Pinot Noir wine has a beautiful deep red color and earthy flavor usually reminiscent of black cherries and plums. Wine connoisseurs who enjoy a full-bodied Pinot Noir recognize the growing importance of Oregon Pinot Noirs in today's wine industry.

Pinot Noir grape cluster

Pinot Noir grape cluster. Credit: Argyle Winery

Oregon has the ideal climate for growing and producing the Pinot Noir grapes. The climate slows down the ripening process and sugar development of the fruit, giving them time to develop that unforgettable flavor. The result is a full-bodied wine with a smooth mouth feel. You'll find low tannin and a deep, pure flavor in the Oregon Pinots.

Some of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs were produced during 2010—some of them may prove even better than the exceptional 2008 wines as they mature. It started out, however, as a nail-biting year for the wine producers, with cool and damp weather, even during the summer months. The producers feared they would have no wine for the year. Then, they were blessed with a glorious Indian Summer in the Willamette Valley, bringing the crop to maturity in late October. The wines are some of the best in years, but there is limited supply. Don't wait to buy them.


North Willamette Valley AVA Map.

North Willamette Valley AVA Map.

Wine Spectator magazine recently named 20 Oregon wineries at the top of the must-drink list. Below is a look at those top 20 and the information you need for a visit and the website so you can order your own bottle if you can't make it to Oregon. Many of these are also available at local wine shops.

  • Adelsheim Vineyard. Try the Elizabeth's Reserve (2009 for $55). Tasting room open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. 16800 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 503.538.3652 
  • Alexana Winery. Best bet is the Pinot Noir Signature (2010 is $75). Tasting room open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 12001 NE Worden Hill Road, Newberg, OR 503.537.3100 
  • Archery Summit. Try the wines from the Arcus and Renegade Ridge vineyards. Tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 18599 NE Archery Summit Road, Dayton, OR 503.864.4300 
  • Argyle Spirit House Pinot Noir

    Argyle Spirit House Pinot Noir. Credit: Argyle Winery

    Argyle Winery. Best bets are the Spirithouse (2009 is $75) and the Nuthouse (2010 is $50). Tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 691 Highway 99W, Dundee, OR 503.538.8520

  • A to Z/Rex Hill. The Jacob-Hart bottlings are some of the best wines from this winery. Tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 30835 N. Highway 99W, Newberg OR 800.739.4455 
  • Beaux Frères. The best wines from this vineyard have the Beaux Frères Vineyard label (2010 for $80) and the Upper Terrace label (2009 is available in 1.5 liter for $180). The tasting room is only open seasonally. 15155 NE North Valley Road, Newberg, OR 503.537.1137 
  • Bergström Vineyards. The best wine value is Old Stones (the 2011 is $30), but for a fabulous Pinot Noir go for the Homage (2010 is $100 if you can still find it in stock). Tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. 18215 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 503.554.0468 
  • Bethel Heights. This winery produces a delicate Pinot Noir and their best is the Casteel Reserve (the 2010 is $60). The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (only open on Saturday and Sunday during the month of January). 6060 Bethel Heights Road, NW, Salem, OR 503.581.2262 
  • Brick House Vineyards. The two best best from this vineyard are “Les Dijonnais” (the 2010 is $49) and “Evelyn's” (2010 is $60). Tastings are available by appointment Thursday through Saturday. 18200 Lewis Rogers Lane, Newberg, OR 503.538.5136 
  • Chehalem. Try the Stoller Vineyards (2010 is $48). The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 106 S. Center Street, Newberg, OR 503.538.4700 Winery tours are available by appointment at 31190 NE Veritas Lane, Newberg, OR 503.537.5553 
  • Domaine Drouhin Oregon. The must-try wine from this vineyard is the Laurène (the 2009 is $65). The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 6750 Breyman Orchards Road, Dayton, OR 503.864.2700 
  • Domaine Serene. Try the Evenstad Reserve (2008 for $65). The tasting room is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 6555 NE Hilltop Lane, Dayton, OR 503.864.4600 
  • Elk Cove Vineyards. Elk Cove has several vineyards and gets grapes from a variety of other vineyards. Try the La Bohème (2010 for $48) and the Roosevelt (2009 for $75). Tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 27751 NW Olson Road, Gaston, OR 503.985.7760 
  • Erath. Erath was purchased by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2006. The star is the Prince Hill Pinot Noir (try the 2010, $50). The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 9409 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, OR 503.538.3318 
  • Evening Land. Evening Land has vineyards in Oregon and California. For the Oregon Pinot Noirs, try the Seven Springs La Source (2010 is $60). The tasting room is open only by appointment. 572 Patterson Street NW, Suite 170, Salem, OR 503.395.2520
  • Tasting Room at Ponzi Vineyards

