This publication’s history spans 22 vintages and four decades, but Wine Press Northwest never has seen a winemaker make more of a delicious impression with a panel than Sarah Cabot of Battle Creek Cellars in Dundee, Ore.
This spring, our socially distanced study of Pinot Noir produced in the Northwest generated 137 entries across several vintages. Cabot, who grew up in Seattle, earned eight “Outstanding!” ratings — our equivalent of a gold medal — in a showing that included vineyard-designated wines from three distinct sites and snapshots of three growing seasons.
And because Cabot works for Precept Wine, the largest privately owned wine company in the Pacific Northwest, and produces about 105,000 cases of Pinot Noir each year, consumers can get their hands on some of these exquisite examples via the new Battle Creek Cellars tasting room in Portland’s trendy Pearl District.
“Sometimes, I feel that we get shafted by others because my parent company is big,” Cabot said. “There’s a sense among some people that if your production is really big, then you are a sellout and your (expletive) is mediocre.”
Atop the field was the Anam Cara Cellars 2016 Nicholas Vineyard Mark X Pinot Noir, a $75 bottle by Nick and Sheila Nicholas in the Chehalem Mountains near Newberg. The Nicholases rank among the industry’s most beloved ambassadors, and they farm the blocks for their reserve bottling at 1.5 tons per acre. Named for their son Mark, the Roman numerals denote that wine’s place in the series.
“The only ‘rule’ we have for our Mark Pinot Noirs is that they represent the boldest expression of the vineyard, yet still showcase the site's signature elegance and earthiness,” Sheila says. “We blend to our largest percentage of new oak (30% to 50% new French) in any of the Pinots and from barrels designated as reserve candidates.”
In a fascinating twist, consulting for Anam Cara is Michael Collier, director of winemaking at 12th & Maple Wine Co. Cabot teams up with 12th & Maple’s Zach Campbell at the custom-crush facility in Dundee for her Battle Creek Cellars wines.
“Zach deserves so much more credit than he ever gets,” Cabot said. “I’ve never trusted anyone in this industry as much as I trust him.”
Cabot, a maverick who plays in the Portland Australian Football League and is running back for the Oregon Ravens in the Women's National Football Conference, used the 2016 vintage to score gold medals with single-source Pinot Noirs from Battle Creek, Roe and Yamhela vineyards.
“The ’16 vintage was 9.5 on a scale of 10, and up until 2018, was the best vintage I ever had,” Cabot said. “The ’16s are lights out. It was a really small crop, perfect weather, a leisurely harvest — which is very rare here — and the wine had beautiful concentration. Beautiful concentration. Sugars crept up pretty quickly at the very end, and the wines required very little amelioration.
“The crop was about 30% under what was projected, but what we got was great, and it was my first vintage being sober, so it’s a very meaningful vintage for me,” Cabot added. “I had been nervous about it, but I was sharp and decisive and wasn’t second-guessing myself.”
She keeps a coffee mug handy to spit into during wine evaluations and feels her palate has become sharper since she made the change.
A student/athlete at Roosevelt High in Seattle, Cabot received a degree in jazz composition from the famed Berklee College of Music. She worked in restaurants in Boston and Seattle where she “sold a lot of Oregon Pinot Noir” prior to studying winemaking at South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy. She’s enjoyed the opportunity to engage customers once again — this time as a winemaker pouring at her Portland tasting room.
“I’ll pop in there and sit with my computer or be behind the counter,” Cabot said. “I love the people we have working there for us and interacting with the consumers and getting their feedback is great.”
In addition to collaborations with grocers and restaurants, Cabot recently joined forces with Walla Walla-based Nocking Point and actors Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis on the 2018 Quarantine Pinot Noir ($25). Sales of that Willamette Valley project go toward COVID-19 response efforts, and the marketing might supplied by the celebrity husband/wife team led to more than half of Quarantine Pinot Noir production being sold in the first 24 hours of the unveiling.
Perhaps no Oregon winery is better known beyond the Willamette Valley than King Estate, and winemaker Brent Stone — with a degree from Washington State University — impressed judges with four “Outstanding!” examples of Pinot Noir. Three of those were examples of the 2016 vintage, including the showy Domaine Pinot Noir, a product of 100% estate certified Biodynamic fruit.
On the other side of Dundee from 12th & Maple came a combined four “Outstanding!” ratings for Dobbes Family Estate and Wine By Joe, two brands founded by “Hollywood” Joe Dobbes. The showings included the youthful and plentiful 2018 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir and consumer-friendly Wine By Joe 2016 Pinot Noir, a screw-capped wine that retails for $19.
Panther Creek Cellars, the label made famous by Ken Wright and now a sister project of Dobbes Family Estate, also produced a trio of gold medals, thanks to the winemaking by Tony Rynders. A longtime friend of Wright, Rynders also came through with one of the judging’s most nicely priced entries — the 2018 Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir ($25).
Meanwhile, the string of recent success continues for Mark Ryan McNeilly as the Walla Walla producer showed his versatility in this tasting. Last year, his Mark Ryan brand placed No. 45 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List with its 2016 The Dissident, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend. Megan Anne Cellars, named for McNeilly’s wife, is their Pinot Noir project in Carlton, Ore., with Willamette Valley winemaker Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land fame and now Lavinea. The combination generated “Outstanding!” ratings for three Pinot Noirs from the 2018 vintage. McNeilly was named as the Honorary Vintner for the 2020 Auction of Washington Wines.
