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Two top $30-and-under Oregon Pinots

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Kelley O’Neill, Jason Wentworth

In recent years, the Pinot Noir wines of Oregon have received a great deal of critical acclaim. Many wine pundits share the opinion that Oregon Pinots are among the best in the world, surpassed only by the finest wines of Burgundy, the French homeland of Pinot Noir.

The problem is price. Robert Parker’s influential publication, The Wine Advocate, has reviewed nearly 1,600 Oregon Pinot Noirs from the 2000 vintage on; of these 77 percent retail for over $30 per bottle. Dr. Jay Miller, who covers Oregon in Parker’s Wine Bargains (2009), states that the entry level for fine Oregon Pinot Noir begins at $35. “On my most recent trip to Oregon,” Miller says, “I was able to find nine Pinot Noirs under $25 that I could recommend out of hundreds tasted.”

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 13 Oregon Pinot Noirs priced $30 or less in an attempt to unearth an affordable gem. As a group the wines were generally well made and pleasant, but slightly disappointing. Two wines, however, were very good indeed.

The staff’s first place choice was the Panther Creek 2007 “Winemaker’s Cuvée” Pinot Noir ($25). This wine is the product of grapes harvested from five different vineyard sites in Willamette Valley, Oregon’s top region for quality Pinot Noir. One taster called it “balanced, elegant, and lovely, with a plump texture.” Possessing a long finish, its delicious cherry/raspberry fruit is underscored by a hint of beetroot, a nuance frequently encountered in French red Burgundy.

The Ken Wright Cellars 2009 Pinot Noir ($30) was also excellent. Oakier in style, this wine was still very well balanced with a darker fruit character, and likewise exhibited a touch of beetroot. One staff member felt that the wine was even better the following day, perhaps indicating a wine that will improve with cellaring.

Both of these wines are very good examples of Oregon Pinot Noir, and will pair beautifully with fish like salmon or tuna, grilled or roast chicken, ham, and dishes featuring mushrooms.

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