So there I was at Paolo’s in Georgetown, chillin’ at the bar with a glass of Chianti Classico after a long day of doing my bureaucratic thing for the state. It was the early 1990s, Bill Clinton was about to be inaugurated and Washington was pretty electric.
As I sat at the bar, I overheard a conversation between the restaurant manager and a wine salesperson who happened to be sitting next to me. This attractive young woman was pitching the manager on a new Pinot Noir from Oregon. Back in those days, Oregon had not yet established its reputation as America’s premier Pinot Noir producing state so the salesperson was working the manager pretty hard. It was obvious to me that this discussion needed an impartial opinion (and I was anxious to get a freebie) so I immediately volunteered to provide one. After a quick recitation of my qualifications (“I’m from West Virginia and I drink wine and, oh, by the way, look at my new shoes...”), the two were duly impressed and agreed to allow me to evaluate the Pinot Noir.
Well, to put it succinctly, the wine was nectar! It was absolutely the best Pinot Noir I had ever tasted and I was effusive in my praise of the stuff. I was so taken with the wine that I persuaded the salesperson to sell me a case of it -- which she did right out of her Volkswagen Beetle parked outside the bar.
The wine was an obscure Pinot Noir from the northern Willamette Valley known as Domaine Serene. To my knowledge , that 1990 Domaine Serene was the first vintage for the winery, now considered to be year in and year out among the best Pinot Noirs produced in Oregon and, indeed, in the US. Since that fateful day, I have made it a point to seek out this wine and buy a few bottles (or more) of each vintage, even though the price of the stuff has quadrupled from the $15 a bottle I paid for it back in 1992.
The winery was established by Ken & Grace Evenstad (Evenstad, incidentally, is the name given to one of their premium Pinot Noirs, which I will tell you about a little futher on). The Evanstad’s were passionate Pinot Noir lovers and selected the now famous Willamette Valley of Oregon to work their magic. Now, while I love Pinot Noir from California, particulary those made in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, the Carneros District and the Santa Ynez Valley, Oregon Pinot Noir has a different taste profile. It is generally less fruit forward than the wine produced in California, featuring more earthy flavors, and it is a deeper, fuller style of Pinot Noir.