    Tasting Room at Ponzi Vineyards. Credit: John Valls & Ponzi Vineyards

    Penner-Ash. Try the Estate Dussin Vineyard (2010 is $60) and, if you are fortunate enough to get one before they sell out the Pas de Nom. The 2010 Pas de Nom was especially good, but is extremely difficult to find. Tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and winery tours are offered on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. with reservations. 15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Road, Newberg, OR 503.554.5545

  • Ponzi Vineyards. There are three great Pinot Noirs to try from Ponzi. The Vineyard Select (the 2009 is $75) and Reserve (2009 is $60) are both great choices. For a splurge, try the Ponzi Aurora (2010 is $100). The Aurora label is from the LIVE Certified Sustainable Aurora Vineyard and all fruit is hand-sorted and destemmed. In 2010, there were only 200 six-packs produced. The tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 14665 SW Winery Lane, Beaverton, OR 503.628.1227 Ponzi Vineyards also has a wine bar and bistro. The Ponzi Wine Bar, on the corner of Highway 99 and 7th Street in Dundee, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 503.554.1500 The Dundee Bistro is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 100-A SW Seventh Street in Dundee. 503.554.1650 
  • St. Innocent Winery. This winery produces small batches of wine, so they sell out quickly. Wines from the Zenith Vineyard (2010 for $36) and Temperance Hill (currently sold out) are exceptional. Tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday in January). 5657 Zena Road NW, Salem (Eola-Amity Hills), OR 503.378.1526 
  • Soter Vineyards. Two winners at Soter Vineyards are the Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir, which is from the estate vineyard (the 2010 is $50 or splurge for the 2009 white label for $85), and the North Valley Pinot Noir which is a blend of grapes from vineyards throughout the North Valley (2010 is $30). The tasting room is by appointment only, daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. 10880 NE Mineral Springs Road, Carlton, OR 503.662.5600 
  • Ken Wright Cellars. The two stars from Ken Wright Cellars are the Savoya, from the Savoya Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton (the 2009 is $55), and the Canary Hill Eola-Amity Hills (the 2010 is $53). The winery is not open to the public, but the public can taste the wines at the Tyrus Evan Tasting Room from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 120 N. Pine Street, Carlton, OR 503.852.7010
A Decade of Oregon Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley
*Information compiled from reports by Wine Spectator magazine
2011 – Very good year (86-89 points) Light wines – Not yet ready to drink
2010 – Outstanding year (91) Very light and delicate wines – Drink or hold
2009 – Outstanding year (90) Bold flavor – Drink or hold
2008 – Classic year (97) Perfect balance, rich flavors – Drink or hold
2007 – Outstanding year (84) Delicate, some are weak after holding – Drink or hold
2006 – Outstanding year (92) Ripe flavor, fresh fruit taste – Drink now
2005 – Outstanding year (93) Superb wines, balanced – Drink now
2004 – Outstanding year (94) Clear, balanced wines – Drink or hold
2003 – Very good year (87) Some great wines in the mix – Past its peak
2002 – Classic year (95) Extraordinary balance with pure flavors – Drink now

For a perfect spot to stay while you explore the Oregon wine country of the Willamette Valley, check out my review of the beautiful Allison Inn in Newberg.

Knudsen Vineyards at Argyle Winery

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