There seems to be an accepted treasure map for pinot noir. You follow the clues and the dotted line and, arrive at the "X" and the treasure will be yours, with a little digging. The components of the map are simple and the endpoint is always a small, artisanal producer. However, it seems this map can sometimes blind us to treasures somewhat easier to attain.
So it was with only moderate expectations that I opened a bottle of pinot noir from one of Oregon's largest producers. After all, big guys don't make great pinot noir: right? Apparently that's just plain wrong as the 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Tualatin Estate Vineyard, is easily one of the very best Oregon pinot noirs I have tasted from the difficult 2006 vintage, or any other recent vintage for that matter. This is an exceptional American pinot noir that, unlike most, doesn't just offer simple rich dark cherry fruit, but exhibits real complexity. Starting with a perfect pinot hue of translucent ruby and the slightest touch of garnet, it then offers that most seductive of pinot noir noses: smooth wild strawberry fruit is laced with those funky, earthy aromas like mushrooms, truffles, dried leaves and, yes, a bit of the merde the French so lovingly refer to when discussing the nuances of Burgundy. What this wine is, most of all, is interesting as it's not dominated by simple ripe fruit, alcohol or wood, but the terroir of their Tualatin Estate Vineyard. The wine is unique because the vineyard is unique and, most of all, because winemaker Forrest Klaffke lets it retain its distinctive personality. This is an outstanding Oregon pinot noir that will please those that cut their teeth on Burgundy instead of California.
The 2006 vintage was difficult for Oregon's winemakers with all-to-many making wines exhibiting candied fruit characteristics and unbalanced alcohol levels. This wine is an exciting exception to that rule.