I was in Portland, Oregon at the end of April for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference, and one of the highlights of the trip was a tour of wineries in the Willamette Valley. (And I did learn that the pronunciation of this valley rhymes with "dammit").

I fell in love with Oregon pinot noir when I first visited there years ago, and this tour only helped fuel my enthusiasm for this wine. The countryside is breathtaking - all that green! And there's nothing like sipping on wine that was made right where you are standing. Pinot noir is the leading red grape of Oregon and apparently put Oregon on the map as a winemaking area. While we were on our tour, we met Jason Lett of the Eyrie Vineyards, and it was his father, David Lett, who fist brought pinot noir grapes to the area years ago. We visited Brickhouse Vineyards, Oregon's first organic winery, and the tasting rooms at Penner-Ash winery. Tough job, huh?

Typically, pinot noir is a little lighter in body than merlot or cabernet sauvignon and a little lighter in color, too. It's kind of earthy and fruity at the same time, and very smooth. My wine descriptor words are not always that helpful, but I can suggest that if you want to try pinot noir, it's great with salmon. Both are plentiful in Oregon and they make a great match. Although on our tour, we tasted pinot noir with several pork dishes and those pairings were great, too. Ask about some Oregon pinot noirs the next time you are in a wine shop and prepare to be delighted. For more great wine and food pairing ideas, see "Wine: Great Wine and Great Recipes".