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Wine Reviews

Oregon Pinot Noir

That Pinot Noir is king of the Oregon red grape varieties makes it no less difficult to produce. Unlike in neighboring wine regions of California and Washington, Oregon’s cool, wet summers make it a challenge to ripen the grapes in some years. Yet many argue that this somewhat marginal ability to ripen grapes leads to a kind of complexity not easily attained in more agreeable climates. You will not find Oregon Pinot Noir in the bargain bin section of wine stores; they are generally a pricey bunch, but—many argue— unquestionably worth it. Here are our tasting panel’s recommendations.

Highly Recommended

Owen Row Pinot Noir “The Kilmore,” 2012 (Yamhill-Carlton); $44.99

Rich, full and concentrated aroma with layers of fruit, cocoa and spice; complex and powerful yet still elegant; silky fruit, bold tannins and deep flavor.


Soter Vineyards North Valley Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $34.99

Luscious fruit aroma with notes of dark chocolate and cinnamon; full, rich and opulent, with smooth texture and elegant fruit.


Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir, 2012 (Dundee Hills); $24.99

Dark chocolate aroma with a touch of graphite and cassis; very juicy and bright, with mouthwatering acidity, deep flavor and hints of cocoa and black raspberry.


Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $29.99

Rich, spicy aroma with dark chocolate notes; smooth and velvety with bracing acidity, rich fruit and great depth of flavor.


Windy Bay Pinot Noir, 2012 (Oregon); $15

Smoky cherry aroma with undercurrents of violet and cranberry; clean, tart, fresh-tasting cherry flavor with mouthwatering acidity and a lingering cherry pie finish.



Anne Aime Pinot Noir, 2011 (Willamette Valley); $29.99

Seductive aroma with hints of cherry tobacco; concentrated and rich with flavors of cocoa, dark cherries and Mission figs with a lingering spicy finish.


Argyle Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $23.99

Lush aroma of rose petals, cinnamon, black pepper and red raspberries; bright and vibrant, with tingly fresh raspberry flavor and a peppery, spicy finish.


Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $29.99

Pleasant aromas of plums, violets, black raspberries and cassis; concentrated and elegant, with rich fruit and luscious dark chocolate finish.


Kings Ridge Oregon Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $17.99

Lush, concentrated Bing cherry aroma; rich dried fruit on the palate, with complex flavor, lovely balance and firm tannins.


Sharecropper’s Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $26.99

Earthy, black licorice aroma; tart cherry flavor with bright acidity and peppery spice.


Soter Vineyards North Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, 2011 (Willamette Valley); $54.99

Bright berry patch aroma with clove and mocha undertones; brambly flavor with notes of black tea; powerfully peppery, tannic finish.


Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mineral Springs Ranch, 2011 (Yamhill-Carlton); $59.99

Smoked cherry aroma with notes of raspberry, black licorice and a hint of vanilla; full bodied with prominent tannins and flavors of dark berries, cinnamon and clove.


Underwood Pinot Noir, 2013 (Oregon); $13.99

Lush ripe cherry aroma; smooth, velvety fruit and lovely balance with delicious notes of Black Forest cake and a rich finish.


WillaKenzie Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir, 2011 (Yamhill-Carlton); $26.99

Aromas of Bing cherry, earth and mushroom; full flavored and woodsy, with notes of dried fruit, prune plums, cocoa, mocha and an interesting touch of candied apple.


Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, 2012 (Willamette Valley); $19.99

Appealing aroma of apples and spiced cherries; lovely ripe fruit flavor with a subtle hint of smoke.




White – Argentina

Trivento Torrontes Reserve, 2012 (Mendoza); $12

Almost colorless, with mineral aroma and notes of honey and florals; brightly crisp, and refreshing, with vibrant lemony flavor.


White – California

Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc, 2013 (Clarksburg); $12

Sweet apple blossom and honeydew aroma; delightful, with clean, fresh, bright fruit; vivacious acidity and a lingering finish with a hint of anise.


Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc, 2013 (Sonoma County); $14

Subtle grassy aroma with hints of clover; slightly herbal on the palate, with zesty acidity, clean flavor and a touch of spice.


Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County); $18

Bright lemony aroma with flavors of grapefruit zest, tangerine, lemon and tart apples.


Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Chardonnay, 2012 (Oak Knoll, Napa Valley); $22.99

Aromas of vanilla and spiced apple; rich and lush, full of opulent, concentrated, toasty flavor laced with spice.


White – Chile

Mayu Pedro Ximenez, 2012 (Valle de Elqui, Chile); $14.99

Lemongrass aroma with a mineral undercurrent and notes of orchard fruit; vibrant with crisp acidity, good balance and vividly tart lemon/lime flavors.


Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, 2013 (Chile); $11

Lively, grassy aroma with hints of clover, hay and minerals; mouthwatering and brightly tart, with tingly acidity and assertive grassiness.


Concha y Toro Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Chardonnay, 2012 (Colchagua Valley); $17

Delicate tropical aroma of pineapple and mango with a hint of buttery oak; delicious and clean with tart Granny Smith notes and a rich finish.


