By Chuck Hill
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When asked about their favorite red wine to enjoy with a meal, most experienced wine drinkers indicate Pinot Noir. It is versatile in pairing well with both light and heavy dishes, and it is rarely heavily oaked or subject to overly high alcohol content. When the first “Red Wine with Fish” promotions came out two decades ago, it was mostly Pinot Noir that was being suggested as the choice of red. Copper River salmon is a seasonal treat that comes from the delta of the named river near Cordova each spring when the salmon begin their journey upstream to spawn. The fish is deep red and rich in omega 3 oils, pairing with red wine just like a steak.
When evaluating Pinot Noir, one must get away from the concept that bigger (more ripe, more alcoholic, darker, etc.) is better. Even experienced tasters can be suckered in by Pinots masquerading as Cabernets, but when the final tally is marked on the score sheet, subtle complexity, balance and food compatibility win out. This wine offers excellent balance with ample acidity to pair with salmon. Delicate aromas of raspberry, strawberry, toast and cedar lead to a bright palate of berries, citrus, mineral and an earthy cherry finish.
This Willamette Valley bottling of Adelsheim Pinot offers much of the desired aromas and flavors of the Elizabeth’s Reserve selection described above. Rich cherry and mineral aromas with notes of spicy oak lead to the full palate of berry, cherry and citrus/mineral flavors that pair well with the salmon. The difference is the complexity and balance afforded the reserve through barrel selection.
Winemakers Jesse and Don Lange craft some of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noir from grapes grown throughout the northern Willamette Valley. A blend of wines from Lange Estate, Freedom Hill and Yamhill Vineyards, the wine offers aromas of candied berry, raspberry, spice and earthy herbs and mineral. The palate is rich with jammy berry and a toasty, spicy finish. We grill our Copper River salmon to add some smoky nuances to pair with just this type of wine.
Lazy River Vineyard
Tasters agreed that this wine shows a fair amount of French-oak character wrapping around the rich Pinot Noir aromas and flavors, but when the succulent fish and flavorful wine meet in the mouth, the bliss factor is high. Look for aromas and flavors of black cherry, strawberry candy, lavender, mineral, toasty caramel and notes of baking spices – a very successful match with grilled Copper River sockeye.
Ghost Hill Cellars
This wine is a blend of four clones of Pinot Noir; 40% Pommard, 22% Dijon Clone 777, 22% Dijon Clone 114 and 16% Wadenswil. Each component adds a note to the chord that evolves into a delightful symphony of flavor and richness on the palate. Cherries and cassis from the grapes mingle with spicy wood, floral notes, mint and toast from the oak, and the whole orchestra serenades the salmon – a very tasty pairing.
Rex Hill Winery
This is a lip-smacking Pinot Noir. It has a gentle alcohol content, restrained oak profile and a basketful of berries and cherries on both nose and palate. In addition, tasters appreciate ample acidity on the finish and hints of citrus, vanilla and spice for complexity. A wine lover could take this wine very seriously, but the pairing with Copper River salmon just brings a smile and a contented sigh.
Every wine offers itself to the wine taster in slightly different ways. Some wines start with forward fruit, some with toasty oak and some with herbs and mineral. This tasty Pinot at first offers “lead pencil.” This aroma of pencil shavings is familiar to devotees of Bordeaux wines, showing in Paulliac wines like Chateau Lafite. Honestly, I got an education from Chef Ted on this one. The wine opens up to envelope the lead pencil with earthy mineral, candy cherry, licorice and brown spices – goes great with the salmon. You learn something every day. (As a side note, I don’t think modern wine tasters will even be familiar with pencil shavings since they don’t come with an iPad.)
Misty Oaks Vineyard
Steve and Christy Simmons relocated to Oregon from Alaska to renew Steve’s pursuit of the outdoor life of farming. Their 15-acre Misty Oaks Vineyard is located just southwest of Oakland, Oregon in the Umpqua Valley AVA. Misty Oaks 2009 Pinot Noir offers delicate aromas of black cherry, mineral and vanilla leading to a palate of cherry candy, licorice and baking spice with notes of citrus and oak. This elegant wine lets the flavors of the salmon come to the fore.
