Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the name of the game in the Willamette Valley, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in western Oregon encompassing the drainage basin of the eponymous river. It stretches from the Columbia River in the north to just south of Eugene in the south and from the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the Cascade Mountains in the east. At 5,360 square miles (13,900 km2), it is the largest AVA in the state, and contains most of the state's wineries. The Willamette Valley has a cool, moist climate, and is recognized worldwide for its Pinot wines. Another Burgundy varietal, Chardonnay, performs well too. Winemaking has developed considerably since the 1970s, with rapid progress from the 1980s onward, when many European wine firms invested in the AVA.
The vineyards are planted to the west of the Cascades mountain range, parallel to the Pacific, about 160 kilometers inland and the climate, cool and somewhat rainy, provides an excellent environment for cool-adapted vines. The Willamette Valley is made up of a system of mountains and hundreds of hills with gentle slopes that allow the slope, the different heights and the direction of the vineyard to play in favor of sunlight. These factors are essential to achieve a good maturation of the grape in this region, due to the very cold climate of the state.
A diversity of sub-AVAs are distinguished by soil type, of which there are three main ones: sandy-calcareous (sedimentary), volcanic, and silt. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes extract their elegance and differentiation thanks to this, the cold and humid climate, and the dozen clones adapted to this American terroir. You can buy wine from different regions, each with a distinct character. In the Chelahem mountains, due to its variety of soils, some of the most valued wines are produced, from very light and delicate, to highly structured. Ribbon Ridge wines have a noticeable residue from the nearby Pacific. The wines taste of black fruit, herbs, with chocolate notes. The Yamhill Carlton terroir is distinguished by soils rich in marine sediment. The Pinot Noir wines have a tendency towards meatiness with a fruity flavor and are often highly perfumed. The Dundee Hill winess are planted on soils containing clay and basalt. The wines taste of red fruits with an earthy quality and frank harmony. In the McMinnville District the vineyards are planted in the lower part of the coastal mountains and near the small town of McMinnville. Offshore winds blow through the Van Duzer Pass creating this macroclimate. It produces firmly structured wines. The Eola-Amity Hills terroir is located at the foot of the City of Salem, capital of the state of Oregon, on a small mountain. The superficial soils are of volcanic origin with sedimentary rocks. Exposure to winds from the sea cools the region during the summer. The wines have a dark fruity flavor and sometimes minerality.
Here's five recommended wines from your wine store USA, Bottle Barn, to experience the best of Oregon’s largest, renowned AVA and its subregions:
- 2018 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir won rave scores from James Suckling, Vinous, and Wine Enthusiast; grapes were cultivated biodynamically. Wine Spectator says: "Structured yet elegant, this unfurls with raspberry and plum flavors that are layered with dusky spice and savory tea notes, building tension toward fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2028."
- 2018 Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay won 96 points from Decanter and 95 points from Wine Enthusiast. This wine is from Eola-Amity Hills.
- 2019 Beaux Freres Willamette Valley Pinot Noir scored 94 points from James Suckling, Wine Spectator, and Vinous! Aromas of crushed strawberries, cherries, dried flowers and sweet spices. It’s medium-bodied with fine tannins and bright acidity.
- Winning 94 points from Mr. Suckling, the 2019 Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir features pungent, spice-tinged red and blue fruits, succulent herbs and flowers on the nose, along with a hint of earthiness, according to Vinous.
- Wine Enthusiast granted 92 points to the 2019 Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris, loaded with rich and sappy flavors of ripe melon, guava and peach.
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By Charlie Leary