What to drink at Thanksgiving? An Oregon pinot noir.
As cellar practices go, Oregon also seems to have the edge over California: Oregon pinots generally exhibit a much more judicious use of new oak than their California brethren. And while Oregon may have missed out on a major motion picture, it has something that the Central Coast can't claim: Riedel is now offering an Oregon pinot noir glass, produced in collaboration with the International Pinot Noir Celebration. It's not entirely clear why Oregon pinot noir requires its own stemware, but the glass is certainly attractive. Finally, insofar as Thanksgiving is concerned, the Beaver State also boasts an advantage: Oregon pinot noirs often emit a whiff of cranberry.
With cranberries, turkeys, and imbibing relatives in mind, I tasted a number of 2004 and 2005 Oregon pinots, along with several 2006s. I enjoyed almost all the wines I tried, and some were terrific. The 2004 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Laurène ($65) is a ripe, elegant, beautifully proportioned pinot that would be a lethal ringer in a blind tasting of premier cru Burgundies. Ditto the 2004 Hamacher Wines Pinot Noir ($45), a medium-bodied offering with rich, briary red fruits, great freshness and verve, and superb structure. The 2005s from Cristom Vineyards were really impressive: It was one toothsome pinot after another. I especially liked the 2005 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) and the 2005 Cristom Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50), both of which are succulent, impeccably balanced wines that could be happily consumed now or laid away for even more fun later. The 2005 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Pinot Noir ($60) is another winner—a satiny pinot with fine aromatics, gracefully opulent fruit, and a good tannic spine.
Rather than choosing between California and Oregon, Adam Lee of Siduri Wines is making pinots in both places. I was particularly impressed by his entry-level Oregon pinot, the 2006 Siduri Wines Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($19), which serves up a classic cherries 'n' dirt nose and a seamless blend of fruit, tannins, and acidity; good pinot seldom comes cheap, and this wine offers excellent quality for the price. Beaux Frères is one of Oregon's best-known producers. Having a famous proprietor helps: Critic Robert Parker is a part-owner (and no, he doesn't issue ratings for Beaux Frères). The 2005 Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75) is a well-crafted, robust wine, with abundant fruit and tannins to match. Ken Wright is considered by some to be Oregon's finest winemaker. The 2005 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir Angela ($52.50) is made in a richer, darker vein that will appeal to those whose taste in pinot runs more New World than Old; still, for all its lushness, the wine weighs in at less than 14 percent alcohol.
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and Domaine Serene are two other well-regarded producers. The 2006 Penner-Ash Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a laid-back, supremely poised wine, with sappy red fruit, good minerality, and a caressing texture. In addition to having a fitting name for Thanksgiving, the 2005 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir ($40) sports one of those utterly seductive bouquets that instantly brings a peculiar but evocative image to mind—in this case, wild strawberries on a bed of rose petals. The berries carry over to the palate, which is also marked by good acidity and sturdy tannins. Lastly, from one of the granddaddies of Oregon winemaking: the 2005 Erath Vineyards Pinot Noir ($19). This is an earthy, subtle wine with notes of black raspberries, black pepper, and violets, made in an endearingly rustic style. It's also a terrific value.
Photograph of the Williamette Valley in Oregon used under the terms of the GNU free documentation license.