One of the recent and welcomed trends in the industry — reduced level of oak influence — was apparent in this tasting. The wines were fruit-driven, ranging from dark blue to dark red. And there were not many references to “Old World” or “Burgundy” by the judges, in part because the string of warm vintages tends to result in fewer examples of Pinot Noir that are lighter-styled with nuances of earthiness, saddle leather, truffle and or herbal qualities. Very few turned out to be “brett bombs,” wines laced with the strain of yeast called brettanomyces, which in Greek translates to “British fungus” and leads to notes of barnyard or horse blanket. It’s worth noting that very few of the Pinot Noir entries were unfiltered.
Judges continued to remark about the delicious presentation of color and flavors in the Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, in particular. It goes to reinforce the belief that Pinot Noir from Oregon should be viewed for its uniqueness rather than compared with Burgundy.
While there have been issues in recent years with smoke taint from forest fires, wines entered into this tasting did not indicate there were many pockets with problems. Avoiding those qualities certainly factored into the high percentage of quality wines submitted as 82% received a rating of “Excellent” or higher.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from bringing in judges from the Willamette Valley. As a result, the panel was made up of experts from the Columbia Valley who often sample big reds for work and/or pleasure. Perhaps it was the product of three warm vintages, but in many cases these examples of Pinot Noir reflected a bigger style, which likely struck a chord with these judges. The Pinot Noir featured black fruits from the 2016 vintage and more red fruit — including watermelon — for the 2017 wines.
So are many of the tasting’s top-scoring wines examples of Pinot Noir that appeal to Washington red wine drinkers? Perhaps. We encourage you to taste for yourself.
It also served as our first judging staged using social distancing protocols and conducted during the course of two days at the home of Jerry Hug, the magazine’s publisher, in Kennewick, Wash. The panel was made up of Kristine Bono, general manager of Tertulia Cellars of Walla Walla, Wash., which also operates a tasting room in Dundee, Ore.; Richard Larsen, retired research winemaker, Washington State University, Richland, Wash.; Gregg McConnell, managing editor, Wine Press Northwest; Ken Robertson, columnist, Wine Press Northwest; and Gordy Venneri, co-founder of Walla Walla Vintners, Walla Walla, Wash.
Anam Cara Cellars 2016 Nicholas Vineyard Mark X Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $75
Sheila and Nick Nicholas near Newberg, Ore., have been among the Oregon wine industry’s most popular figures for years, in part because of their remarkable work with cool-climate varieties, which includes Riesling. This first-time field blend of clones Pommard, Dijon 114, 115 and Wädenswil (10%) is a remarkable reflection of the vineyard they created out of brambleberry thickets. (They sold a majority of their vineyard in 2015 to the owners of Rain Dance Vineyards.) Its rich, youthful color offers fantastic aromas of dusty blueberry, black cherry, sage and delicate toast from a French oak program with 30% of the barrels being new. (In most years, the Mark is closer to 50% new wood.) Inside comes a stream of plum and cherry juice, making for an easy drink and tasty blueberry-skin tannins that offer just enough structure for a medium finish that hints at cherry cheesecake. This reserve wine is named for son, Mark, and the Roman numeral X reflects the 10th year of its production. (125 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Zimri Cellars 2015 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $25
Fresno State grad Jason Bull took historic David Hill Vineyards & Winery to new heights while launching his own brand along Zimri Drive in the foothills of the Chehalem Mountains. These five barrels spent two years in French oak, not one of them new, a program that adds a whiff of cinnamon toast behind cranberry, red currants and grapefruit oil. Boysenberry drives the delicious and appealing structure of cassis and cocoa with undertones of savory mushroom, vanilla and lavender. (124 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2017 Yamhela Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $64
If her wine-savvy friends can pick out that this Pinot Noir was grown in the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area, then Sarah Cabot feels as though she’s done her job as a winemaker to showcase Yamhela Vineyard. Dried currant and cherry aromas are joined by forest floor, dusty herbs and chai spices. Bright red fruit flows across the palate as raspberry, Montmorency cherry and plum-skin tannins combine for a nicely balanced structure that’s capped by a baked gingersnap cookie for an enjoyable Pinot Noir that really opens up in the glass. (1,084 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Archery Summit 2016 Arcus Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $125
Sometimes in life you do get what you pay for, and Archery Summit’s showcasing of prized Arcus Vineyard from a buzz-worthy vintage ranks among the best in the Pacific Northwest. One of the oldest sites in the Dundee Hills, this vineyard was first planted in 1973 — two decades before the late Gary Andrus launched the winery. It’s now 40 acres, making it the largest of the winery’s five vineyards. This stellar example reflects the winemaking transition from Chris Mazepink to Ian Burch, who took over the cellar in 2018. There’s an early sense of the Dundee Hills with high-toned red fruit, joined by sweet herbs, light toast and black pepper. It turns a touch darker on the nicely balanced palate as blackberry jam and plum skins lead out with blueberry, making it one of the most age-worthy in our tasting. (913 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Valley View Winery 2016 Anna Maria Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon • $22
This winery ranks as one of Oregon’s most historic with its connection to 19th century photographer/winemaker Peter Britt. And while the Wisnovsky family designates Anna Maria as its reserve tier, this Pinot Noir ranks among the most nicely priced of the tasting. John Guerrero’s winemaking style reflects the ripeness that can be attained in the Applegate Valley as it is layered with fruit while showing a touch of brickish color. Aromas of Thanksgiving cranberry sauce with orange zest pick up some black cherry along the way. Inside, it’s a spoonful of cherry cobbler with baking spices in between red currant and blueberry with cocoa, coffee and peach. (315 cases, 13.4% alc.)
