In the hills southwest of Eugene, Oregon, on a former cattle ranch, lies King Estate Winery. Founded in 1991 by Ed King Jr. and his son, Ed King III, King Estate released its first vintage in 1992 and has been certified organic since 2002. In fact, its 470 acre vineyard, which forms part of a larger integrated ecosystem, with wetlands, and organic gardens and orchards, is the largest contiguous organic vineyard in the United States. Like most Oregon producers, King built its name on Pinot Noir. Today, the Pinot remains rock-solid in quality, but recently, we've been impressed by their stainless-steel fermented Pinot Gris. The basic bottling is made in a bright, crisp, minerally style, while the more expensive Domaine bottling, from the estate's organic grapes, has set a new Oregon standard for its intensity, fullness and sheer scale.
Although wine-growing in Oregon stretches from the California border to Washington, for most wine lovers Oregon means the Willamette Valley, a temperate, ocean-influenced growing area extending from Portland south to Eugene, or roughly a hundred miles. The majority of the state's best producers are grouped around the towns of McMinnville, Carlton, Dundee, and Newberg, as well as near the state capital, Salem.
Oregon's past and future reputation as a world-class growing region rests squarely on Pinot Noir. Hyped in the early 1980s as the New World's answer to red Burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noir has steadily improved since then as local growers have discovered the best sites and done a better job matching clones to microclimates.
Oregon's Pinots typically feature exuberant cherry-berry aromas and flavors; varying degrees of spicy oak; medium body; and reasonable tannin levels. They generally carry moderate alcohol in the 12.5% to 14% range, lower than those of today's typical Pinots from California, although very warm years can bring wines with higher alcohol and more roasted flavors. Rarely austere or tough on release, the best Oregon Pinots gain in complexity with three to five years of bottle aging, and top wines from the most successful vintages can improve in bottle for a decade or more. ""Tender"" might be an apt description of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Oregon Pinot Gris is usually fermented to complete dryness, and few examples see much oak. The top producers make brisk, highly aromatic, light- to medium-bodied wines that emphasize orchard fruits, often with citrus elements as well. These wines are excellent choices with a range of warm-weather fare and go especially well with light, fresh seafood preparations.
Pinot Grigio Facts
At best, dry or off-dry wines with notable acidity, interesting mineral character, and notes of apricot, apple and pear
Seafood, washed-rind cheeses
Pinot Gris, called Pinot Grigio in Italy, is a noble variety that, unfortunately, doesn't always produce highly refined wine. At its best, in Alsace, where it's usually called Tokay Pinot Gris, the wines are extremely rich and honeyed, in either a dry, or just off-dry style. Characteristic flavors include peach, apricots, tropical fruits, and spices. In Oregon, Pinot Gris is usually dry, with few examples seeing much in the way of oak.
Alsace Pinot Gris
The third grape in Alsace's holy trinity, Pinot Gris is far more likely to produce a fat, oily, even viscous wine than a racy, high-pitched drink. Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio), is characterized by rather exotic aromas and flavors of peach and apricot, tropical fruits, orange peel, butter, nut oil, smoked meat, spices, earth, and honey. As with Geurztraminer, traditional versions of Pinot Grigio are reminiscent of ripe Chardonnay. In the hands of some producers, they are among the richest white wines of France. Pinot Gris is a versatile food wine well matches to the rich cuisine of the region -- it's frequently paired not only with pates and foie gras, rich fish preparations and white meats, but even with red meat dishes.
Oregon Pinot Gris
Outside of the cool, hilly Alto Adige region of northeast Italy, no other region produces as many fresh, elegant examples of Pinot Gris (called Pinot Grigio in Italy) as Oregon. Unlike the weightier, spicier, and more flamboyantly ripe examples from Alsace, Oregon Pinot Gris is usually fermented to complete dryness, and few examples see much in the way of oak. Instead, the top producers make brisk, highly aromatic, light-to medium-bodied wines that emphasize clean orchard fruits such as apple, pear, and peach, often with citrus elements as well. These wines are normally best consumed within a couple years of the vintage for their fresh fruit; they are excellent choices with a range of warm-weather fare and go especially well with light, fresh seafood preparations. Pinot Gris rather than Chardonnay is the flagship white wine for many Oregon producers -- a smart move in light of the popularity of these wines.