Are you familiar with the Hans Christen Andersen short story “The Princess and the Pea?” In an effort to paraphrase and not violate copy-right rules here is how it goes: A prince wanted to marry a princess. He traveled the world but could not be sure the princesses he met were authentic so he returned home. One stormy night a young lady showed up at his door seeking shelter. The young lady claimed to be a princess. The queen decided to step in and design a test only a true princess would pass. Before the young princess was allowed into her bedroom for the night the queen took the bed apart and placed a small pea on the center of the mattress. Then, the queen placed twenty mattresses on top of the pea and another twenty down comforters on top of that! The next morning the princess was asked how she slept; she explained she did not sleep at all because something very hard was in the bed and her entire body ache. The queen and prince knew the young lady was a real princess because only a princess could be so sensitive. So, what does this have to do with wine?
Pinot Noir is a very fussy grape. It is quite sensitive to climate, terroir, location, etc. If Hans Christian Andersen’s famous short story were to be written about a grape, that grape would be Pinot Noir. You would think a grape this finicky would be loved and sought after by all; however, it is my experience that is not necessarily the case. I, for one, simply adore Pinot Noir. In fact it could be my most favorite grape. Many it seems are equally passionate about not liking Pinot Noir for the same reason I love it. When a winemaker knows how to grow this grape, I mean really cultivate it, in the right region, harvest it at the exact right time and craft it into its true authentic self it reveals an essence of wine purity that is almost impossible to find in other varietals. Sometimes wine makers use a heavier hand or a traditional cool growing region has a warmer than normal year resulting in a Pinot Noir that is crafted it into an unauthentic heavy wine that is more reminiscent of a bigger, full body red (I call these Cab lover Pinots). There is nothing wrong with the heavier Pinots and they sell really well and at times I really like them; however, I appreciate the true essence of the Pinot ~ the real princess.
Pinot Noir is cultivated in many global locations. Its home is Burgundy, France but it is now found in Northern Italy, western Germany, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and in the US most notably California, Washington and Oregon. Pinot Noir thrives in cooler, foggy climates and is often planted with Chardonnay. The United States is blessed to have a few regions with climates perfect for delicious Pinot Noir included Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County and Willamette Valley! I recently received a selection of Pinot Noirs and a Pinot Gris from the winery Wine Enthusiast Magazine called “One of America’s Great Pinot Noir producers,” Willamette Valley Vineyards!
2014 Pinot Gris: This wine poured such a soft gold into the glass it was almost translucent; grapefruit, lemon/lime zest, delicate white flowers and graphite on the nose; crisp and clean on the palate with a tart, round acidity that lingers with an elegant textural mouthfeel; a really nice Pinot Gris; Grapes are whole cluster pressed, then stainless steel fermented and sur lie aged with stirring twice monthly; SRP $16.
2014 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: This wine was crafted from grapes sourced throughout Willamette Valley. This fruit foward Pinot Noir poured a light ruby into the glass; delicate aromas of strawberries, cherries, raspberries and cranberries are accompanied by a touch of mushrooms, spice and white pepper in an elegant wine that was smooth on the palate, well balanced with round acidity and integrated tannins; it tasted older than its young age, was well integrated, medium body and a clean finish. My husband and I really enjoyed this wine! SRP $22
2013 Estate Pinot Noir: This Pinot Noir was crafted from grapes grown in Willamette Valley Vineyards three estate vineyards. It poured a light garnet into the glass; notes of cherries, blueberries and black raspberries met the nose along with savory herbal notes, orange zest, spice and black tea; an elegant, medium body wine with lively acidity and well integrated tannins, rich texural mouth-feel of crushed velvet with a pleasing long finish; slightly more full body and offered more depth than the 2014 whole cluster; a very lovely Pinot Noir that we also thoroughly enjoyed. SRP $30
2012 Bernau Block Pinot Noir: This Pinot Noir is crafted from grapes sourced exclusively from Willamette Valley Vineyards first planting in the original estate vineyards, It poured a deep ruby into the glass; cherries, blackberries, black raspberries, floral notes, savory herbal notes, black tea, spice and a depth of minerality dazzle the nose; a complex Pinot Noir that felt silky smooth on the palate, beautifully balanced acidity and well integrated tannins offer a long finish in a wine that pleases from the first sip to the last sip. We were both sorry to see this wine gone and my husband added to our list of wines to buy. SRP $55
We sampled these wines with an easy weeknight meal that was fast and delicious. I love Pinot and pork so I made Mustard Balsamic Pork chops with Rosemary. Sometimes we need a recipe that saves time without costing in taste. This is one of those recipes. Given that I was adding rosemary to the pork chops I threw in some rosemary golden potatoes, steamed haricot verts and a salad with dried cranberries and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and we had an outstanding dinner that simply blended beautifully with the wines! There are certain flavor profiles I enjoy together: balsamic vinegar, mustard, rosemary, dried cranberries, and each of the flavors typically pair well with Pinot Noir and the crispness of the Pinot Gris. This night was no exception and turned a Monday night meal into a dinner to remember! The Willamette Valley Vineyards wines were outstanding!
“Our mission in growing cool-climate varietals is to create elegant, classic Oregon wines from the Willamette Valley Appellation. As native Oregonians, we treasure our environment and use sustainable practices in growing and vinifying our winegrapes.” ~ Jim Bernau, founder
From Willamette Valley Vineyards web site:
Founder, Jim Bernau, purchased the Estate site in 1983 and cleared away the old pioneer plum orchard hidden in scotch broom and blackberry vines. He planted Pinot Noir (Pommard and Wadenswil clones), Chardonnay (Dijon and Espiguette) and Pinot Gris. In the beginning he hand watered the vines with seventeen lengths of 75′ garden hose. Jim’s vision of organizing the support of wine enthusiasts to grow world-class wines through shared ownership has resulted in over 7,000 owners. The winery’s Common (WVVI) and Preferred (WVVIP) are traded on the NASDAQ.
Willamette Valley Vineyards has collaboratively grown its estate vineyards through partnerships like the merger with Oregon wine industry pioneer, Bill Fuller of Tualatin Vineyards (established in 1973), the O’Briens for Elton Vineyard (established in 1983) and Loeza Vineyard (planted in 2015). The winery now sources all of its barrel-aged Pinot Noir from its estate-grown vineyards and meticulously farms nearly 500 acres in the valley.
Our approach is to grow, by hand, the highest quality fruit using careful canopy management and yield balance, and to achieve wines that are truly expressive of the varietal and the place where they are grown. We practice environmentally sustainable farming and were part of the founding of the Low Input Viticulture and Enology Program (LIVE). We ferment and barrel each vineyard lot separately and display the best of these in our single vineyard designate bottlings.
Our stylistic emphasis is on pure varietal fruit characters, with attention to depth, richness of mouthfeel, and balance. The wines are truly a collaborative effort of the entire vineyard and winemaking staff.
I encourage you to visit the Willamette Valley Vineyards web site to learn more about this wonderful winery, view their entire portfolio of wines and order some of their delicious wine for yourself! They were really delicious wines across the board and we thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Order yours today and don’t delay; these wines are perfect for the holidays!
My Song Selection: I love R&B and I cannot get enough of Leon Russel these days. I usually prefer jazz to pair with Pinot Noir, but in this case I think he makes a perfect Pinot Noir pairing. His style pays homage to classic R&B yet he adds his own modern style that gives his sound flare that is completely his alone. Just like Willamette Valley Vineyards, they honor the clones of Burgundy and their roots yet craft a modern Pinot Noir that is entirely their own style; classic and timeless yet modern and fresh.
Get your own bottles of Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!