By Chuck Hill
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What is better, delectable Copper River salmon or delicious Pinot Noir wines? Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between the two because they pair well together and can be enjoyed at the same meal. This year we seem to be hearing more cheers for the Pinot Noirs – the currently available wines are fantastic!
For our evaluations, salmon is grilled until just cooked, not undercooked and not overcooked. The firm flesh of perfectly prepared salmon glistens seductively and beckons the taster to have a bite and a sip of Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noirs bring complex fruit flavors and refreshing acidity to complement the salmon flavors. Enough tannin is present to resolve the rich fattiness of the fish.
The rich and succulent flavors of Copper River salmon cannot be over emphasized. It is a remarkable natural treasure – especially when paired with high quality Pinot Noir wines.
Wow! Tasting this wine brought back a flood of memories going back over 25 years when I first gained an appreciation for Oregon Pinot Noir. When Chehalem’s Ridgecrest Vineyard was planted in 1982 on Ribbon Ridge in the Chehalem Mountains (now an AVA), it was one of the first in this important growing area. The wine shows all the reasons that great wine comes from great fruit – complexity, balance, structure, terroir and varietal truth. Aromas of dark fruits mingle with earthy mineral, tobacco, cocoa and vanilla, leading to bright berry and cherry flavors with notes of bacon, barrel spice and mineral with ample acidity to complement rich Copper River salmon.
Archery Summit winery is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013 having long been established as one of Oregon’s Dundee Hills' leading wineries. Wines are crafted from five individual vineyard sites at Archery Summit’s unique, gravity-flow winery. Both grapes and wine receive meticulous attention and the resulting wines are impressive. The Red Hills Estate bottling is powerful and rich wine, offering aromas and flavors of black fruits, earthy spice and toasty oak. The balance and structure of the wine is impeccable and serves the salmon well for those who prefer a bigger wine than most Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Willamette Valley Vineyards
What a darling of a wine! The winery website describes it “as refreshing as liquid fruit salad in a glass,” though I would suggest a fruit bowl or basket instead of a salad. The term “fruit bomb” is not too strong a descriptor as the wine is plush and forward with dazzling cherry and berry aromas and flavors that reach out and caress the salmon, bringing it to a more festive pairing with each bite. A unique experience and a good value.
As one of Oregon’s pioneering wine families, the Ponzis have moved steadily forward developing new vineyards and refining winemaking styles to reach a pinnacle where only the finest wines are found. Daughters Maria and Luisa Ponzi run the winery today while parents Dick and Nancy remain active owners. The Willamette Valley bottling is a superb example of quintessential Oregon Pinot Noir with complex aromas and flavors of cran-cherry and spice with nice accent notes of anise, earth and hints of creamy vanilla.
Dobbes Family Estate
As Joe Dobbes approaches his 30th year in the Oregon wine industry, he can look back at his significant accomplishments with pride. After making award-winning wines for many successful Oregon wineries, he founded Dobbes Family Estates in 2002 and now crafts almost two dozen different wines under three labels. His Pinot Noir from Quailhurst Vineyard is rich and spicy showing ripe cherry and spicy earth evolving to include a cozy ribbon of vanilla and caramel on the finish.
Lazy River Vineyard
The Lumpkin family’s Lazy River Vineyard lies three and a half miles from Yamhill, Oregon and includes blocks of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. The fruit from this vineyard appears in wines made by Ponzi Vineyards, Hamacher Wines and other Oregon wineries. This 2009 Pinot Noir was crafted by Eric Hamacher and offers ripe cherry flavors with notes of herbs, earthy spice and blackberry candy. It is a full bodied wine that pairs well with grilled salmon.
Nick and Sheila Nicholas came originally from marketing backgrounds but enjoyed an entrepreneurial adventure owning Pizza Parlors in California before relocating to Oregon in 2001. The purchase of a farm with a rundown orchard lead to the planting of Nicholas Vineyard. The winery name Anam Cara is Celtic for “friend of my soul.” Aromas of cherry and mulling spice mingle with sweet herbs and anise, and lead to flavors of red currant and berry with bright acidity and a lingering, refreshing finish.