Alexana Winery 2017 Revana Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $60
A fascination for Burgundy inspired Dr. Madaiah Revana to invest in Oregon’s Dundee Hills in 2005. The Texas cardiologist named his Northwest project for his daughter, Alexandra, and the hiring of Bryan Weil in 2012 to take over the winemaking for Lynn Penner-Ash continues to pay off. Aromas of blueberry, loganberry, ginger spice cookie and truffle lead to layers of sweet blueberry and cherry pie that are backed by well-managed tannins and pink grapefruit oil for a finish that’s silky and decadent yet cellar-worthy. (1,614 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Argyle Winery 2017 Master Series Nuthouse Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $55
Minnesota product Nate Klostermann focuses on Lone Star Vineyard, a tip of the hat to founding winemaker and Texas native Rollin Soles, for this Pinot Noir project that’s named for the winery’s previous life as a hazelnut warehouse. Baking spice is viewed as a hallmark of the Eola-Amity Hills by Argyle, and allspice and clove lead the discussion of this wine that brings a red juicy nose. Ripe flavors of Marionberry and Bing cherry make for a pleasant drink that’s framed in the finish by juicy flavors of Craisin and cherry pie. (1,789 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2016 Battle Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $64
The namesake vineyard in Turner, Ore., for Precept’s Battle Creek Cellars brand got its start in 1998, and the 110 acres between Interstate 5 and Battle Creek Road are 100% devoted to Pinot Noir. It’s a blue-fruited approach that’s quite delicate with touches of black currant and black cherry that pick up nutmeg and cola prior to a finish of cranberry-blueberry cocktail. There’s plenty of fruit and just enough tannin structure to create an enduring finish that’s age worthy. (385 cases, 14.4% alc.)
King Estate Winery 2016 Domaine Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $70
No family has done more to promote Pinot Gris across the country than the Kings, but this serves as a reminder of how brilliant King Estate’s Pinot Noir program is. Brent Stone, a product of Washington State University, earned four “Outstanding!” ratings within our tasting, and this work with 100% Biodynamic fruit led the way. It came across as one of the most reminiscent of an Old World style, and it is rather polite in its structure. There’s a dustiness to the nose of cherry jam, strawberry fields and a pinch of fresh tobacco. The 18 months in a program of 30% new French oak barrels are presented nicely, not getting in the way of the strawberry and fleshy cherry profile that’s compelling and builds appreciation. Plum skins make for a medium-long finish that’s fruitier, more delicious and food-friendly with each pass. Fortunately, Stone doubled his production of this wine over the 2015 vintage. (1,621 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Sineann 2016 Pinot Noir, Oregon • $30
Winemaker/cyclist Peter Rosback works with sites in three growing regions — Wy’East in the Columbia Gorge, Zenith in the Eola-Amity Hills and Yates Conwill in Yamhill-Carlton — for this marvelous Pinot Noir that’s big and rich. The nose of cherry jam on light toast, vanilla and cola transition to full and long flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. A midpalate of pomegranate and plum skin leads off with sensations of toast, tar and strawberry. It glides across the tongue as easily as you can say shuh-NAY-uhn. (400 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Utopia Wines 2016 The Utopia Vineyard Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $48
As president of the Ribbon Ridge Winegrowers Association, Utopia owner/winemaker Daniel Warnshuis is encouraging everyone in his tiny AVA to farm Biodynamically. The showing of this Pinot Noir, a collection of the 12 clones he’s planted across his 20-year-old estate, should serve as a great promotional tool. Aromas of dried strawberry, pink raspberry and orange oil are realized on the palate, backed by silky tannins that trail into a sweet and round finish of Craisins. (1,335 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Dowsett Family Winery 2016 Becklin Vineyards Pinot Noir, Oregon • $34
While he’s been living and working in Walla Walla for nearly 25 years, Chris Dowsett grew up in the Willamette Valley wine industry and studied horticulture at Oregon State University. Here, the Buty winemaker works with Pommard clone Pinot Noir from his sister’s 12-acre vineyard, which was planted in 2000 along the Mt. Hood Territory Wine Trail on Pete’s Mountain near the Willamette River. As one would expect from Pommard, it’s a big and rich expression of Pinot Noir featuring soft oak notes and dark fruit tones of cherry compote, blackberry and chocolate-covered blueberries. The structure is long, lush and rewarding. (130 cases, 14.5% alc.)
J Wrigley Vineyards 2017 Estate Single Clone 828 Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $74
There’s a fair bit of fun mystery surrounding this clone native to Côte d’Or, and one version within the Willamette Valley is that the founder of Archery Summit, the late Gary Andrus, used a trench coat to smuggle cuttings into the U.S. Its success and popularity has prompted others to embrace 828, and John Wrigley provides more delicious evidence of its merits. This offers an abundance of complexity, starting with a nose of black cherry, orange oil and pipe tobacco that plays out with mouthwatering flavors of cranberry, cherry cream and a silky sweet finish of vanilla bean. (100 cases, 13.3% alc.)