Karl and Carole Dinger caught the wine bug in Italy while exploring Carole’s ancestral home. Their estate vineyard is in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains AVA and is named Dalla Vina. Each year, small quantities of wine are made from estate grapes and are offered as regular and reserve bottlings. Our tasters preferred the regular bottling from the 2010 vintage for its freshness and bright acidity in accompanying the Copper River salmon. Look for aromas and flavors of red cherry, citrus peel, complex notes of toast and vanilla and a zesty finish of cherry and mineral.
With two years more bottle age, this reserve wine is rich with cherry and berry flavors woven in a framework of toasty oak, creamy vanilla and baking spice. Try the wine with rich cheeses or mushroom risotto to contemplate the complex flavors and lingering finish.
Dobbes Family Estate
Winemaker Joe Dobbes has been making Pinot Noir in Oregon for more than 25 years and offers a broad range of Pinot wines with a complex hierarchy - see http://www.joedobbeswines.com/dobbes-family-estate-wines. These are complex wines from multiple vineyard sources with the cuvee series blended according to the winemaker’s intuition and sensitivity to vintage. In this wine, look for complex aromas and flavors of black cherry, brown spices, smoky mineral and vanilla. Good with salmon, but would better accompany lamb or veal.
Janus is Brooks Winery’s flagship Pinot Noir named after the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and endings. He is depicted as a two-faced god looking to the future and contemplating the past. The central theme of this wine is a racy acidity that pairs well with salmon. Opening with bright cherry, leather and herbs, breathing time releases more complex aromas and flavors of cherry candy, smoky mineral and tart red currant. Each of the wine’s components complement grilled Copper River salmon.
Wines from other areas:
The Kim Crawford wine brand was founded in 1996 by the husband-and-wife team of Kim and Erica Crawford, who purchased fruit from established vineyards and made wine at existing wineries. The success of the brand helped establish Marlborough, New Zealand as a hotspot for wines of the new millennium. This Pinot Noir is crafted in a zesty style that pairs well with salmon. Look for spicy cran-cherry, citrus, smoky pomegranate and notes of vanilla, citrus and mineral on the finish.
For those who remember Walt Disney’s production of Davy Crockett in the 1950s, tasting wine from Fess Parker Winery is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The winery was founded near Santa Barbara in 1987 and has been very successful. This reserve-style Pinot Noir is almost too rich to accompany salmon, but for those seeking the more intense side of Pinot Noir, they will enjoy aromas and flavors of ripe raspberry, dark fruits, tropical citrus toasty caramel and a rich and jammy finish.
Fess Parker Winery
Put on your coonskin cap and sing along while you have your Copper River salmon on the grill: “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free,…” continue this non-PC ballad here: http://www.boyscouttrail.com/content/song/song-631.asp. This Pinot is still in the rich and toasty style of California and offers cherry, red fruits, spice and cocoa for your tasting enjoyment.
Cambria Estate Winery
Winemaker Denise Shurtleff crafted this rich and toasty Pinot Noir from grapes grown at Bench Break Vineyard on the Cambria Estate in the Santa Maria Valley three hours north of Los Angeles. Aromas of dark fruits, spicy cedar, cola and brown spices lead to a rich palate of smoky black cherry, caramel, vanilla and earthy berry. Your grilled salmon will find a friend in the toasty nuances of this wine.
Like several of the wines listed in this column, Gundlach Bundschu’s Pinot Noir was aged in French oak, 40% new. That much new oak creates a style of Pinot that is familiar to many but favored by a select group of wine lovers who prefer intensity and barrel character in their wines. This wine accommodates this special group with ripe plum aromas mingling with toasty oak and dark cherry. The palate is rich and juicy with flavors of caramel, dark plum and vanilla.
© 2012 Chuck Hill
© 2012 Chuck Hill