Whistling Dog Cellars
Tom and Celeste Symonette grow grapes seven miles west of Salem, Oregon and as they report on their website “we don’t just own the winery and vineyard, we actually do the work.” Their passion for growing and making Pinot Noir shows in the wines they craft. This wine comes from their Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and features appealing aromas of baking spice, tart cherry and light notes of toasty oak. The palate offers flavors of cran-cherry, creamy vanilla, earthy dried herbs and hints of caramel – a very tasty accompaniment to salmon.
Just around the corner from Whistling Dog Cellars is Cherry Hill Winery and Vineyard. The property was originally purchased in the 1990s by the legendary William Hill who is famous for developing many sites in the Napa Valley. Hill and his partners eventually decided not to develop Oregon properties and the parcel was sold to Cherry Hill owner Mike Sweeney. The 2010 Estate Pinot Noir offers delicate aromas of strawberry and cherry candy with flavors of red cherry, vanilla and spice.
Anne Amie Vineyards began life as Chateau Benoit winery early in the modern wine history of Oregon. Philanthropist and businessman Dr. Robert Pamplin purchased the winery in 1999 and has pursued a quest to create high quality Pinot Noir and other varietal wines. The Winemaker’s Selection is an excellent wine for Copper River salmon, showing aromas of spicy floral perfume, red cherry and notes of earthy mushroom. The palate is broad with flavors of cherry and cranberry mingling with baking spice and finishing with refreshing acidity.
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Willamette Valley Vineyards manages the venerable Elton Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills for owners Dick and Betty O’Brien. The 54-acre site produces superb Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner. This vineyard-designated Pinot Noir offers complex aromas and flavors of black cherry, earthy mineral, plum and sweet tobacco.
You can join Johan Vineyards in the Scandinavian tradition of celebrating the summer solstice on June 22nd at the winery near Salem. St. Hans Day, the Norwegian summer solstice festival, will feature a solstice bonfire and barbecue. The Nils Reserve Pinot Noir pleased the tasters at our salmon barbecue with aromas and flavors of red cherry, cola, toasty oak, vanilla and earthy mineral.
This value-priced Pinot Noir is crafted from grapes grown in several vineyards throughout Oregon and is offered through Precept Wines. Look for aromas and flavors of cherry and spicy red currant with notes of cedar, vanilla and earthy mineral. It is a nice sipping Pinot and goes well with salmon.
Wine from other areas:
This wine comes from the heart of the Cote de Nuits in the Burgundy region of France. Selected vineyards south of the village were sourced, vineyards that border the Premier Cru area. The wine offers superb balance and structure showing aromas and flavors of black fruits, baking spices, cherry candy and vanilla. It placed at the top of our ranking and is a superb accompaniment to Copper River salmon.
Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy describes his Pinot Noir as having the finesse of Burgundy and the power of California. It is an accurate description of this wine, crafted from grapes grown in the Santa Marie Valley where marine air from the Pacific Ocean cools the growing area along the transverse mountain range (east-west orientation). The wine is rich and juicy showing intense cherry flavor with raspberry and floral notes and a firm finish that accompanies grilled salmon flavors.
Kenwood Vineyards was founded in 1970 when wine enthusiasts from the San Francisco Bay area refurbished and modernized the former Pagani Brothers Winery, originally established in 1906. Small-lot winemaking in the Sonoma County location provides the winemaker versatility in crafting wines to their fullest potential. Aromas of red cherry, baking spice, tobacco and coffee lead to a juicy palate of raspberry and cherry candy with a toasty, smoky finish.
Wairau River Wines
New Zealand’s Wairau River winery produces wines exclusively sourced from the family estate vineyards first established in 1978 by Phil and Chris Rose. Low crop yields and ultra ripe grapes are utilized to produce wines of intense fruit balanced with French oak aging. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, baking spice and cranberry with nice structure and ample acidity to accompany a wide variety of foods – including salmon!