Pike Road Wines 2018 Xander Taryn Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $35
When the Campbell family of Elk Cove fame launched their Pike Road project, they got in on the ground floor at this young vineyard on Laurelwood soil, which is not far from Elk Cove’s Five Mountain Vineyards. The matriarch of the vineyard project — Donna Knight — named her planting after her two oldest children, and Pike Road winemaker Heather Perkin has turned this into a stunning effort that earned a double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Fun aromas of blueberry and Cherry Fruit Stripe Gum are matched on the palate where the purity of Dijon clone 667 and 777 fruit picks up fresh boysenberry. There’s brightness without any distraction of tannin, and a long finish of black cherry puts a bow on the package. (91 cases, 14% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $38
All three of the vineyards that are under the purview of winemaker Sarah Cabot — Battle Creek, Roe and Yamhela — are on the table for this medley that’s beautifully fruity and backed by sweet baking spices. The perfumy nose presents dark red notes of strawberry, cherry vanilla and Craisin with a pinch of violet and muscovado sugar. As a drink, it stays dark, as huckleberry and black currant are joined by boysenberry preserves and pomegranate, setting the stage for a finish of black cherry and red currant. (1,978 cases, 12.8% alc.)
Chelan Estate 2013 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan • $25
One of the first Pinot Noirs tasted in our exercise made quite an impression, and Bob Broderick’s planting on the south shore of Lake Chelan served as an early example of this region’s versatility, thanks in large part to the influence of the third-deepest lake in the U.S. There’s some early and understandable bottle bouquet, but the nose rapidly casts off complexity with hints of dried cassis, cinnamon toast, sage and dill. The blend of clones 113, 115 and Carneros-influenced clone 13 shows beautiful cherry, herbal and savory tones on a palate that’s filled with finesse. It screams out for a savory dish or a bowl of mushroom bisque. (325 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Dobbes Family Estate 2018 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $30
Oregon State grad Andy McVay used this vintage to celebrate his 10th anniversary of working with founder Joe Dobbes, and six sites in the Willamette Valley factor into this blend that captures the youthful promise that many winemakers see from their 2018s. Ten months in a program of 23% new French oak helps explain the lovely clove note in the nose that otherwise features black cherry, dark plum and pomegranate. There’s more red fruit on the palate, reminiscent of cherry and cranberry cocktail, which is backed by cola and vanilla. (2,500 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Mount Richmond Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $60
The Campbell family came through with two of Outstanding! examples of Pinot Noir in this tasting, both of them single-vineyard snapshots. At 180 acres, Mount Richmond is the largest of the Elk Cove estate vineyards, and it was established with Pommard cuttings from Roosevelt Vineyard just below the crush pad at the Forest Grove winery. Bing cherry, moist earth, fresh dill and Douglas fir tip tea leads to flavors of Marionberry pie, plum jam and black pepper. There is a nice grip to the Craisin skin tannins, which lead out with pomegranate juice for a cellar-worthy structure. (991 cases, 13.5% alc.)
King Estate Winery 2016 Pfeiffer Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $54
Last year, this vineyard turned 35 years old, and Pfeiffer goes down in history as the first vineyard the King family contracted with back in 1992. Robin Pfeiffer and his wife, Danuta, farm 70 acres, and still sell more than 80% of their grapes to King Estate winemaker Brent Stone and his team. This opens with aromas of blueberry punch, orange oil, brownie mix and coffee. There’s refined juiciness immediately on the palate, which makes this easy to get into as blueberry preserves include a crunch of the seed. It’s superbly layered and offers a tremendous structure with black cherry, plum and more coffee in the finish. (501 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Left Coast Cellars 2017 Estate Cali's Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $24
Last fall, the 2016 edition of Cali’s Cuvée was awarded a Double Platinum during Wine Press Northwest’s year-end “Best of the Best” judging, and when the votes were tallied, it ended up as the top-scoring Pinot Noir of the Platinum. That performance factored into Wine Press Northwest’s decision to name Left Coast Estate as the 2020 Oregon Winery of the Year. Here, the nose of strawberry/watermelon, blueberry, dried herbs and baking spice shifts toward flavors of raspberry, cherry and more blueberry, a combination that carries across the long and broad palate. Food-friendly pomegranate acidity provides great vibrancy. Longtime winemaker Joe Wright nearly doubled production of his flagship Pinot Noir from 2016 to 2017, and now his latest Cali’s is on the radar for the 21st Platinum Judging this fall. (14,757 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Megan Anne Cellars 2018 Black Love Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $60
Mark Ryan McNeilly and his wife, Megan Anne, show their devotion to The Afghan Whigs by naming their reserve release of Pinot Noir after one of the alt-rock band’s early albums. For this vintage, just the third in the history of their collaboration with Carlton, Ore., winemaker Isabelle Meunier, it’s a blend of the best barrels from Justice and Nysa vineyards. (Read below, and you’ll notice that each vineyard also produced a gold medal in this tasting.) The nose portends the bright and silky layers of black cherry, plum and pomegranate that bring along hints of chocolate, toast and herbs. It’s super juicy, providing a finish that goes on and on with notes of black pepper, black olive and fig. (225 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Mt. Hood Winery 2018 Estate Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge • $38
This showing for the Bickford family by their Hood River winemaker Rich Cushman is no surprise, considering they’ve been awarded Platinums for their work with Pinot Noir. Cushman’s light touch with new French oak over 12 months creates a youthful and fresh style that leans toward sweet blue fruit, joined by cocoa-covered pomegranate and cherry pipe tobacco. There’s vibrancy from stem to stern, picking up watermelon and cherry notes along the way. (468 cases, 13.4% alc.)
Vino la Monarcha 2018 Pinot Noir Rosé, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley • $20
A few producers entered a rosé they made from Pinot Noir. Victor Palencia — Wine Press Northwest’s 2019 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year — came through with an Outstanding! for his, burnishing his reputation as one of the region’s premier providers of pink wine. Charming aromas of dried strawberry, pink grapefruit and orange oil come to life on the consumer-friendly palate that hints at a blush style, yet it’s balanced by ample blood orange acidity. It’s interesting to note that the 2017 rosé under this entry-level brand earned a Platinum in back-to-back years. (250 cases, 12% alc.)
Wine By Joe 2016 Pinot Noir, Oregon • $19
It was during the economic decline following the 9/11 attacks when Joe Dobbes launched his second label — Wine By Joe — to help get Oregon Pinot Noir into more hands at an affordable price. Rather than declassified juice, his disciples now can pull from Sea Breeze Vineyard, a 214-acre estate site in the Van Duzer Corridor. And it’s rare to find a Pinot Noir that’s as easy to get into as this price. Black cherry jam, blueberry, baking spice and freshly sliced mushroom help describe the aromas. There’s more cherry jam and pink strawberry on the palate as raspberry and red currant add succulence ahead of a finishing lick of lavender and Simpkin Blackcurrant Travel Sweets. (19,229 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Youngberg Hill 2017 Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $35
While the label reads “Willamette Valley,” it could read “McMinnville” because owner/grower/winemaker Wayne Bailey pulled from his estate Bailey Block and nearby Yamhill Valley Vineyards — Wine Press Northwest’s 2019 Oregon Winery of the Year. The blend of Dijon clones 777, 115 and 667 is approachable and youthful while complex in its blend of cherry, Marionberry and President plum. A pinch of ground cloves, tobacco and Baker’s chocolate make for a rich and full mouthfeel that blossoms in the finish. (660 cases, 13.1% alc.)
Alloro Vineyard 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $40
Owner/grower David Nemarnik farms 78 acres in the peaceful hills just west of bustling Sherwood, Ore., and his collection of clones are woven together beautifully by Tom Fitzpatrick, who took over the winemaking in 2010. Pommard and Dijon 777 form the foundation of this four-clone blend, which proved to be among the most beautifully delicate in our tasting. Its garnet color hints at a bowl of raspberries and red currant, which are presented in a supple structure that’s long and savory with sage and white pepper. (1,700 cases, 14.2% alc.)
ArborBrook Vineyards 2016 Estate 777 Block Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $55
The Hansens began to transform this nut orchard into a world-class vineyard in 2001, and they devoted those first 5 acres to Dijon clone 777, so the roots of this special bottling are closing in on 20 years of age. In the skilled hands of Laurent Montalieu, this is a delightful and varietally correct expression of Pinot Noir from a site that’s just a few hundred yards from the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Expressive barrel notes from a 50% new French oak program cast out a charming nose of black cherry, nutmeg, allspice, cola and sweet bell pepper. It’s loaded with ripe blue fruit flavors, and its quaffable structure picks up complexity with leathery notes in the finish. (400 cases, 13.6% alc.)
Argyle Winery 2017 Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $40
This vintage signals the 30th anniversary of Argyle, founded by Texan native Rollin Soles who handed the winery’s reins to his protege, Nate Klostermann, in 2013. All three of their key vineyards come into play — nearby Knudsen in the Dundee Hills and the estate Lone Star and Spirit Hill sites in the Eola-Amity Hills. The 16-month program of 25% new French oak provides some toast to the mouth-watering nose of Marionberry, cherry pie and black pepper, which make their way to the creamy palate. It’s superbly juicy and balanced as the cherry and oak tones combine for a gorgeous finish. (7,395 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2017 Battle Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $64
Her “little valedictorian” is how Sarah Cabot describes the results that Battle Creek Vineyard yields for her. The fresh and spicy nose of cherry, ginger, cinnamon and pink peppercorns turns into candied flavors of cherry Twizzlers and dried blueberries. Peppy red currant acidity is joined on the midpalate by forest floor and vanilla undertones as the raspberry finish produces a lighter, age-worthy style that also lends itself to food. (523 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2016 Yamhela Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $64
It’s a high-brow neighborhood that Yamhela plays in with Shea Vineyard and WillaKenzie Estates nearby, and the 2016 vintage signals Sarah Cabot’s third vintage of steering the Willamette Valley cellar for Seattle-based Precept. The 105-acre vineyard that Cabot has likened to Audrey Hepburn says hello with aromatics of cherry cola, pink grapefruit and white pepper. On the palate, it’s fruit-driven with boysenberry, cranberry and Bing cherry flavors in a solid structure capped by sage, pepper and pomegranate juice. (824 cases, 13.7% alc.)
Bayernmoor Cellars 2017 Bayernmoor Vineyard Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $39
Patent attorney Larry Harris purchased 100 acres of forest east of Everett, Wash., and decided which 6 acres would be best suited for viticulture. His decision to establish it with Dijon clone 777 Pinot Noir has proved to be a delicious move, thanks in large part to the work of his winemaker, Brian Carter. This project signals a step beyond the norm for Carter, a master blender of big Washington reds, but his talent and degree from Oregon State University help explain his success with this rather delicate expression of Pinot Noir. Rose petal, saffron, sage and blood orange aromas lead to classic and fruity Pinot Noir flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Secondary notes of moist earth, sage and Black Forest Cake set up the food-friendly finish of Rainier cherry and caramel. This estate effort has earned a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, so its showing this spring was no surprise. (287 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Cherry Hill Winery 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $40
Aircraft mechanic-turned-winemaker Ken Cook is well into his second decade with owners Mike and Jan Sweeney. The Purdue University products purchased 90 acres of a former cherry orchard in 1998 across Highway 99 from Left Coast Estate. This is a Pinot Noir fan’s Pinot Noir. The blend of Pommard and Dijon clones flashes classic aromas of dusty strawberry, Montmorency cherry and garrigue that are realized as flavors. Layers of blueberry and pomegranate on the midpalate are joined by anise and tarragon prior to a squirt of red currant, which stretches out the finish. (909 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Dobbes Family Estate 2017 Eola-Amity Cuvée AVA Collection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $37
This vintage marks the promotion of Andy McVay, a product of Oregon State University, to succeed founder Joe Dobbes as head winemaker. It’s a fruit-forward snapshot of this American Viticultural Area moderated by the afternoon coastal breezes through the Van Duzer Corridor. Strawberry, Craisin and cocoa powder aromas hint at the entry of dark and juicy red fruit as black cherry and currant bleed into a long finish of pomegranate that one judge described as “caressing.” (375 cases, 14.2% alc.)
King Estate Winery 2017 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $29
The largest certified Biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. makes up 50% of this flagship bottling, which serves as one of Oregon’s most important examples of Pinot Noir year after year. Aromas of Marionberry and dusty black currant pick up hints of mocha, clove and a whiff of Old World earthiness. Brent Stone and his team have created a full-bodied, delicate and layered Pinot Noir that leads out with a touch of pomegranate and minerality. Upon release, 375-milliliter bottles are available. (20,000 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Lenné Estate 2017 South Slope Select Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $55
Steven Lutz celebrates the 20th anniversary of his project in 2020, and here he blends two of his oldest blocks - Dijon clone 115 in 2001 and Pommard in 2003 - for this pretty Pinot Noir that accounts for about 15% of his total production. Loganberry, boysenberry and dried plum make for a juicy profile that’s finished with pomegranate, tea leaves and minerality. (250 cases, 14% alc.)
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $65
Ken Wright began to bring fame to Jack and Kathleen Carter’s vineyard in the late 1980s, and by the 1990 vintage, Wright allowed no one else to buy Carter Vineyard fruit. Twenty five years later, Wright owned Carter Vineyard. However, he’s granted his longtime friend — Tony Rynders — access to this vineyard. After all, Wright was the founding winemaker for Panther Creek. Dusty and dark cherry, pink peppercorns and light toast aromas transition into tasty flavors of red currant and pomegranate with black currant skins and a hint of herbaceousness. (75 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $50
While the background of this reserve by Tony Rynders (pronounced RHINE-ders) is rather straightforward, there is a remarkable level of complexity. By Sept. 23, all the grapes were on the crush pad. After that, it was a 17-month, three-barrel blend of Lazy River Vineyard (67%) and Schindler (33%). And even though two of those French oak barrels were new, there’s still remarkable nuance to the nose. A whiff of Burgundy joins blueberry cobbler and elderberry aromas. On the palate, it’s big and textured as cherry cola, cranberry and baking spice flavors are joined by pomegranate for a mouthwatering finish. (75 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Airlie Winery 2015 Dunn Forest Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $45
Here is a rarity in the Pacific Northwest - a woman-owned winery with a woman winemaker — and Elizabeth Clark has been producing some of Oregon’s most under-appreciated wines since 2005. Mary Olson’s vineyard is separated from Corvallis by McDonald-Dunn Forest, and it’s the only Dunn Forest vineyard-designated wine in the general portfolio for Airlie. There’s a long list of qualities to be discussed here, starting with black cherry and blueberry aromas that come with a fist-full of dried earth with mushroom. Those same blue fruits are joined by plum-skin tannins, black cherry and a spice cabinet from the barrel program. It’s an enjoyable style with pleasing integration, capped by a trail of smoked anise and fennel. (100 cases, 13.2% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2017 Roe Vineyard Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $64
This signals the third time in four vintages that Sarah Cabot has used Roe Vineyard to achieve an “Outstanding!” rating from one of our panels. The 74-acre site on Ribbon Ridge is just east of North Valley Road and adjacent to Eminent Domaine and Harry Peterson-Nedry’s Ridgecrest Vineyard. It’s produced a lighter, entrancing style with Marionberry, mocha and black cherry tones. Rich and silky flavors carry through with a finish of strawberry, lavender and vanilla, making for a delicate but juicy example. (404 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2018 Unconditional Pinot Noir, Oregon • $18
One of the wines that Sarah Cabot takes the most pride in is her entry-level Unconditional, which has traditionally pulled significantly from Battle Creek Vineyard. This time, it’s 25% of the blend, trailing Waldo Hills Vineyard (30%) and Sunshine Mountain Vineyard (30%) while gaining help from Yamhill Valley Vineyards (10%) and Yamhela Vineyard (5%). Described as one of Oregon’s most idyllic vintages, there was no need for much oak, and just 10% of the program was new wood. Dark purple fruit along the lines of blackberry and blueberry pick up cherries and dried herbs. Spot-on cranberry-like acidity and a sprinkle of white pepper combine for a clean and lovely farewell. For at least a few months, wines such as the Unconditional will be more important than ever (1,988 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Dobbes Family Estate 2017 Patricia's Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $50
In 2006, Joe Dobbes married Patricia, an attorney who grew up in Colombia, and this blend has traditionally been one of the best efforts from this Dundee, Ore., winery. It might also be its most Old World in style with elements of earthiness and forest floor, but there’s a wide assortment of accessible fruit, ranging from loganberry and blueberry to cherry juice. There’s chocolaty silkiness to the tannins, a reflection of the 10 months in 40% new French oak, and it finishes with a delicious blend of pomegranate and strawberry. One judge exclaimed, “This is what I’m looking for!” (375 cases, 14.2% alc.)
King Estate Winery 2016 Stone's Throw 375 Clone of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $68
This vintage marked Brent Stone’s arrival as a winemaker at King Estate, and Stone’s Throw ranks among the best individual blocks on the property that now receives year-round vegetation control from a flock of sheep. Cherry jam, sweet red bell pepper and dusty lavender fill the nose that transcends into compelling flavors of cherry juice, blueberry and chocolate. A delicious tannin structure of cherry skins adds to the enjoyable mouthfeel that’s layered, long and lends itself to venison or lamb. (208 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Megan Anne Cellars 2018 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $45
Fans of famed Bethel Heights know this vineyard as the younger, sweeping plantings in 1999 by the Casteel and Dudley families. They are grafted rootstock established in marine soils — a contrast to the original own-rooted, phylloxera-defiant vines in the volcanic material that surround the tasting room. The combination of Justice fruit in the hands of winemaker Isabelle Meunier makes for a rather voluptuous Pinot Noir with enticing aromas of blackberry, black cherry candy and cinnamon bark. It’s a dark and decadent drink that picks up plum and Chukar Cherry and keeps up a subtle beat of age-worthy acidity. Look for these wines in Woodinville and Walla Walla at the Mark Ryan tasting rooms. (120 cases, 14% alc.)
Panther Creek Cellars 2018 Winemaker's Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $25
Tony Rynders creates single-vineyard wines from the likes of Carter, De Ponte, Kalita and Lazy River, and there are seven sites within his assemblage which is the flagship for Panther Creek. The nose of black cherry cola, elderberry and mocha are mirrored on the palate, which brings in Marionberry, sweet herbs and age-worthy tannins at the close. This June, Panther Creek toasted the second anniversary of its tasting room in Woodinville’s Hollywood District. (3,550 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Battle Creek Cellars 2016 Roe Vineyard Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $64
As the Omera Cellars winemaker, Sarah Cabot worked with Roe Vineyard starting in 2011, and the site is unique for a couple of reasons. It features the rare Chalone clone, a product of the oldest commercial vineyard in California’s Monterey County, and the vines naturally limit themselves to 3 tons per acre. For the 2016 vintage, that plays out in a sexy and perfumy nose with crushed raspberries, chai spice and rose hips. It’s dark and sultry on the palate with Marionberry, elderberry and blueberry flavors, superbly managed tannins and capped by a finish of charming cherry pie filling. (199 cases, 14.3% alc.)
David Hill Vineyards & Winery 2017 Estate Block 21 Black Jack Coury Clone Old Vine Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $55
The late Charles Coury established Pinot Noir along David Hill Road in 1966 — just a year after David Lett’s pioneering planting in the Dundee Hills. What’s now known as the “Coury Clone” is believed by some longtime Willamette Valley winemakers to be a cross of Pommard and Wädenswil, and Justin Van Zanten’s work offers a fascinating perspective. It’s a bit reminiscent of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its tanned leather, slightly gamy and spicy blue fruit aspect. There’s some toast, too, from the 14 months in 30% new French oak. The plummy structure is quite smooth, bringing a bit of graphite ahead of the bright finish of Montmorency cherry. (188 cases, 14.3% alc.)
Megan Anne Cellars 2018 Nysa Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $45
The client list of Michael Mega’s vineyard is dominated by cult producers of Oregon Pinot Noir, and young Megan Anne Cellars is on its way to join such company. Pommard is a popular clone at this 33-acre site, which counts Domaine Drouhin and Archery Summit as neighbors, and there’s some hedonism produced by these strikingly red Jory soils. The dense nose of chai spice and dark purple fruit akin to plum and Marionberry leads to incredibly big and rich flavors framed by sandy tannins. Black currant and minerality are found on the midpalate, which is capped by clove and white pepper. (120 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Utopia Wines 2016 Estate Reserve Paradise Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $65
DANCIN Vineyards 2018 Melodia Pinot Noir, Oregon • $39
Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Five Mountain Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $60
Luminous Hills 2017 Estate Astra Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $42
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Schindler Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $50
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 DePonte Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $45
Alexana Winery 2017 Estate West Blocks Sedimentary Soils Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $75
Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $32
Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Pollinator Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $45
Megan Anne Cellars 2018 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $45
Oak Knoll Winery 2017 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $20
Seven of Hearts 2018 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $28
Youngberg Hill 2017 Natasha Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $50
Alexana Winery 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $35
David Hill Vineyards & WInery 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $24
Elk Cove Vineyards 2018 Estate Clay Court Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $60
Left Coast Cellars 2016 Estate Latitude 45° Dijon Clone Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $38
Megan Anne Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $30
Melrose Estate 2015 Vin du Fermier Pinot Noir, Oregon • $16
Oak Knoll Winery 2017 Triple H Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $36
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Lazy River Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $45
Pike Road Wines 2018 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $20
Airlie Winery 2015 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $28
Dobbes Family Estate 2016 Eola-Amity Cuvée AVA Collection Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $37
Dowsett Family Winery 2019 Becklin Vineyards Georgia Rose Pinot Noir, Rosé Oregon • $17
King Estate Winery 2016 Freedom Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $68
Primarius Winery 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $19
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards & Winery 2017 Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley • $42
Spoiled Dog Winery 2016 Estate Reserve Selection Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $50
Utopia Wines 2016 Estate Reserve Eden Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $100
Utopia Wines 2016 The Utopia Vineyard Estate Reserve Clone 777 Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge • $65
Vashon Winery 2016 Monument Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $30
Anam Cara Cellars 2016 Nicholas Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $53
ArborBrook Vineyards 2016 Origin 1866 Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $50
Bluebird Hill Cellars 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $49
Bluebird Hill Cellars 2017 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $49
Iris VIneyards 2018 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $24
Knudsen Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $55
Luminous Hills 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $35
Browne Family Vineyards 2017 Heritage Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $20
Coeur de Terre Vineyard 2017 Oregon Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $22
Cubanisimo Vineyards 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Eola Amity Hills • $36
David Hill Vineyards & Winery 2017 Estate Old Vine Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $50
ArborBrook Vineyards 2016 Heritage Cuvée Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $34
Bailey Family 2017 Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $115
Coelho Winery 2017 Zeitoun Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills • $45
Cubanisimo Vineyards 2017 Rumba Pinot Noir, Eola Amity Hills • $25
Dobbes Family Estate 2017 Amelia Rose Cuvée, Willamette Valley • $50
Dobbes Family Estate 2017 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $67
King Estate Winery 2016 7 Rows 11A PN 115 R7, Willamette Valley • $120
A Blooming Hill Vineyard & Winery 2017 Gemini Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $25
Anam Cara Cellars 2016 Nicholas Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains • $39
Archery Summit 2017 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $65
Coelho Winery 2017 Coelho Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $45
J Wrigley Vineyards 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $45
Mt. Hood Winery 2018 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge • $48
Youngberg Hill 2017 J Block Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $50
Bayernmoor Cellars 2017 Pinot Noir, Washington State • $27
Panther Creek Cellars 2016 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $50
Bluebird Hill Cellars 2017 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $32
DANCIN Vineyards 2018 Adagio Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley • $39
Dobbes Family Estate 2017 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $28
Spoiled Dog Winery 2018 Estate Reserve Selection Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $38
Melrose Vineyards 2015 Estate Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley • $28
Palouse Winery 2016 Portteus Vineyard Sideways Pinot Noir, Washington • $55
Rio Vista Wines 2016 Pinot Noir, Columbia Valley • $42
DANCIN Vineyards 2017 Écarté Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon • $42
Alexana Winery 2017 Estate East Blocks Volcanic Soils Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $75
Coeur de Terre Vineyard 2016 Heritage Reserve Estate Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $38
Luminous Hills 2017 Estate LUX Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $42
Maury Island Winery 2018 Estate Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $28
Pike Road Wines 2018 Meyer Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills • $50
Primarius Winery 2017 Pinot Noir, Oregon • $18
Coelho Winery 2017 Delfina Vineyard Pinot Noir, McMinnville • $45
Kludt Family Winery 2017 Home Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan • $42
Browne Family Vineyards 2017 Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley • $20
Whidbey Island Winery 2017 Citrus Bay Vineyard Pinot Noir, Puget Sound • $32
Melrose Vineyards 2016 Parker's Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley • $45
Palencia Wine Co. 2015 Pinot Noir, Ancient Lakes • $36
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards & Winery 2017 Estate Selection Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley • $36
Hard Row to Hoe 2017 Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan • $40
Tunnel Hill Winery 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan • $30
Pike Road Wines 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton • $50
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.
All rated wines are tasted blind then placed in the following categories:
These wines have superior characteristics and should be highly sought after.
Top-notch wines with particularly high qualities.
Delicious, well-made wines with true varietal characteristics.
Prices are suggested retail.
Pinot Noir by the numbers
Here’s a look at the numbers behind the wines tasted for this article.
Total wines judged: 137
Percentage of “Outstanding” wines: 34
Percentage of “Excellent” wines: 48
Percentage of “Recommended” wines: 12
Average price: $44
Median price: $42
Average price of “Outstanding!” wines: $48
Median price of “Outstanding! wines: $42
Average alcohol: 13.74%
Average alcohol of “Outstanding! wines: 13.73%
Total cases represented: 169,673
Average case production: 1,238
Average case production of an “Outstanding!” wine: 1,928
American Viticultural Areas represented: 17
Wines by AVA: Willamette Valley (48), Chehalem Mountains (12), Dundee Hills (11), Eola-Amity Hills (11), Yamhill-Carlton (9), Oregon (8), McMinnville (6), Puget Sound (6), Ribbon Ridge (6), Lake Chelan (5), Umpqua Valley (4), Washington State (3), Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley (2), Columbia Gorge (2), Southern Oregon (2), Columbia Valley (1), Rogue Valley (1).
Explore Northwest Pinot Noir in 2021
This year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Ore., on the campus of Linfield College has been postponed until the weekend of July 23-25 in 2021. It is arguably the benchmark consumer event for the Pacific Northwest wine industry and deserves to be on the bucket list for anyone who appreciates Pinot Noir, regional cuisine and education.
Go to ipnc.org.