4 Wines to Stretch Your Oregon Pinot Noir Dollar

I’m looking for Oregon Pinot Noirs under $20 that taste great with the intensity of a Lagina brother digging up Oak Island. I have a writer’s wine budget and a kid in college, so this isn’t an academic exercise.

My last hunt took me to the Green Zebra grocery store on Southeast Division Street. This is where Wine Director Steve Byers and his team maintain an excellent selection of ‘everyday’ wines. Next it was Vino’s turn for owner Bruce Bauer’s fantastic private label pinot noir.

2020 Buckman Wine Co. Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Since my recommendations are all for the 2020 vintage, Bauer and I struck up a conversation about wildfires.

“I get asked about it all the time. People seem to think the smoke was all over the state in 2020, but the damage was really site specific. Many areas suffered little or no damage,” Bauer said.

Bauer uses the Buckman label for the wines he has made for his store. This particular collaboration with Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Portland-based Boedecker Cellars is made with fruit from Hirschy and Shea vineyards in America’s Yamhill-Carlton wine region.

Bright red cherry and lilac aromas drift lazily from the glass. The fruit changes to sweet black cherry and orange zest on the palate. One of my favorite things about this wine is its intense acidity. It’s like a laser beam that hits only the part of the brain that regulates pleasure. Buy some Buckman before it’s gone.

$18.95 at Vino, 137 SE 28th Ave.

13.4% alcohol by volume (ABV)

vinobuys.com or 503-235-8545

Retro Wines 2020 Oregon Pinot Noir

The Throwback is a Pinot Noir made by Del Rio Vineyards in southern Oregon for Portland-based wine distributor Handcrafted Wines.

Beverly McKenzie, account manager for Handcrafted, said the partnership allows them to bring great value wine to market while showcasing the skills of friends such as Del Rio winemaker Jean-Michel Jussiaume. “The Throwback Wines name evolved as a nod to a nostalgic time when wine was fresh, simple and affordable,” McKenzie said.

The first puff of this wine surprised me. It has a Jolly Rancher varietal that meets the flowering quality of jasmine in pairing with black pepper and saline. I thought I was going to drink a Gamay from the Loire Valley in France. Slightly tart flavors of dried cherries blend with bittersweet dark chocolate and a tiny bit of chamomile tea. The Throwback also throws down some serious tannic structure.

I clearly need to drink more Pinot made from fruit grown at Del Rio Vineyards.

$14.99 at Green Zebra, 4990 SE Division St.

13.8% ABV


2020 Etheric Wine Workshop Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

John Grochau of Grochau Cellars created the Etheric label when he wants to sit back and let the wine make itself. Other than a tiny amount of sulfur when the grapes are crushed, his etheric philosophy is “nothing added, nothing taken away”.

The problem with this approach is that you may want to step in when it comes to smoke-affected fruit. In this case, Grochau simply added a small percentage of chardonnay and a pinot noir rosé to help offset any impact of the smoke. “It really helped lift the fruit,” Grochau said.

Suppose Buckman and Throwback wines are finely tuned fiddles. In this case, the Etheric is the jangly guitar that Jack White builds from salvaged wood, scrap wire, and a Coke bottle at the start of the “It Might Get Loud” documentary.

This wine will amuse you better than around 1979 “The Sequence”. The nose is full of smells of damp earth, red raspberries and Horehound hard candy. Flavors of tart cranberries, cherries, rosemary, pipe tobacco and the juice-filled Halloween wax bottles we ate as kids will have you thinking about this wine for days.

$18.99 at Green Zebra

12.3% ABV

www.grochaucellars.com or 503-835-0208

2020 Christopher Michael Oregon Pinot Noir

This brainchild of Eric and Ryan Harms at Union Wine Co. is made with pinot noir grapes from vineyards located throughout Oregon. It is also easy to love.

The aromatic whole of the wine has some earth to go with the black-headed raspberries and butterscotch, but it is far from etheric territory. It sounds more like Bruno Mars than “The Sequence”.

Things get really interesting from the first sip. The aromatics of the wine led me to believe that I might have something rich and full bodied. Instead, the invigorating acidity of the wine woke me up with bright flavors of nectarines, not quite ripe strawberries, and a hint of green pepper.

$14.99 at Green Zebra

13% ABV

christophermichaelwines.com or 971-322-4791.

— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at [email protected]. To learn more about its coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.

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