ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I am finding more and more I prefer the Pinot Noirs of Oregon (especially the Willamette Valley) to California. I don’t have a sophisticated enough palate to say why. Can you help me out? In general, what are the differences?

—Rick J., Mesquite, Texas

Dear Rick,

I think your palate is just fine. It’s not about sophistication, it’s about finding the vocabulary to express what you’re tasting.

When it comes to the vocabulary of Oregon Pinot Noirs, I had to ask Wine Spectator senior editor Harvey Steiman to answer your question. He’s our lead taster of wines from Oregon, and he had this to say:

“Oregon vintners aim to produce Pinot Noir of delicacy and transparency. They don't always succeed; some vintages are too ripe, but that’s the general goal. Some California producers aim for the same delicacy as Oregon does, but you’re more likely to find Pinots that are richer and denser from the Golden State.

“In Oregon, virtually all of the better Pinot Noirs come from Willamette Valley, although the grape does well enough in other regions to flesh out less expensive Oregon-appellation blends (and make some distinctive wines with regional specificity). Same goal: light and fragrant.”

I completely agree with Harvey—Oregon Pinot Noirs have a delicacy that I really admire. But I also like the supple, ripe qualities of California Pinot Noirs, the freshness of Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, and the aromatics and longevity of red Burgundy. I don’t think you have to choose just one style or region. I like any good wine.

—Dr. Vinny


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