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2017 Shea Wine Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Blend: Pinot Noir
From: Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Taste:  Dark red fruit including raspberries, black tea, clove and rose aromatics define the nose. The palate has smooth tannins and bright acidity while still being rich and rounded. Aged in 48% new French oak, 4,950 cases made.

Pairing: Oregon pinot noir is straightforward, so the first key is to avoid overthinking your pairings. They all have a higher acidity. This means meat with a degree of fat goes very well with it. Think something like duck and other game birds, where the taste of the fat lingers to interact with the acidity of the wine. In fact, pinot noir pairs very well with most meat. For a truly memorable pairing, try it with elk. One of pinot noir's most exceptional qualities rests in how it brings out not just taste but also textural qualities of the food with which it is paired. With any meat, pairing it with a sauce that incorporates pinot noir helps bring the flavors closer together. Have your eye out for clever ways to bring pinot noir into your sauces.

Many fruits, vegetables, and nuts work incredibly well as pinot noir pairings. Think of hazelnuts and roasted root vegetables: beets, yams, artichoke. You can also try this in the form of soup. Most squash soups go exceedingly well with a pinot noir pairing, especially when they retain some of their natural sweetness. Once you get a feel for it, try it with a squash soup that has both sweetness and spice. The pinot noir can accentuate each flavor for a rare mouthfeel.

Willamette Valley, in western Oregon, is one of the United States' most important non-California AVAs. From the city of Portland, it stretches southwards for 120 miles (190km) down the eponymous river valley, covering some 3.3 million acres (1.2 million ha) of land. Pinot Noir is by far the most popular and top-performing variety here. The best Oregon Pinot Noirs are regularly compared to their significantly more expensive counterparts from Burgundy.

The fertile Willamette Valley has been the most densely populated area of Oregon since pioneers began to settle in the early 19th Century. Viticulture began in earnest here in the late 1960s, when students from the University of California's Davis campus looked north for inspiration, finding the climate in California unsuitable for Pinot Noir. In 1979, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir beat a host of wines from Burgundy to take a place in the top three at the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades. This made the world take notice of Oregon and the Willamette Valley; vineyard plantings and international interest have increased steadily ever since.

The valley follows the path of the Willamette River, a tributary of the larger Columbia River that marks Oregon's northern border with Washington. The Cascade mountain range forms the valley's eastern border and the Oregon Coast Range on the western edge runs between the Willamette and the Pacific Ocean. Wine is produced throughout the valley, but the greatest concentration of vineyards is in the hills just south-west of Portland.

Although much of the Pacific's influence is blocked by the Coast Range, the climate in the Willamette Valley can be considered as maritime, with ocean breezes seeping in through a series of gaps in the mountains. Rain falls mostly in the winter, and long, dry summers with ample sunshine and cooler evenings provide an excellent ripening situation for the vines. The threat of rain in autumn means that longer-ripening grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc have not thrived in the climate here, which is better suited to the earlier-ripening Pinot Noir. In fact, these rains and the general changeability of the climate can play havoc with the crop, and vintages in the Willamette Valley can be as variable in quality as those in Burgundy.

Most of the region's vineyards can be found on the many hills in the valley, where the soils are less fertile and there is less risk of frost. These hills are the result of tectonic shift and ancient lava flows and are characterized by their red, iron-rich soils known as Jory, a type so distinctive to the Willamette Valley that it has become Oregon's official state soil. Other viticultural parts of the valley benefit from ancient sedimentary soils, and the valley floor is covered in fertile silt, the result of massive Ice Age floods that swept through Washington's Columbia Valley before settling in the Willamette Valley. This fertile soil is not suitable for viticulture, but supports Oregon's other important crops: hazelnuts, Christmas trees and hops to produce beer.

Shea Wine Cellars is a wine producer located in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA in Oregon's Willamette Valley. It specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, as well as selling fruit from the Shea Vineyard to other wineries in the area.

The Shea vineyard was planted by Dick and Deirdre Shea in the late 1980s, on the hills southwest of Portland. Here, the sedimentary sandstone soils and the cool maritime climate provide excellent growing conditions for Pinot Noir, which makes up the bulk of plantings. Today, roughly a quarter of the Shea Vineyard yield is made under the Shea label, and the rest goes to supply producers like Bergstrom and Ancien Wines.

The winery is dedicated to limited production and makes around 5000 cases of Pinot Noir and only several hundred cases of Chardonnay. There are several premium wines from various blocks around the vineyard, including the Homer Pinot Noir and the Block 23 Pinot Noir. On top of this, Shea makes an estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from fruit sourced from throughout the vineyard.

Shea Wine Cellars has been well received in the press, garnering top scores and favorable reviews throughout its existence. Despite the high quality of its wines, Shea Wine Cellars' prices remain moderate.