinot noir.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life

There were four of them from his hand.

The entry level, Three Vineyard, was a soft gentle mouthful, a blend of wines not classed for the top bottlings. It sees just 10% new oak.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life
Harry Peterson-Nedry loves his line-up

There followed the Stoller, the Wind Ridge and the Ridgecrest, decidedly similar in taste but each growing in intensity and price. Deeper darker fruit flavours, more layers of texture benefitting from more new oak. We detected a touch of Burgundian gaminess in the last one. Yum.

Melissa Burr had three wines to show us. She is the Director of Winemaking at Stoller Family Estate. We must detour slightly to rave about her Reserve Chardonnay. From vines planted in 1995, with their best years still ahead, she pampered those grapes in a barrel- ferment to a thrilling wine, a whisper of rich creaminess above a line that was bright long and crisp.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life
Melissa Burr proud perfector of Pinot Noir

The 2013 Dundee Hills pinot was rich red and spicy, a gorgeous mouthful of fruit, finishing with elegance. The 2012 Reserve was a serious wine with a twist of bottle age, a touch of earthiness. So much fruit but brilliantly controlled.

Oregon Pinot Noir This Magnificent Life

Many more to try

Obviously the chance to meet and chat fixed those three domaines in our memory but Steven had a tableful of other Oregon wines to further educate us. We sampled and enjoyed AtoZ, Wineworks, Cristom, Elk Cove, Evesham Wood, Haden Fig, Kings Ridge, Ponzi, Rex Hill, Siduri and Underwood. In our notes we find the words elegant, bright, and luxurious more than once. Overall we noted “All so well made, beautifully balanced. There are variations but all nicely controlled.”

A terrific tasting of wines about which we confess we knew too little.

But it is never too late for you to enter the Burgundy vs The World debate with a bottle or three from your finest merchant.

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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