Pinot Noir and Birds of Prey

The simple act of opening a bottle, savoring the first aroma, the first taste, is a pleasure I never tire of. When I see the word Oregon on a pinot noir bottle, even just the word Oregon, I feel warm inside.
01/22/2016 04:54 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2017

Wine is a journey of the taste buds no matter where you travel or what crosses your lips. In this case, pinot noir.

The simple act of opening a bottle, savoring the first aroma, the first taste, is a pleasure I never tire of. When I see the word Oregon on a pinot noir bottle, even just the word Oregon, I feel warm inside. I don't think I've ever had a bad bottle of Oregon wine. There might be something magic in the dirt. Whatever the condition of said dirt, I am happy to sip Oregon when the opportunity arises.

Today we're taking a little palate trip to the region known as Chehalem Mountain AVA, located in the northern Willamette. Known as an "uplifted" AVA (America Viticulture Area) specifically due to the movement of tectonic plates, it is conveniently less than an hour's drive from Portland. It's also a short distance from the Pacific Ocean. Mountainous coastal regions in the Pacific often breed great grapes resulting in sensational wine. This specific area is known for it's pinot noir.

Today's tasting takes place on the 2nd floor of my Napa River digs. I'm going to call this a remote tasting.

The wines are from Raptor Ridge Winery. Owned by a husband wife team, Scot & Annie Shull, the winery came from humble beginnings, starting in the founder's garage in 1995. The soil is part of the magic of the vineyards, specifically volcanic and loess. Honestly I had to look the last one up. Loess is wind blown silt, a sediment comprised of clay, sand & silt, loosely held together by calcium carbonate. The cool part about loess is that it is responsible for creating some of the most fertile ag land on earth. Look at me being all technical and stuff.

The bottles are standard, but the label unique. It tells a story of the land. I begin with the 2014 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley ($20). This label depicts the feather of the first bird of prey indigenous to the region, that of the Barn Owl . The bright citrus & pear notes invite me to explore further. I would describe this as fresh medium bodied wine. There is lime, melon and grapefruit, on the palate. It's refreshing & delicious making this the perfect pairing for curries; Himalayan, Thai and Malay as well grilled salmon and duck.

As I read the description of how Raptor makes their wines I am immediately taken. This to me is something I've not encountered as yet... the description of growers using a technique of 'deficit irrigation'. Basically this is a watering strategy employed to save water. The vines spend less time dehydrated, the water is used more efficiently and the fruit yield is optimized. The result is a smooth and pleasant balance of sugar and acid which your palate will appreciate.

Raptor is known for their pinot noir among others. I have a 2013 Barrel Select Cuvee Willamette Valley ($30) and a 2012 Estate (Tuscowallame) Vineyard ($45) . I'm more excited to taste the older vintages, so I deprive myself a little by taking in the 2013 first. After many years of drinking wine and few of sipping I've learned to never take the first note of wine as a complete story. The nuances of smoke and leather waft up, while black stone fruit teases. While still young, it entices you with blackberry, light cedar and cherry. The tannins are pleasantly balanced and to my delight, the wine continues to open with each pour.

For the grand finale I pray my patience is duly rewarded and it is. The Estate Tuscowallame, Chehalem Mountain with it's exquisite ruby red glow proves it is well worth the wait. Dark berries, chocolate and vanilla, a touch of oak, pepper. I could analyze it until the tomorrow, but the truth is this wine is to be enjoyed. Sipped and savored, devoid of food would be fine. It stands well on it's own or pair it with a lighter meal of grilled salmon or lean pork grilled

So, I could be a little superstitious but the parallels are difficult to miss. A single hawk circles above us after the tasting while I take my dogs out for a break. The Jack Russell howls like a banshee at the shadow of the bird as it passes over. She must be sensing his desire for dinner and the fact that she could be it. A few minutes passes and I am back inside. The same hawk glides by my window before sunset, razor-sharp eyes taking in every inch of the landscape he surveys. Precise, meticulous like a maker of memorable wine.

You can learn more about the wines here: Raptor Ridge Winery