The best place in the U.S. to produce pinot noir is debatable, but Oregon’s Willamette Valley has to be in the discussion. Its cool, sunny and dry climate (at least until the heavens open each autumn with relentless rain) generally enables the region’s artisanal producers to fashion pinots in a less flamboyantly fruity style, with understatement and delicate flavor nuance. This is one category where most of the examples are good. The following three are exceptional.
Benton-Lane Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2012
Produced by one of the many pinot-obsessed refugees who headed north from California in a quest for the perfect pinot noir terroir, Benton-Lane has been around for more than 25 years, which makes it a relative old-timer in Willamette Valley. With earthy and floral scents, and cherry, smoky, beet root-like flavors, this bottle is a savory mouthful of delicious pinot noir fruit that’s tart and minerally on the palate. This wine is built for food, so try it with grilled salmon or chicken breast.
$27, Whole Foods, Cambridge
ROCO Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2012
A relatively new venture by Rollin Soles, a highly regarded winemaker for years at Argyle, Roco is a small player that does everything from harvesting to production by hand. This pinot is right on the mark: highly aromatic with mint, baking spice and clove aromas, lush on the palate with red berries, some mineral earthiness and a smooth texture. It’s a balanced drink with enough flavor to enjoy on its own or with a range of food from cheeses to medium-textured fish.
$30, Lower Falls Wine Co., Newton
Lange Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2012
Lange is one of many small family wineries in Oregon that consistently makes excellent wine, but this vintage really stands out. A juicy pinot noir, the best of a recent blind tasting, this bottle features toasty, dark cherry and plum flavors accented by spice, mint, tar and leather. This wine is well structured, round and minerally, with a silky sensual texture. It will pair especially well with slightly spicy duck or lamb preparations.
$32, Lower Falls Wine Co., Newton
Sandy Block is a master of wine and the vice president of beverage operations for Legal Sea Foods.