Just a short forty five minute drive south of Portland, Oregon lays one of the west coast’s largest and most interesting wine regions. The Willamette Valley in northwest Oregon has become a food and wine lovers’ destination despite its relatively brief history. Prior to being known for wine, the Willamette Valley was known for mixed agriculture and fishing. Apple orchards, berry patches and hazelnut farms stood alongside grazing cattle before David Lett planted his first Pinot Noir vines in the valley about 50 years ago.
With most of the vines being planted on the rolling hills of the valley, these farms on the valley floor now coexist with over five hundred wineries. This is quite a drastic leap in a fifty year span. With such diverse agriculture, the Willamette Valley is now know for not only being a great source of quality wine, but also an excellent source of the delicious foods that accompany it on the dinner table.
Wine Tasting Willamette Valley Oregon’s Pinot Noir
The dominant red grape of the Willamette is undoubtedly Pinot Noir. The varied soils, warm days, cool nights and ocean winds are ideal for the growing cycle of this delicate variety. What sets this wine region apart from others is the diversity of the smaller regions within the Willamette Valley. Because of its size (150 miles long and 60 miles wide) and diverse geological features, there are many different styles of Pinot Noir to explore.
There are six sub regions in the Willamette Valley that each produce a slightly different style of wine. Tart red fruit and earthiness are the prevalent flavors that one finds in Pinot Noir throughout the valley. There are variations on these flavors that are more or less specific to the sub regions of the valley. This balance of a homogeneous style of Pinot Noir coupled with the stark differences that this grape is capable of, is part of what makes this wine region so fun and fascinating.
Other Wines to Explore in the Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley isn’t just known for Pinot Noir. There are some other red varietals and many white varietals that thrive in the valley as well. The dominant white grape is Pinot Gris, the first to be planted in the United States. Oregon Pinot Gris can vary in style from lean and racy to lush and opulent. The stone fruit flavors and floral aromatics make it a pleasant foil to the more serious Pinot Noir.
As for other white wines, Chardonnay, the Burgundian partner to Pinot Noir is very much on the rise. These wines have a more subtle use of oak than the traditional California style, but more fruit and less minerality than most French Chardonnays.
Food Pairing Willamette’s Pinot Noir
When it comes to pairing these wines with food, one doesn’t have to look far. The blackberries, raspberries and the local favorite marionberry are excellent with Pinot Noir when incorporated in to savory dishes. Salmon, pork and foul are all great matches with Willamette Pinot Noir. The best matches are neither delicate nor robust, but rather dishes with a balance of richness, sweetness and acidity tend to work well with the tart fruit, soft tannins and silky mouthfeel of Pinot Noir.