“Best” is a terribly subjective word, and a top 10 list is a stellar way to create a heated debate, especially when that list is an attempt to narrow the considerable field of Oregon Pinot Noir down to a manageably small number. Nevertheless, here’s a cross-section of variously priced Pinots that are more than worth popping a cork for. Our advice? Relax, pour yourself a glass as you peruse, and select the fastest shipping possible when you inevitably decide to order each and every bottle below.
1. 2011 A to Z Wineworks, $18
Proof that you can sneak a delicious Oregon Pinot out of the store for less than a $20 bill, this offering from A to Z Wineworks has a hefty 136,000 case production that keeps the wine affordable and the kind of quality, balance, and complexity that keep Pinot connoisseurs coming back for more. This wine’s sleek, palate-teasing layers of bright cherry, tobacco, and cocoa would pair beautifully with a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese dotted with roasted wild mushrooms.
2. 2011 Cristom Vineyards, Mt. Jefferson Cuvee, Willamette Valley, $30
There are few ways to better experience Oregon Pinot Noir than sipping on a glass of this wine from Cristom Vineyards while sitting in their tasting room, starring at the part of the Cascade Mountains for which it’s named. Known for its beautiful expression of place and year-to-year consistency, Cristom’s Mt. Jefferson Cuvee is supple and almost bouncy with acidity, sliding over the palate leaving behind swaths of cherry, cinnamon and cola, and chewy black raspberry. Buy it here: Cristom 2011 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir – Red Wine
3. 2010 Anam Cara Cellars, Nicholas Estate, Chehalem Mountains, $32
Double Gold Medal winner at the Oregon Wine Awards, a Gold Medal from Sunset Magazine, a Gold Medal winner of Wine Press NW’s “Best of the Best” – it’s clear the critics appreciate this Pinot Noir’s silk smooth smattering of juicy raspberry and cranberry, cinnamon, and potpourri.
4. 2010 Alexana Dundee Hills Revana Vineyard, Willamette Valley, $42
Tucked away in an insulated cubbyhole in Willamette Valley, the Dundee Hills AVA uses the Chehalem Mountains to the north to protect its vineyards from cool, growth-stunting breezes. Alexana’s Revana Vineyard takes full advantage of this unique terrain to produce a wine that is redolent of unctuous black cherries, dried herbs, and light floral notes that swirl around a lush, rich base of molasses, anise, and spiced cola.
5. 2011 Beaux Freres, $50
The vineyard calls this their “most forward” member of the Beaux Freres portfolio, a description particularly apt given this vintage’s penchant towards lively, perfumed aromas and ruby red color. This is the Audrey Hepburn of Pinot Noirs; charming and fresh-faced, elegant and saucy, refined without feeling the need to be coy. The cherry and raspberry notes are bright and pure, kept from being overly simplistic but a cool base of spice and wood that lingers just long enough. Buy it here: Beaux Freres 2011 Pinot Noir – Red Wine
6. 2010 Kelley Fox Maresh, Dundee Hills, $60
This tiny producer only releases 600-750 cases each year, but the wines coming out of the their Carlton, Oregon vineyard are well worth the effort it may take to ferret out a bottle. The Kelly Fox Maresh Vineyard offering is made using fruit from 40-year-old vines that infuse flavors of pepper and bramble, adding complexity to the wine’s delicate notes of cherry, raspberry, rose and anise. There’s smoke here, and plenty of minerality, but the initial mouth-slapping impact mellows into a lovely, springy-stepped finish.
7. 2011 Bethel Heights Vineyard, Casteel Reserve, Eola-Amity Hills, $60
There is a delicacy to this bottle, the kind of fresh, flowery grace that makes you want to pour a glass and linger by the embers of the backyard bonfire, just kind of staring at the starry sky and wondering if you ever have to get out of the hammock. Don’t let the shy exterior fool you, though; behind the curtain of ruby-red fruit and allspice, there’s a tangy heart laced with blackberries and smoke and the kind of barely rough cat-tongue finish that reminds you that you’re drinking something special. Bethal Heights Vineyard
8. 2010 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve, Willamette Valley, $69
On 1990, Ken and Grace Evenstad moved to Oregon and bough up 42 raw acres atop Dundee Hills in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Some 23 years later, the 2010 vintage of their Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir is on Wine Spectator’s list of 100 top wines of 2013. Long-lasting in both finish and expression, this bottle practically bursts with bright raspberry and cherry notes tempered by warm cinnamon, mocha, and subtle hint herbaceousness that reminds you of fog-filled Oregon forests. Buy it here: Domaine Serene 2010 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir – Red Wine
9. 2011 Antica Terra, Botanica, Willamette Valley, $75
Winemaker Maggie Harrison has said that she fell in love with what would become Antica Terra whilst walking the land, picking her way through craggy boulders, fossilized oysters and stray oak trees, the ocean breeze drifting over the magical landscape. It’s only fitting that such a stunningly unique place would produce an equally unique wine, and with its attention-getting mix of wild rose, sour cherries, blood orange, leather, thyme, and a mysterious savory, almost saline, note, this wine is a standout indeed.
10. 2010 Ponzi, Aurora, $57
Ponzi 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir – Red Wine Winemaker Luisa Ponzi uses Dijon clone 777 planted in the LIVE Certified Sustainable Aurora Vineyard to create this energetic Pinot Noir. Like a carefully crafted gastrique, the Aurora shakes the palate into awareness with a vibrant blend of sweet and sour, layering black cherries and dark berries, dried flowers like lilac and lavender and exotic spices. A lingering sweetness soothes as the impressive finish slowly peters out, leaving behind a persistent note of white pepper and plenty of saliva-inducing acidity. Though certainly drinkable now, this beauty will only improve with age.
Background pic from Flickr user eyeliam http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/542571706/