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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Oregon

Cost: $31-33

What: Oregon Pinot Noirs have become legendary for their bright fruit flavors and elegant balance.

They are hard to come by in our part of the country, and when Pinot lovers find one they savor it. Elizabeth Chambers Cellar hopes to ease the Pinot drought by starting national distribution of their gorgeous wines.

The Winemaker’s Cuvée is a great example of the delicate flavors and restrained style that typifies Oregon Pinot. To me it is an Old World style with New World fruit. It is reminiscent of the great French Burgundies that started the Pinot craze in America 40 years ago.

Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir
Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir

It is a ruby color in the glass, with aromas of raspberry and strawberry. A medium-bodied wine, it features subtle red fruit flavors, such as raspberry and cherry, as well as some plum. Soft and supple tannins lead to a long finish.

In a phone interview Liz Chambers said the restrained style was deliberate.

“It’s what I like to drink,” she said. “My winemaker is a minimalist, as am I.

“It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles. I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that can dance. I want elegance and style in my wines.”

She certainly achieved that in the Winemaker’s Cuvée. This will be a perfect summer wine, pairing well with lighter meals. But it is not a wimpy wine. There is plenty of structure to give the wine backbone.

Pinot Noir is a finicky grape, so it must be handled with care. After careful picking and gentle crushing this wine spends 10 months in mostly used oak, providing some silky tannins. It should continue to improve in the bottle for several years.

The grapes come from the most famous region in Oregon, the Willamette (Pronunciation help: It’s Willamette, dammit.) Valley. It also is the coolest region in the state, allowing for a long growing season that Pinot Noir needs to thrive. It extends along the Willamette River south from Portland.

Chambers said Oregon wine making continues to improve. “Everyone’s really learning,” she said. “We’re figuring out what grows well where. We’re still growing.

“It’s one of the few places in the United States where you can grow Pinot Noir. You get balance and not just ripeness.”

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Winery: The roots of Elizabeth Chambers Cellar go back to 1991 when Liz’s mother bought a winery. She worked in communications and hired a consultant to run the winery. He said someone in the family should run it.

Her mother came to Liz and asked her to leave her job in finance to run the winery.

“I took a year studying, traveling, and learned we were doing it all wrong,” said Chambers. “For the next four years I hated it. I learned how to make it work. After five years I loved it.”

In 2005 the family bought the Panther Creek winery. After Liz’s mother died in 2011 the family decided to sell in 2013. They sold the name but kept the winery in McMinnville.

Liz opened Elizabeth Chambers Cellar the same year and kept on winemaker Michael Stevenson. Each label features a blue butterfly as a tribute to Liz’s mother, who collected butterflies.

Current production is 3,500 cases, mostly in Pinot Noir, but also some Pinot Gris.

Liz Chambers also owns Silvan Ridge Winery near Eugene, Ore., which produces wine from many other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Viognier, Semillon and Muscat.

“Pinot is definitely my favorite,” said Chambers. “Once you get to Pinot, there’s no going back.”

Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir with mashed potatoes, creamed corn, peas.
Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir with mashed potatoes, creamed corn, peas.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this with a grilled pork tenderloin on which I used a nice rub of herbs and spices. The rub had some heat, so the soft fruit of the Pinot Noir was a perfect complement.

We also had mashed potatoes, creamed corn and peas.

The wine also would pair well with roast duck, salmon, grilled chicken, veal parmesan and summer salads.

Here's a rainbow I saw while grilling the pork tenderloin.
Here’s a rainbow I saw while grilling the pork tenderloin.

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