Most commentators would award New Zealand’s South Island second place to Burgundy in the “pinot noir stakes”, but today I plan to examine the counterclaims of Oregon.
Serious wine production only started in this delightfully relaxed part of America’s Pacific seaboard just over 50 years ago. Yet already distinct sub-regions have been created to reflect the diversity of the local geology – although pinot noir (with 60 per cent of grape production) remains king almost everywhere.
None of the resulting wines are cheap, but they represent excellent value when compared with Burgundian pinot noir of similar quality.
Despite two-thirds of Oregon’s vines being grown in the Willamette Valley (to the south-west of Portland, the state’s largest city) first let’s head east to Columbia Gorge along the border with Washington. Wines here tend to be a little lighter, as evidenced in the bright and lively 2012 Phelps Creek Pinot Noir (£23.99 at Luvian’s in Cupar and St Andrews) and the sharp but long, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit it delivers.
Back in Willamette Valley itself and its sub-region, the Chehalem mountains, the 2012 Rex Hill Pinot Noir (£25.60 online at Exel Wine, www.exelwines.co.uk) demonstrates this area’s greater depth with appealing, plum-centred substance which nicely complements the minty, raspberry-based acidity.
For even more structure, head for the tiny sub-region of Ribbon Ridge and the food-friendly 2012 Omero Cellars Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir (£35 at Deeside Drinks Emporium, Banchory) with its long, complex, mocha, plum and black pepper-based flavours.
My top pick, though, is the vibrant 2012 Adelsheim Pinot Noir (£24, WoodWinters) with its dark, nutty, smooth cherry flavours supported by a chocolate, mint and cinnamon finish.
2013 The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir
Chile, 14 per cent
Pursuing the main feature’s focus on North American pinot noir, try this great value version from South America. Its classic raspberry and black cherry fruit is supplemented by earthy, beetroot undertones and a spicy roundedness. Anything it lacks in delicacy is amply counterbalanced by value and extra
2009 Le Pallet Muscadet Sevre & Maine Loire Valley
France, 12.5 per cent Aged muscadet is not common, but when done as well as it is here, it acquires a delightful, smooth, complex, buttery lees-derived texture. Nevertheless, the traditional clean, fresh, apple fruit still shines through boldly, as does the slightly spicy, acidic edge that embellishes the wine.
(Currently £9.99 instead of £14.99 at Majestic)
• For regular recommendations on sensibly priced wine, go to my new website at MidWeekWines.co.uk