In the world of wine, Oregon is synonymous with Pinot Noir, and it’s coveted branding not unlike Napa Valley cab.
That simple, yet well-earned international recognition for producers west of the Cascades serves as a valuable, stand-alone marketing tool for every bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir on the shelves of markets, wine shops and restaurants beyond the Northwest.
Indeed, the Willamette Valley shines with the delicate and finicky grape of Burgundy. And while Pinot Noir thrives in cooler climate, the recent string of warmer vintages in the Northwest — starting with 2012 — has produced an abundance of stunning wines, offering more ripeness and immediate approachability in many cases.
This fall, at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, a group of influential wine buyers and merchants from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and California met at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River to judge wines they nominated during the course of the summer.
Each of the wines listed below received a gold medal. A few of these Pinot Noirs have not been released, so contact your favorite wine merchant or the winery directly. While each is a young wine with a long life ahead, they already are drinking beautifully and would complement that holiday bird, salmon or appetizer tray with charcuterie, cheese and Graber olives.
Boedecker Cellars 2013 Athena Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $36: Portland vintners Stewart and Athena Boedecker provide proof that a wine need not be inky to deliver varietal character and gumption. This speaks to the cherry side of Pinot Noir with clarity and zeal. Its svelte build is reinforced with a sturdy spine, making it a versatile companion at the dinner table. (13.2 percent alcohol)
Chehalem Wines 2014 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $50: Second-generation winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry developed a Pinot Noir evocative of an Old West ranch for its evocation of weathered wood, tumbling sage and a tack shed stocked with only the finest metal and leather. The barbed wire is the wine’s precise acidity. (14.5 percent alcohol)
DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Elevé Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $35: Dan Marca proves Pinot Noir can also shine in the sultry, but windy Rogue Valley. The cherry fruit pounces with the exactitude of a cat bagging a bird. It’s fruit is all up front, finishing quickly, thanks to its firm acidity, which primes it for all sorts of dishes. (13.4 percent alcohol)
RR Winery 2014 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $79: From its cranberry coloring tinged with purple through fruit suggestive of cherries and strawberries to its substantial tannins, this is a Pinot Noir built for foods huskier than the customary salmon. Think tacos rich and varied but not too heavy on the spicy salsa. This brand is the reserve label for the Peterson-Nedry family. (14.2 percent alcohol)
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, $39: Stephen Reustle is another Southern Oregon vintner who excels with Pinot Noir. Don’t dismiss this for its light color. On the palate, the fruit is exceptionally juicy and the finish unusually lasting. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill Carlton, $60: An aroma, classic and voluminous, is trailed by flavors richly fruity and abidingly sunny. This is a big Pinot Noir, but polite for its soothing tannins, modest alcohol and stimulating acidity. It was one of four Pinot Noirs made by Florent Merlier to win a gold medal. (13.1 percent alcohol)
Willamette Valley Vineyards 2015 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $24: Not your simple adolescent rosé, but a pink from New York-grown winemaker Joe Ibrahim that invites contemplation for its forthright fruit, insinuating earthiness and invigorating acidity. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com