Willamette Dammit!

By Terry Sweeney
The winemakers of Willamette Valley are as thin-skinned and persnickety as their Pinot Noir grapes when it comes to getting the name of their valley right (it’s pronounced Will-AM-ette) and can you blame them?  With an average of 40 inches of rain a year and sunlight and heat only showing up like sullen teenagers when they darn well feel like it, growing these damn grapes is about as nerve-wrackingly edge-of-your-seat scary as a zombie packed episode of “Walking Dead.” And what about those Freddie Kruger freak frosts that come out of nowhere and kill off their vulnerable  grapes during spring and fall? Talk about somewhere you wouldn’t catch a lazy happy-go-lucky Irishman like myself planting a grape! No wonder Oregon winemakers are known for being no pain, no gain rugged individualists (some would say grape nuts!) who tough it out living on the edge like their grapes with the philosophy that the grape that has it easy doesn’t make nearly the complex elegant wine as the grape that’s had to fight against all the odds Mean Old Mother Nature can scare up.
And it turns out these crazy Oregonian juice pushers have been proven right. As Oregon’s wine reputation for producing the most prestigious New World Pinot Noirs has grown over the years, Willamette Valley is now being called by some “America’s little slice of Burgundy.”
It was Oregon’s Pinot Noir, once obscure, that captured the international attention of the wine world. Oh, and mine too! I fell in love with Oregon’s Pinot Noir from the moment I swirled my first glass of a luscious earthy mushroom and blackberry Adelsheim  at a wine store tasting and refused to let go of the bottle! Since that day I’ve had the privilege of tasting many other offerings from some of the best producers of Oregon Pinot Noir including Beaux Freres, Domaine Drouhin and Ponzi Vineyards. All delicately saturated with varying nuances of the “Oregon Terroir” of wild mushrooms, pines, (remember they’ve got a lot of Christmas trees up there) and forest flora while infused with the aromas of raspberries, boysenberry and blackberries.
But the best thing about these Oregon Pinot Noirs is they swing both ways. What?! Exactly what do I mean by that?!  I mean … graceful enough for a woman yet powerful enough for a man.  Or maybe powerful enough for a woman and graceful enough for a man.
Oh heck, what I mean is when you bring one of these Oregon babes to your friends’ house both the husband and the wife will like her. (Whew! I talked my way out of that one I hope!)
There is something else you must know about Oregon Pinot Noir and … grilled salmon. They are the Romeo and Juliet of the wine and food pairing world! Oregon Pinot Noir was the first to successfully cross the color barrier and disprove the accepted wine dogma of the time that only white wine could be served with fish.  With its high acidity yet subtle earthiness, it is the perfect mate for the lightly charred fatty salmon.  Its low tannins do not diminish the delicate flavors but instead enhance them. Sorry Shakespeare, but this epicurean romance has a happy ending. I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m having tonight for supper and just what I’m going to drink with it.
Here are a few of my Oregon Pinot Noir favorites:
• Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009: $22
• Ponzi Pinot Tavola 2009: $24
• Cloudline Pinot Noir 2009: $17
• And the last one you should only purchase on a special occasion like  say, my birthday: Beaux Freres Willamette Valley 2009: $50

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