5 Best Pinot Noirs For Spring

I used to live in Portland, Oregon, where I got a first-hand education in the Willamette Valley region's burgeoning wine scene, especially its pinot noirs. One of my best sources back then, and today still thanks to their newsletters, is Liner & Elsen, this great, reliable wine shop.

Since I plan on grilling a lot of salmon this spring—and because I like lighter-bodied reds in general—I reached out to ask what 5 best pinot noir wines the experts at Liner & Elsen are currently recommending. The Liner guys surprised me by not just playing the hometown favorites, but penciling in some Old World Burgundy masters as well. They also added tantalizing descriptions to their 5 best list. Salut!

  1. 2007 Joseph Drouhin, Chorey Les Beaune, France. $17.99*

The great Domaine Joseph Drouhin produces a superb Chorey every year, and they've absolutely nailed it in the high-toned, red-fruited 2007 vintage. Expressing bright raspberry fruit infused by the inimitably earthy Burgundian terroir, Drouhin's '07 Chorey cries "real Burgundy" from the moment it hits your glass. Red raspberries, rose petals, and a dusty limestone soil signature fill your senses and yield to a silky texture and a refined, elegant expression that rewards those who listen to their wines rather than expect them to shout.

  • 2008 Francois Gay, Chorey Les Beaune, France. $25.99
  • Emerging with a bright garnet color, the Chorey-lès-Beaune expresses a juicy nose of fresh, pure red raspberry and wild strawberry fruit. On the palate, the cool, elegant texture of the 2008 red Burgundy vintage is revealed in the Chorey's graceful, restrained, old-vine sappy fruit expression. On the finish, that inimitable Côte-de-Beaune perfumed clay and limestone earthiness emerges and is amplified by the Chorey's sneaky, fine tannins and firm acid backbone. Drink this superbly balanced (and hard-to-find) red Burgundy value now or over the next decade with roast chicken, pork chops, grilled steaks, and potato casseroles.

  • 2008 Cameron, Arley's Leap, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon. $35.99
  • From one of the most talented and iconoclastic winemakers in Oregon, Cameron's John Paul fashions some of the finest pinots and chardonnay in the United States. The Arley's Leap is younger vine Abbey Ridge fruit and stands on its own as one of the top 10 wines of the great 2008 vintage. Earthy fruit mingles with a mouthful of herb-infused cherry fruits, balanced by firm tannins and great acidity. In the end though, it's the aromatics that sell this wine.

  • 2007 Matello Pinot Noir Hommage à A&D, Willamette Valley, Oregon. $19.99
  • Matello's Marcus Goodfellow has emerged as one of the superstars of Oregon's independent, minimal-intervention microwinery movement. We went crazy for his basic 2007 Willamette Valley cuvée, and have sold countless cases of it over the past year. Now we're blessed with Marcus's Hommage à A&D bottling, a tribute to two of his mentors, Amy Wesselman and David Autrey of the great Westrey winery. Sporting a beautiful pale garnet robe, Matello's Hommage à A&D casts wild aromas of freshly crushed red raspberries, earthy cranberries, husky vanilla bean pods, and spicy cinnamon bark. Fresh and invigorating in the mouth, the Hommage's high-toned red fruit expression is accented by fine tannins, brisk acidity, and a haunting, earthy cranberry note. Shimmering with acidity and utterly transparent, this is the red wine that will pair with just about everything but shellfish, crustaceans, and white-fleshed fish dishes. Enjoy this terrific expression of Oregon's much-misunderstood 2007 Pinot Noir vintage now and over the coming three years. At its sub-$20 price tag, you are advised to take home a case.

  • 2008 Belle Pente, Belle Pente Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon. $31.99
  • From the very talented Brian O'Donnell comes this gem of an Oregon Pinot from the great 2008 vintage. Elegant and refined, and yet powerful, this wine is a beautiful high-wire act of power and grace in the same package.

    *All prices listed are from Liner & Elsen as of April 2011.

    If you're traveling to Portland, Oregon and want to buy wines to bring home with you, here are some suggestions. And before you try shipping wines to your home, you should also know this.