Burgundy Vs. Oregon Pinot Noir: What's the Difference?

Posted June 01, 2015

Jeff Davis


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Pinot Noir. The heartbreak grape. Fickle, difficult to grow, and even more difficult to make into a memorable wine. Most often it reaches its heights in Burgundy where it's been cultivated for hundreds of years. Since winemaking in the New World is a much more recent phenomenon, occasionally there would be a memorable Pinot Noir made here. Legendary wines like the 1946 and 47 Beaulieu Vineyard Pinot Noirs made by Andre Tchelistcheff; the Reserve Pinot Noirs made by Chalone in the early 1980's- to name a few. More often than not in the 70's and 80's, winemakers in California made Pinot like they made Cabernet: big and extracted.

Meanwhile in Oregon...

It was during Napa's rennaisance in the 1960's that pioneers like David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards began planting pinot Noir and other varietals in Northern Oregon. Lett was one of the first people to make quality wine in Oregon. Many followed. With a cooler climate overall than California, Oregon Pinot Noirs don't quite taste like Burgundy, but don't quite taste like California either. It's taken years of trial and error with different clones, different winemaking techniques, and a lot of hard work, but thanks to Mother Nature, and this hard work, Oregon has seen a string of good to great vintages in the last ten years.

The Burgundians have taken notice. Robert Drouhin, the scion of the great winemaking family in Burgundy took part in the Paris tasting in 1979, and right away saw the potential in Oregon. He sent his daughter Veronique to the Willamette Valley in 1986 to work and she trained at Eyrie, Adelsheim, and Bethel Heights. The following year, Drouhin bought a parcel near McMinnville. Recently they celebrated their 25th anniversary of producing wine in Oregon.

More recently, in 2013, Louis Jadot purchased a vineyard in the Carlton-Yamhill AVA. Jacques Lardier, (the Jadot winemaker for 42 years) is heading up the Oregon project and moving there.

Size matters. When you consider that a winery like Ch. Latour makes more wine in a single vintage than all the Grand Crus of Burgundy put together, you're speaking about minuscule amounts of wine produced in Burgundy. Add in the pent up demand from hungry buyers and collectors all over the world, there's not a lot of Burgundy to go around. Though there are few huge producers in Oregon, there's more wine being made there than Burgundy.

A sense of place

Terroir. A unique french word that refers to soil, climate, exposure of a given vineyard. Burgundy has terroir in spades. Most often it's expressed in minerality,(and in the case of Pinot Noir, forest floor, earthy aromatics)

Pinot Noirs from both Oregon and California are generally more fruit forward than their counterparts in Burgundy. They're also easier on your pocket. Most Burgundy premier Crus start at 40 -50 dollars and the prices escalate quickly. 35-50 bucks generally buys you more with domestic pinot noir. You also have many more choices, as Burgundy has had a few consecutive vintages where the wine production was down 35%-40%  because of freak hailstorms and floods in certain appellations; particularly the Côtes de Beaune.

Where to get started

Although there is nothing in the world like good Red Burgundy (the ultimate expression of Pinot Noir) they can be a crap shoot. The nuances of varying classifications and Crus can make Burgundy a minefield for those less informed. The fruit-forward style and relative affordability of New World Pinots, on the other hand, make them far easier for many people to enjoy and appreciate. Oregon Pinots would be closer to Burgundy than its typical California counterpart, but still in a fruit forward style. The lower alcohol and softer tannins that Pinots have as well as good acidity, make them great food wines, especially in this weather. Don't be afraid to refrigerate them for 15-20 minutes before serving them, as they will show better than at room temperature. Pinot Noir is absolute magic with duck, salmon, and mushrooms as well as many other dishes. So whether it’s Burgundy, Oregon, California, or New Zealand, you really owe it to yourself to experience the magic of Pinot Noir!

Click here to see the Oregon Pinot Noir we have in stock.