White – Germany

Gustav Adolf Schmitt Niersteiner Auflangen Spätlese Riesling, 2012 (Rheinhessen); $12.99

Flinty mineral aroma with hints of honeysuckle and Golden Delicious apple; lovely fruit flavors of white peach, lemon and lime with bright balancing acidity.


Clear Night Riesling, 2013 (Pfalz); $12.99

Clean fruit bowl aroma with a trace of minerals and florals; sweet and fresh, with racy acidity, flavors of Granny Smith apples, and a crisply tart finish.


Red – California

Gnarly Head Pinot Noir, 2012 (California); $11.99

Aromas of delicate sweet smoke, black cherries, white pepper and a touch of black licorice; flavorful and balanced with cherry, vanilla and pepper notes. Good value.


Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir, 2011 (Oak Knoll, Napa Valley); $32.99

Brambly berry/cherry aroma with smoky overtones; full of peppery, spicy black fruit flavor with full tannins and a cracked black pepper finish. Quite brawny for Pinot Noir.


Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Merlot, 2010 (Oak Knoll, Napa Valley); $22.99

Inviting, complex aroma of ripe berries, black tea, eucalyptus and a touch of smoke, florals and earth; smooth and bright, with deep berry flavor and solid tannins.


Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (California); $11.99

Black licorice, dark chocolate, black raspberries and a touch of vanilla on the nose; juicy, clean, lively fruit flavor with a hint of clove. Great value.


Monticello Vineyards Jefferson Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (Napa Valley); $37.99

Rich, opulent aroma of berry compote, dark chocolate, vanilla and chocolate-covered cherries; an elegant, lovely wine with layered, complex flavors of pepper, vanilla and plums complemented by prominent tannins.


Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (Napa Valley); $60

Rich, lush aroma with earthy notes and hints of violet, cassis and tobacco; luscious black fruit flavors with notes of cinnamon and dark chocolate.


Red – Chile

J. Bouchon Canto Norte Red, 2012 (Maule Valley, Chile); $12.99

Brambly, woodsy aroma with notes of anise and rose petal; full bodied, with spicy notes and hints of chocolate, mocha, black raspberries and plum.


Red – France

Paul Mas Estate Carignan Vielles Vignes Pays d’Herault IGP, Savignac Vineyard, 2013; $14

Earthy, brambly, rich, robust aroma of ripe black fruit, dried fig, cinnamon and clove; flavors of bright, juicy fresh berries with dark cocoa notes and a peppery blast on the finish.


Red – Italy

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico DOCG, 2010; $25

Leathery, earthy aroma with bright red currant and pepper notes; moderate tannins, medium body and a smoky cocoa finish.


Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico DOCG, 2009; $40

Enticing, complex aroma of earth, spice, eucalyptus, tobacco, pepper and prune plums; elegant and beautifully made, with spicy cherry flavor and graphite notes over hefty tannins.


Bargain Buzz

Jakob Demmer Riesling Qualitatswein, 2012 (Pfalz); $8.99

Delicate mineral aroma with notes of lemon and apple; easy-drinking flavors of sweet orange and lime.


Franco Serra Gavi DOCG, 2013; $9.99

Aromas of honeydew and lemon with an undercurrent of minerals; bright and lively with bracing acidity and crisp lemon and tangerine flavors.


Franco Serra Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, 2012; $9.99

Seductive aroma full of dark cherries, dark chocolate and cassis; flavorful, lush and fresh tasting, with lovely fruit and spice.


Arrogant Frog Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, 2013 (Pays d’Oc IGP); $9.99

Sweet spice, delicate earth and brambly berry aroma; juicy, fruity and dry with deep, rich notes of smoke and tobacco countered by mouthwatering acidity.


Ohio Mead and Honey Wine

Honey wine isn’t all the same. We tasted several Buckeye State honey wines in different styles, from bone dry to candy sweet.


Among the most unusual was Crafted Artisan Meadery Tupelo Dry Mead ($27.99), a dry traditional mead made in Mogadore with a pleasantly subtle honey and floral aroma. Though it’s quite dry, it has a definite honey and Yellow Delicious apple flavor with a crisp, spicy finish. Have this with a hunk of sharp cheddar, Stilton or Parmesan drizzled with a bit of Tupelo honey for a knock-out pairing.


Out of Columbus comes Brothers Drake Wild Ohio Mead ($16) made in the traditional style that’s gently sweet. Its appealing floral and tangerine aroma leads to a crisp, clean honey taste. Brothers Drake Apple Pie Mead ($30) is just what it sounds like—laden with sweet apple, cinnamon, vanilla and buttery pie crust flavor.


The sweetest unflavored honey wine we tasted was Jhelbare Honey Wine “Summer Solstice” ($12) from Valley City, a super-concentrated, super-sweet wine made from Medina County wildflower honey. Pure and clean, this serves as dessert in a glass.


Prices may vary.