14 best Oregon pinot noir wines
The US state is a wine-making powerhouse, and our list comprises the finest of its boozy produce
You may be familiar with pinot noir, the classic red Burgundy grape that produces some of France’s most elegant and complex wines. But let’s take it a stage further and look to another premium pinot noir region – an area chosen because of its affinity with the Côte d’Or.
We’re talking Oregon, a US state which encompasses 16 different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) including Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton and the Dundee Hills, all them producing top-class, superb quality pinot noirs.
The wines are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and, while the prices are high, these only look set to decrease as the wines' favour grows on these isles (and who's to say what will happen to our trade ties post-Brexti). In the meantime, these are the bottles you need to know about.
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Pointelle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015, 14.5%: £23.45, Wanderlust
Pointelle was a medieval engraving technique that blended multiple layers of precious metals into a multi-faceted design. This winemaker hopes to do the same by providing layers of excellence and texture in a pinot noir that has elegance and finesse. Aged for 10 months in French oak, it has enduring soft and summer fruit flavours with the mineral edge that the Oregon terroir provides.
Resonance Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir 2013, 13.1%: £55, Oxford Wine
French wine-maker Maison Louis Jadot chose Oregon for its first venture outside France since the company was formed in 1859. Its debut release, a single vineyard bottling, comes from the Yamhill-Carlton region, 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, with its ancient, marine-sediment enriched soil. It's complex and rich with layered flavours of plum, coffee and soft fruits, with a long but surprisingly dry finish. It can be drunk now, but it will become even more interesting if kept for a few more years.
Twill Northern Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014, 12.8%: £35, The Old Bridge Wine Shop
Wine-makers Molly and Darrel Roby’s aim is to craft serious wines that are fresh and vintage-specific from some of the best terroirs in Oregon. This is a blend from three vineyards in Northern Oregon, where the mild and often slightly wet climate mirrors that of the grape’s French homeland. Aged for 22 months in French oak, this wine is jam-packed with red fruit flavours with hints of spice and an earthy minerality.
Bergström Cumberland Reserve 2015, 13.6%: £33.99, Roberson Wine
A blend from the finest barrels from Bergström’s five estate-farmed vineyards results in this pinot noir that punches above its weight. Named after the Portland road where medic Dr John Bergström brought up his family after moving to the US from a small agricultural and logging village in northern Sweden (he later swapped his medical practice for wine-making), it zings along with dark berry and cherry flavours and notes of spice.
M&S Underwood Pinot Noir 2016, 13.5%: £14, M&S
This is an affordable bottle of splendid Oregon pinot noir made using grapes sourced from the Umpqua Valley in the south of state. Beautifully smooth with soft tannins and flavours of pomegranate and soft fruits. Balanced and elegant it makes a superb accompaniment to aromatic spiced foods or dishes of game or lean meat. And at this price it’s a bargain buy.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014, 14%: £34.95, Slurp
Burgundy winemaker Joseph Drouhin established an estate in the then small growing region of the Dundee Hills, 30 miles south-west of Portland, in 1987. With the admirable slogan of “French soul, Oregon soil”, he has produced some of the region’s finest pinot noir including this sumptuous wine. The grapes are hand-picked and the wine is aged in Burgundy oak. Lashings of plum, cherry and red fruit flavours mingle here with notes of spice and a long finish. Can be drunk now but will age well.
Firesteed Pinot Noir 2014 13%: £19.99, Latitude
Made from grapes sourced from a number of regions in Oregon including the Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue and Walla Walla Valleys, this pinot noir comes from a winery that promises premium quality wines at affordable prices. Vibrant and expressive, there are plenty of dark and soft fruit flavours here with notes of spice and chocolate and a long-lasting finish.
Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, 14.2%: £64, Claret-e
For this sort of outlay, you would be expecting something special, and that’s exactly what you get. Sourced from only the finest grapes from premier pinot noir vineyards in the Willamette Valley, this is the flagship wine of the estate founded by Grace and Ken Evenstad, whose one aim was to make a world-class pinot noir. Layer upon layer of ripe and jam-packed dark fruit flavours are allied to hints of sage and cocoa. It’s already winning awards and was a serious contender for our Best Buy.
Division Pinot Noir ‘Un’ 2015, 13.4%: £20.23, Drink Dispatch
This is a blended pinot noir from a Willamette Valley-based winery founded in 2010 by Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe, who were inspired by the wineries of Loire, Beaujolais and Burgundy. Their mantra is to make approachable and balanced wines though minimal manipulation by working with vineyards, which are organic, biodynamic or both. If you want wine that’s vibrant and fresh and bursting full of cherry, strawberry and dark fruit flavours with notes of spice and herbs, “Un” is the “One” to go for.
Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2014, 14.1%: £43, Claret-e
This comes from low-yielding vineyards in Yamhill County in the hills of the North Willamette Valley. The Evenstad winery employs traditional Burgundian practices to produce a premium ruby-coloured pinot noir that has blueberry, dark cherry and cranberry flavours fighting for your attention with notes of chocolate and pomengranate and a succulent, lingering finish.
Twill Stormy Morning Pinot Noir 2014, 13.4%: £36.38, Penistone
Here's the second of our picks from Twill: a beautifully balanced pinot noir from the attractively named and organic 10-acre Stormy Mountain Vineyard, which sits on ancient marine sedimentary soil in the coastal foothills, north-west of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The cooler conditions there give it a character all of its own, with raspberry, cherry and citrus flavours overlaid with notes of mushroom, pomegranate and pine, producing a sophisticated wine with an elegant character.
Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014, 13%: £32.90, Amathus
This is a pinot noir from one of the Willamette Valley’s oldest and most established concerns. It was founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, when there were fewer than 10 wineries in the area. Now helped by winemaker son Adam, they produce a range of pinot noirs including this pleasing blend from all five of the family’s vineyards. It's smooth and succulent with the inimitable dark fruit and cherry flavours and hints of spice and violets.
Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014, 14%: £31.50, Les Caves De Pyrene
Pioneers from Oregon’s earliest wine-making days, Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser drove their VW Camper van up to an abandoned prune orchard 30 miles south-west of Portland back in 1970. After clearing the land and establishing the vines, they produced their first vintage in 1977. This intense and vibrant pinot noir lovingly made from a low-yield crop is one of their flagship wines and stays on the tongue almost as long as it does on the memory.
Kelley Fox Mirabai Pinot Noir 2014, 13%: £37, Buon Vino
We’re going on a slightly spiritual plane here with a pinot noir named after a “wild-hearted” 16th-century Indian saint that can also satisfy any earthly longings for a fine wine. Wine-maker Kelley Fox produces only 2,000 cases a year from her biodynamic vineyard in the Willamette Valley, lovingly responding, she says, “to the essence of the fruit from each block”. It’s fruit-packed and jammed-full of flavour with a silky smoothness to savour.
The Verdict: Oregon pinot noir wines
Although established in the US as a premier wine, Oregon pinot noir is now beginning to find favour in the UK. Prices are still high but they could become lower once it becomes better known. You’re paying top dollar for top quality, though, with wines such as Resonance Yamhill-Carlton, Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve and Bergström being the equal of any of the world’s top pinot noirs. For those making a first entry into this region the M&S Underwood is a huge bargain, while the Firesteed and Division pinot noirs are both reasonably priced. We'd plump for the outstanding Pointelle Willamette Valley as the Best Buy.
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