Impressive Oregon Pinot Noir

I still remember when I set eyes on Oregon’s wine country, Willamette Valley. It smelled of perfumey Pinot Noir… wafting up through the vineyards, wineries and through my hotel window. It was harvest of 2007 and I fell in love. With Oregon Pinot Noir. The love continues to this day. Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) Valley is the main grape-growing area and one of the first wine regions (AVA) established in Oregon. It’s about an hour south of Portland, straddling the mountainous coastline. A major reason for Willamette’s success is the vast temperature fluctuations during the spring and summer growing season, allowing the fruit to develop acids — a crucial element in creating complexity in wine, especially Pinot. Over the years, distinct winegrowing regions have emerged and now the state has 17 AVAs that wineries often indicate on the bottle to educate customers. But many keep Willamette Valley on the label because they’re likely blends of several AVAs.

Read more: Impressive Oregon Pinot Noir

Wine review: Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir California

Mark West Pinot Noir 2013

It’s damn hard finding a Pinot Noir worth drinking under $20. Really, really hard. Some might even say under $30 is challenging, but I’m not that hard core. But forget under $15… it’s normally sweetened grape juice with a touch of earthiness likely added in with wood chips. But occasionally, if you look and wish hard enough, you can find a wine treasure that you can enjoy everyday without feeling the pinch too much. I tried the Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir in a blind tasting lineup and pretty much everyone (from wine novices to wine pros) thought it was solid. Especially for the low, low price of $12.

Read more: Wine review: Mark West 2013 Pinot Noir California

Celebrating three small, passionate Pinot Noir producers in Mendocino County

It strikes most wine drinkers at some point in their wine paths: Pinot passion. The multi-dimensional, seductiveaspects of this finicky, oft-loved grape are difficult to avoid. And, when it happens, all you can do is succumb to its wiles and enjoy the comfort it brings. Mendocino County, a wine region rich with redwoods, coastal climate and definitely Pinot Noir, has birthed three disparate yet dedicated wineries, proudly wearing their Pinot passion like a badge of honor. And created some gorgeous wine.

Read more: Celebrating three small, passionate Pinot Noir producers in Mendocino County

Celebrity wine review: Train's Soul Sister Pinot Noir

Soul Sister Pinot Noir

As a general rule, wines embellished with a celebrity name aren’t particularly well made. Relying on their fame to sell the wine, they siphon schlock into a bottle and call it a profitable day. (Read my blast of this trend from a few years ago.) But I have admit that the pop group Train at least tried to make a decent Pinot Noir. Jimmy Stafford, the quiet lead guitarist for Train, is a huge wine fan and teamed up with California winemaker, James Foster, to make their line of Save Me San Francisco wines last year. James is Senior Winemaker at The Wine Group, the same company that introduced generic Flip Flop Wines, Franzia and Big House to the wine drinking public. Not a huge endorsement for making great juice, so I didn’t have major expectations when I popped the (fake) cork on this bottle of 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir.

Read more: Celebrity wine review: Train’s 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir

Visiting Pinot Noir country in Sonoma County: The best in the Russian River Valley

Moshin Vineyards Tasting Room

I have a confession to make: Although I live in the fortuitous California wine country, it’s pretty rare that I visit tasting rooms. I remember back before I relocated to Sonoma County from Florida, I would ask friends who lived here what tasting rooms I should visit. I sought out the small, the family-owned, the tasty… and many had no insight. At the time, I was like, “What?? You don’t go tasting on the weekends and loll in the vineyards?” I was aghast. I have a confession to make: Although I live in the fortuitous California wine country, it’s pretty rare that I visit tasting rooms. I remember back before I relocated to Sonoma County from Florida, I would ask friends who lived here what tasting rooms I should visit. I sought out the small, the family-owned, the tasty… and many had no insight. At the time, I was like, “What?? You don’t go tasting on the weekends and loll in the vineyards?” I was aghast.

Read more: Visiting Pinot Noir country in Sonoma County: The best in the Russian River Valley

Wine value review: A to Z 2010 Pinot Noir from Oregon

A to Z 2010 Pinot Noir

The hunt for an affordable, everyday Pinot Noir just might be over. It’s not a coincidence that it hails from Oregon, the temperate vacation home for this finicky grape. But A to Z Wineworks isn’t your normal, everyday winery… they don’t have a physical location where you can bask in the wine country lifestyle. They focus on the wine and delivering it to juice lovers for less than $20 — their slogan is “Aristocratic wines at democratic prices” and you can taste it in this Pinot Noir. Founded in 2002, A to Z buys grapes from various growers around Oregon, keeping their costs low but also focusing on quality. I tasted this one blind, up against some heavy hitters in the same Pinot category but not in the same price range. For me, it beat out other contenders from Flowers, La Crema and Etude. At sometimes half the price. Blind tastings tell no lie…

Read more: Wine value review: A to Z 2010 Pinot Noir from Oregon

Pinot Noir’s pasty cousin, Oregon's Pinot Gris (aka Grigio)

Northern Willamette Valley Oregon

The ubiquitous rep of Pinot Grigio is legendary. Grown in Italy for centuries and quaffed at many a trattoria by the ceramic pitcher-full, this humble grape actually bears French roots, not Italian. Pinot Gris is the name elsewhere in the world, from France’s Alsace region to Australia to New Zealand. But it arrived later to America in the mid-1960s, planted by one of Oregon’s wine country forefathers, Eyrie Vineyard’s David Lett.

Read more: Pinot Noir’s pasty cousin, Oregon’s Pinot Gris (aka Grigio)

Wine review: Gary Farrell 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

I’ve finally comes to terms with the fact that I’m a Pinot-lovin’ woman. Call me an acid freak, but I just can’t sit down with only a glass (and no food), pop a cork on a Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy the hell out of the experience. Nope, won’t happen. Too assaulting. Cabernet is a food wine, plain and simple — the tannins don’t allow my palate to fall backwards into its loving yet astringent arms. But Pinot Noir is a different story. It’s the smooth operator — the wine that massages your shoulders before making its move. It guides your hand to the glass, introduces its beautiful self to your life and entertains… nay… does a lap dance on your tongue. Seduction complete.

Read more: Wine review: Gary Farrell 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Stellar vintage for Pinot Noir in 2009: Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (wine review)

Much fanfare surrounds the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noirs in northern California. Nature bestowed the ideal blend of rain and sun to create a blanket of perfectness for this very finicky grape. It ain’t easy satisfying this LA housewife of a fruit, but 2009 delivered the goods. Stock up now as 2010 and 2011 pretty much sucked. Many 2009 Pinot Noirs — depending on where they’re grown — offer up bright cherry and raspberry fruit, elegantly subtle tannins, perky acids and a well-rounded personality reflecting the fruit’s growing season happiness. If nature treats the grape well, it produces better wine. MIlla Handley knows what to do with great Pinot grapes.

Read more: Stellar vintage for Pinot Noir in 2009: Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (wine review)

Wine reviews: King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir

King Estate specializes in Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and that’s what I’ve been sipping on these past eight years since I met them. Still family-owned — like most wineries in Oregon — they’ve expanded their horizons with their other, more affordable (and still tasty) Acrobat Pinot Noir and Gris. I really admire what these guys have been doing.

Read more: Wine reviews: King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir