Oregon’s culinary values span a wide range, from its iconic marionberries to its subversively exotic doughnuts. But whatever you do, don’t overlook the treasure trove of Oregon-made pinot noir wine. The wine-making industry in the state is relatively young, but Oregon, and in particular the Willamette Valley, shares a latitude and climate akin to France’s Burgundy region, and that similarity to a world-famous appellation is what gives Oregon’s pinots an edge on other American-made pinots.
Geography aside, when you have someone like Steven Spurrier—the legendary protagonist of the 1976 Judgment of Paris Tasting, and producer of English sparkling wine—commenting that an Oregon winemaker “is impeccable, rather hands-off, and they have a definitive sense of place,” you know you’re in the right spot in the world for producing world-class wine.
Most Oregon producers pride themselves on their use of sustainable growing practices, so there’s a good chance that the delicious wine you’re drinking is organic, too—and a real snapshot of that ‘sense of place,’ or terroir.
As music mogul and founder of Domaine Nicolas-Jay, Jay Boberg explains, “The Willamette Valley in Oregon provides a unique combination of conditions to grow the great grapes of Burgundy to perfection. Both volcanic (Jory) and ancient marine sedimentary soils in a cool climate with plenty of rain across winters leading to just enough warmth and sunshine to ripen the grapes. Balance in our wines is paramount and Oregon is the perfect place to achieve that goal.”
The only problem with Oregon pinot is knowing which Oregon pinot noirs are the top dogs. Luckily we've done the work to list them right here for you and the 2017 Domaine Drouhin stole the show with its brambly and fruity notes of blackberries and orange peels. Just follow your nose along the Oregon trail to the heart of the Willamette Valley and sip. Here are the best Oregon pinot noirs to get right now.
Best Overall: 2017 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Black Cherry, Orange Peel, Bramble, Rhubarb
The folks at Domaine Drouhin are so good, they’re on this list twice. But of all the debutantes at this ball, their 2017 Oregon Pinot Noir is the one turning the most heads.
The Drouhin saga goes back four generations starting in Burgundy, France, and taking that French tradition to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, making lengthy use of the land’s similarities to the hallowed French region. When it comes to distilling the flavor of Oregon pinot in its top form, Domaine Drouhin is the bottle to beat.
Related: The Best Pinot Noirs
Best Under $35: 2018 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Plum, Black cherry, Blueberry, Strawberry
Don’t worry, the Eola-Amity Hills doesn’t have a monopoly on amazing pinot from Oregon, but you’d be forgiven for believing that to be the case since I can’t stop featuring them. Cristom’s been on the scene since 1992 and has the notable distinction of having their wine voted the number one Oregon Pinot Noir in America’s top restaurants for four of the past five years. They’re also a major player in sustainable growing practices, not to mention their tasty wine. This 2018 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee puts its best foot forward with its crisp, light-bodied texture and oaky flavor.
Best Vintage: 2016 RoseRock Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Blueberry, Black Tea, Cocoa
The cool air of the Eola-Amity Hills serves as a backdrop for this riveting pinot from our Best Overall wine, Domaine Drouhin. This winery, now in its fourth generation of family winemaking, has roots that stretch back all the way over to the fields of Burgundy in France.
Drouhin is also known for its chardonnay, but the volcanic soils of the Willamette Valley are a true asset to their pinot productions. In 2016 producers got the ride of their life in the form of an absolutely perfect growing season, making 2016 our “Best Vintage” pick for the bevy of pinots balanced by brilliant acidity, and full of elegant and complex fruit flavors—so many of them drinking lovely today, but capable of longterm aging.
Best Newcomer: 2018 Résonance Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Willamette Valley | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Cherry, Smoke, Spice
For a winery that’s the new kid on the block, Résonance Wines claims a hefty pedigree. French-born winemaker Jacques Ladiére spent over 40 years crafting the beautiful Burgundy wines at Maison Louis Jadot, retired, then got pulled right back into the game to put his magic Burgundy touch on the Oregon pinot scene under the Jadot banner. He teams up here with fellow winemaker Guillaume Large, also born of the Burgundy vineyards, to create some brilliant wines with that unmistakable French flair.
Best Biodynamic: 2016 Winderlea Vineyard Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14.3% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Vanilla, Blackberry, Pepper
Winderlea is defined by their passion for quality, biodynamic-certified Oregon wine. This 2016 vintage of their flagship pinot is the purest example of that passion turned into something you can drink. Made with both pommard and dijon clones and grown from some of the winery’s oldest vines, this wine is full-bodied and spicy with a soft, delicate finish.
Best Reserve: 2018 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14.2% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Raspberry, Rose, Earth
Bergström takes the best of what the Willamette Valley has to offer and spins it into this earthy, balanced, refreshingly light pinot concoction. The volcanic and marine sediments in the soil and the cool climate of the Willamette air help make Bergström a notable grower of pinot noir and chardonnay. This is a smooth reserve with bright acidity and the kind of tannins that like to hide in the background.
Related: The Best Natural Wines
Best Party Pinot: Tendril Extrovert Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Willamette Valley | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Black Cherry, Plum, Caramel
Tendril winemaker Tony Rynders is a heavyweight of the Pacific Northwest wine industry who cut his teeth with experiences working at vineyards in several continents and made a name for himself earning a record number of 90+ point wines as head winemaker at Domaine Serene. So it’s no surprise that this bottle, the pinnacle of Rynders’s storied career, is given such an outgoing name as “Extrovert.” With its floral and herbal aromas and fruity palate, it just may be the life of the party.
Best-Kept Secret: Nicolas-Jay Carlton Estate Bishop Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
Region: Oregon, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Heady Dark Fruit Aromas, Deep Spices, Mineral-finish
Some will pay a visit to Domaine Nicolas-Jay just to hang with Jay Boberg, the MCA/Universal Records music guru who discovered R.E.M., Blink-182, Mary J. Blige, and B.B. King, to name just a few. Others go to mingle with Jean-Nicolas Meo—yes, that Meo—of Domaine Meo-Camuzet, one of the greatest producers of French Burgundy wine. You, dear reader, are now privy to one of Oregon’s best-kept secrets. The Pinot Noirs produced by these titans of music and wine—especially this one from their Bishop Creek estate vineyard—are monumentally delicious, and some of the absolute finest examples of Oregon Pinor on the market.
Read Next: The Best Pinot Grigios
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade. He regularly tastes wines from around the globe, and personally tasted every wine in this roundup. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.