Wine Notes – Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Growing up, we always had wine with Sunday dinner. It came in a jug from the grocery store, and the half-gallon containers often said “Burgundy” or “Hearty Burgundy” on the label.
I figured I liked Burgundy wine. But as I began my journey of discovering different wines, I learned — much to my dismay — that there was no such thing as “Burgundy” grapes, and that Burgundy was the English translation for a place in France better known as “Bourgogne.”
So what was in those bottles? I learned that Gallo “Hearty Burgundy” contains petite sirah, zinfandel and carignan grapes, and that Carlo Rossi “Burgundy” contains zinfandel, syrah, sangiovese, pinot noir, grenache and cabernet sauvignon grapes. The color of these wines isn’t even burgundy; it’s purple. I concluded that when it comes to wine, truth in advertising is really an oxymoron.
The wine industry apparently expects consumers to have some basic understanding of international wine labeling practices: Old World wines (European) are named after the place where the wine is made, and each locale has laws governing what grapes are allowed to be used. New World wines (everyplace else) put the name of the grape variety on the label, and the contents of the bottle must contain at least 75 percent of that variety. “Burgundies” or “Hearty Burgundies” are blends that can contain just about anything, but coincidentally use the English translation for the reputed best wine in the world. Confused yet?
Bourgogne rouge, or red wine from Burgundy, France, is made from pinot noir grapes. Wine produced in this region of France is among the best and most expensive worldwide. French Bourgogne is famous for its unique blend of fruit and acidity, making it a perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. (If you are ever in doubt about what wine to pair with a particular meal, you can always count on Bourgogne rouge.)
Pinot noir grapes, more than any other grape variety, take on flavors from the soil and the growing conditions, which made the French version of this wine quite unique — that was until the New World began cultivating pinot noir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
There hadn’t been any serious cultivation of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley before 1970, but by 1975, the wines produced in this region were receiving international acclaim, winning awards and even besting some of France’s famed Bourgogne rouge.
Bourgogne and the Willamette Valley are both located on the 45th parallel, resulting in the regions having a similar terroir. This new “American Burgundy” has attracted winemakers from Bourgogne to work in Oregon, and investors worldwide, creating a thriving new wine region.
Willamette Valley pinot noir is our domestic answer for a wine that goes with any food you are serving, just like the French Bourgogne. It’s low in tannins, has a wonderful bouquet, and tends to have just the right amount of acid to cut through buttery sauces and fatty foods. I searched some Merrimack Valley wine shops to see what selections were available, but finding an “American Burgundy” that exhibited the qualities of the famed French Bourgogne wine region turned out to be quite a challenge.
During New Hampshire Wine Week in late January, I attended the Willamette Valley “Pino Camp” event, where I was presented with 12 glasses of wine from four wineries. Only two bottles — Erath 2011 Prince Hill and Erath 2012 Leland — were truly outstanding, with a full bouquet of strawberries and raspberries on the nose, great fruit flavors and a complex finish.
Both are available for $39.99 per bottle at New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, compared with French Bourgognes at $75-plus. I also can recommend the 2012 Soléna Estate Grand Cuvee — a blend of grapes from five of the finest vineyards in the Willamette Valley — at $36.99 from Lucia’s Bodega in Windham, N.H. If you are in the Andover area, you have to check out the nicely renovated Andover Classic Wines, Craft Beers & Spirits (formerly Andover Liquors), where you will find the 2012 J. Christopher pinot noir. This small vineyard is completely dedicated to making Old World-style wines from the Willamette Valley.
As you shop for wine that is intended for a special meal, you won’t go wrong with any of the 2012 pinot noirs from the Willamette Valley. According to David Adelsheim, president of Adelsheim Vinyard: “If you didn’t make great pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in 2012, you should consider [taking up] plumbing.”
New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets: (800) 543-4664 / LiquorAndWineOutlets.com
Lucia’s Bodega: Windham, N.H. / (603) 421-9463 / LuciasBodega.com
Andover Classic Wines, Craft Beers & Spirits: Andover, Mass.
(978) 470-0500 / AndoverLiquors.com