The winemakers of Oregon have a bit of a problem. After decades of Pinot Noir being their claim to fame, they’re coming to realize that it’s time to expand their expertise. And while they’re confident (particularly those outside of Willamette Valley AVA) that Oregon is no one-trick pony, the question remains: How do they get the message across to wine-drinkers?
From a marketing standpoint, it makes perfect sense to ride the Pinot bandwagon. After all, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are two other varieties the state makes notably well.
Pinot Gris—first planted in Oregon by the late David Lett of the Eyrie Vineyard in 1964—remains the most widely planted white wine grape in the state, at 2747 acres. That’s more than all other whites combined, according to a recent study conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report.
Distinct from the flavors of Italian and domestic competitors’ production of the variety, the Northwest style of Pinot Gris has many strengths: higher acidity and lower alcohol; bracing minerality; purity of fruit; and minimal or no new-oak flavors.
Fruit flavors are crisply defined, running the gamut from citrus through tree fruits and into tropical. These wines are acidic without being lean, and that bracing minerality gives them texture and life. These are wines made to be imbibed young; almost all without exception should be consumed within three to four years of the vintage date.
Pinot Blanc production—even with a mere 207-acres planted as of 2010—is still worth investing in. Among the most consistently fine examples over the years, those from Willakenzie stand out.
Here are some of the best-scoring examples of both varietal wines from the current vintages:
93 David Hill 2010 Estate Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley; $16
Intensely aromatic, with lovely accents of pine needle, grapefruit and mint. An elegant, complex and vividly spicy wine, showing excellent depth and structure. The flavors of fruit and forest just keep unfolding through a lingering finish. Editors’ Choice.
91 King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris, Oregon; $25
Done in 100% stainless steel and left sur lie for eight months, this intenselyfruity, spicy Pinot Gris could be the archetype for the Oregon style. Bold pear fruit is set in citrusy acids and dotted with cinnamon spice. Fresh, crisp and full-bodied. Editors’ Choice.
91 Pudding River 2010 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley; $16
Young, frizzante and clean as a whistle, with a mix of celery, apple and melon fruit. The alcohol is listed at just 12.5%, yet delivers plenty of flavor—is this the Holy Grail grape that ripens at lower alcohol? A delicious, zesty, complex wine with all the right stuff—crisp fruits, zippy acids, refreshing minerality and mid-palate concentration. Editors’ Choice.
91 Wy’East 2010 Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge; $18
Spicy, sharp, tart and deep. A compact mix of melon, pear, green apple and gooseberry fruit. This has exceptional structure and density for a wine listing such low alcohol, yet there’s no hint of sweetness. Editors’ Choice.
90 Ponzi 2010 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley; $15
Bright with scents and flavors of apples and pears, this fresh and spicy young wine is bone dry, moderately low in alcohol and utterly delicious. It couldn’t be more refreshing. Best Buy.
90 Lange 2010 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley; $16
This wine is fruit-driven, with pear and apple, but with an interesting streak of licorice running down the spine. It has depth and good structure, so the now-dominant young fruit will have support as it ages. Worth sitting on for a couple more years. Editors’ Choice.
90 Terrapin Cellars 2010 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley; $13
Sharp and spicy, with pleasing focus and minerality. Flavors mix tart, racy green fruits with a bracing acidity and suggestions of chalk. Excellent structure. Best to decant it first. Best Buy.
92 Thistle 2010 Pinot Blanc, Dundee Hills; $16
Spectacular Oregon Pinot Blanc, showing ripe citrus, fresh herb, wet rock and a lick of honey, all elegantly and seamlessly wrapped into a subtle and complex whole. Made from organic grapes fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel. Editors’ Choice.
90 Grochau Cellars 2010 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley; $16
A high acid, still ripe style, with a tight mix of apple, lemon and other citrus. There is a pleasing floral component as well.
87 Chateau Bianca 2009 Estate Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley; $12
There are some elegant floral highlights on the nose, leading into a fairly substantial mouthful of mixed citrus, apricot and peach fruit. Bigger than most Oregon Pinot Blancs, this has a round, fruity flavor with a hint of sweetness. Best Buy.
87 J. Scott Cellars 2010 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley; $15
Tart to the edge of sour, this is made for hot weather drinking. Lemon, lime and sour orange fruit with plenty of acidity and a solid, clean, crisp finish.
87 Spindrift Cellars 2010 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley; $15
The low alcohol suggests either grapes that were barely ripe, or some significant residual sugar. Flavors don’t seem too green, certainly not vegetal, more to the citrus and fresh herb side of the spectrum. If there is residual sugar it is masked by the acidity, and so you have a mellow, round, citrusy, mouth-pleasing all-purpose white wine.
87 Left Coast Cellars 2009 Left Bank Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley; $18
Quite fruity and refreshing, this fruit-forward Pinot Blanc mixes lemon drop and citrus hard candy fruits in a stylish, well-defined wine. Finishes firm with good grip.