I know there are 16 inches of snow on the ground after the third nor’easter in two weeks slammed into Massachusetts this week, but don’t despair. Spring is just around the corner. And that means only one thing: Break out the Burgundy — or, as we say in America, the Pinot Noir!
Yes, my mind is on Easter, which comes on April 1 this year. It’s also April Fool’s Day, but I’m not going to joke around with my three early holiday selections for the upcoming festive occasion.
Think of chewy, red fruit flavors — cherry and pomegranate — rolling smoothly across your tongue, with a touch of raspberry and spice on the elegant finish, and soon images of cherry blossoms and warm breezes come to mind.
Yes, it’s time to wish the winter away with a glass of American-made Pinot Noir — and my favorites come from Oregon.
Now, Pinot Noir can be a difficult grape to grow. It’s got a thin skin (some say I do, too!) and is prone to ripen unevenly in hot weather, which causes it to lose its signature acidic balance. That’s why winemakers must pick this varietal at the precise moment when sugar levels and acidity are harmonious.
Oregon, with its sunny yet cooler vineyard environments, is the perfect place for Pinot Noir to reach its peak potential. The past three vintages, dating back to 2014, have experienced exceptional weather conditions — warm days, cool nights and nothing excessive at either end.
For quality and price value, Oregon producers probably turn out the best Pinot Noir bottlings for the working class in the world. Their higher-priced, top-of-the-line products are no slouches either when compared to France’s more famous Burgundy wines. But who wants to pay more when there are gorgeous bargains galore on the shelves? Not me.
So, if you and the family are contemplating a lamb or ham dinner for the holidays — or even a succulent pork roast — here are three wines I’ve tasted recently with the Wine Goddess (my wine-food pairer in paradise) that will add zest to the table and fit your budget. Salute!
Erath 2015, $15.99
This is an Oregon staple in the iron-rich Dundee Hills AVA in the Willamette Valley. Engineer Dick Erath made his first wine out of his California garage in the late 1960s, liked the experiment, and moved into a logger’s cabin in Oregon, where he planted grapes on 48 acres. He produced 216 cases in 1972, built a winery in 1972, and by 1987, was making 35,000 cases a year and winning accolades. In 2006, he sold the brand to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2006, which also retained winemaker Gary Homer. The 2015 Erath carries the winery’s outstanding consistency forward with black cherry and raspberry aromatics, ripe fruit flavors and a medium body. It’s got a bit of acidic zest at mid-palate and finishes harmoniously. This is a good food wine. We enjoyed it with roast pork sprinkled with peach chutney, roasted potatoes and a green salad.
* A to Z Wineworks 2014, $17.99: So what do you get for $2 more? Let’s forget the cost for a moment. This Pinot Noir has been making waves for years at Dundee’s Rex Hill Winery, which is run by a mostly all-female management team. It regularly lands on most experts’ annual to wine value lists. A to Z is reliably fruity with impressive plum and sweet cherry expressions. I liked the orange-peel zest that came through on the secondary layer of tastes. It finished with a lingering, tangy kick, which the Wine Goddess found especially pleasing. Believe it or not, we dined on a tomato and bacon-bits salad and veggie pizza while polishing off this gem. Yes, it is worth the price, which is discounted at The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover.
* Tangley Oaks 2014, $14.99: This Willamette Valley wine is fermented in neutral French oak, which lends the final product a more natural, earthy result. I found it appealing, although the flavors seemed muted, like this Pinot Noir was holding back its best punch. There’s was nothing wrong, mind you, just that the cherry flavors came across as tart rather than tangy — the latter being a profile that I prefer. The Wine Goddess raved about it (and the peppery finish), so there you have it: a difference of simple palate preferences. Further research showed that Tangley Oaks is a blend of grapes from vineyards in Yamhill-Carlton, McMinnville, Dundee Hills and elsewhere.