A walk through Oregon’s Willamette Valley delighted the capacity crowd at Wine World Friday night, as they tasted four pinot noirs, a syrah and five white wines.
Kaitlin Olinger of Advintage Distributing led the tour of Willamette wines. She worked in the valley for two years and even though she now sells wines from around the world she says “Oregon wines hold a special place in my heart.”
Oregon wines have been coming on strong since 2012, when Kaitlin said Oregon first got in the spotlight.
“As this has gone one, people are starting to notice,” she said. “They’re starting to say maybe we should visit there instead of California.”
While the California wine scene gets ever more corporate, family-owned wineries are still the norm in Oregon, many in their second or third generation of ownership. Most of the wines Kaitlin presented came from small, family wineries, where they pay attention to detail.
Oregon is known for blockbuster pinot noir, and the ones tasted were every bit as good as expected, but the five whites might have been the starts of the show. Every one of them was priced below $25, and each was outstanding.
Here are the wines presented
Anne Amie Cuvée A Amrita Sparkling 2016
This refreshing sparkler had everyone oohing and ahhing. It’s a blend of six grapes with low alcohol (12.7%) and a light fizz. Riesling comes in at 35% and pinot blanc at 28%, with Muller-Thurgau, Viognier, Gewurtztraminer and Chardonnay rounding out the blend. The mix changes each vintage, crafted to be an effervescent, fruit-forward wine.
It was delightful, slightly pink and with floral and cherry aromas. I picked up some raspberry and strawberry flavors with a slightly mineral finish.
“You think it might be sweet, but it turns out fizzy and dry,” said Kaitlin. “It’s a super fun wine.”
I think it would be a great wine to sip on the porch, but it also would pair well with Asian food, food from Latin America, pulled pork or chicken wings.
The wine was aged on its lees for four months before blending and bottling. A bit of CO2 was left in the wine for a flight fizz. The bottle is sealed with a crown cap, like a beer bottle, which is a tip-off that the wine is only slightly fizzy. The sale price as only $12.99, making this a steal.
The name Amrita comes from the Buddhist equivalent of ambrosia, or a wine of the gods.
This was a great way to start the evening, and it is a good wine to start any evening.
Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé Estate 2017
The winery is named for the Van Duzer Corridor, a gap in the coastal mountains which brings in crisp air from the Pacific Ocean. The winery sits on a knoll surrounded by vines on three sides.
This was a beautiful wine, a peachy pink with nice aromas of strawberries and raspberries. It is a dry, lean wine with pleasant acid that you feel in the back of your mouth. But the fruit predominates, leaving you with a smooth, clean mouthfeel.
“It’s difficult to get a pinot that makes good rosé like this,” said Kaitlin.
This wine was one of many on the night that had “Salmon safe” on their label. This is a certification in the Pacific Northwest that shows the winery is careful with the runoff from its vineyards. It is an environmental move meant to protect the streams and rivers in which salmon spawn.
The wine also has a distinctive art deco label designed by John Martinez. It depicts Van Duzer Vineyard’s goddess of the west wind, Zephyra. Sale price for this wine was $19.99.
Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2016
This was another beautiful wine, full of fruit, but with strong acidity. I picked up aromas of pear and lemon. It is smooth on the palate with some citrus and stone fruit. The finish is long with a hint of minerality.
Montinore is at the northern end of the Willamette Valley, founded by Italian immigrants and now run by the great granddaughter of the founder. All their wines are from estate fruit.
“Pinot gris is an underdog of a grape,” said Kaitlin. “It’s versatile and pleases almost everyone. The flavor is a little bit textured.”
Andrew Benjamin of Wine World said West Coast pinot gris offers a contrast to Italian pinot grigio, which is essentially the same grape.
“The West Coast wine is fleshier, rounder than the acidic style from Italy,” he said.”
I found several favorites at the tasting, but at $13.99, this was a phenomenal wine. It is a perfect food wine, and would pair well with many dishes, from seafood to grilled chicken to salads and mild cheeses.
Illahe Grüner Veltliner 2017
Grüner Veltliner is an Austrian grape you seldom see in the United States. It goes into some very nice Austrian wines, but I thought this version was even a little better. It is round, warm and balanced, with maybe a touch of Kiwi.
It had a darker yellow color than I expected, probably because there is some barrel fermentation with this wine which gives it some texture. There were gentle aromas of peach and apple with grapefruit and nectarine flavors with herbal hints.
Kaitlin said the tastes can remind you a little of riesling.
The folks at Illahe want to do everything as naturally as possible, from soil to bottle. Some wines are made entirely by hand with age-old techniques and materials. It is a horse-powered vineyard, where they use a team of Percheron draft horses to mow and to deliver grapes to the winery at harvest.
Kaitlin said Illahe is one of about only a dozen Oregon wineries to make grüner, and the only one she knows of that sells in South Carolina.
Illahe, pronounced Ill-Uh-Hee, is a local Chinook word meaning “earth” or “place” or “soil”
Alexana Chardonnay 2014
This wine had big aromas of citrus and vanilla. On the palate there is creaminess, much like a California chardonnay. I tasted some pineapple and citrus balanced with a crisp acidity.
The wine is fermented in 48% new oak, and spends 10 months in barrels, giving it that creaminess. It leans a little bit to the Burgundy side of chardonnay, with a little more restraint than most California chardonnays.
Kaitlin said this wine would go “with everything you like,” such as lobster, fish or chicken, with a cream sauce.
Even though California dominates in chardonnay production, “Chardonnay is having a moment in Oregon,” Kaitlin explained. As the climate gets warmer, chardonnay is finding Oregon more friendly than in the past.
She said the average price point for Oregon chardonnay is about $45, much the same as for top flight chardonnay in California. This beauty was on sale for $24.99.
The winery was created by a Texas cardiologist and is named after his daughter Alexandra. His goal is to produce wines that rival those in Burgundy.
Cristom Vineyards Estate Syrah 2015
This was an unexpected treat. While pinot noir is the wine everyone talks about with Oregon, there are many other great wines produced there. Syrah grows best in warm climates, and Oregon usually is thought of as cool climate. But it does get some warm weather, and in recent years the warm days have become the norm.
Kaitlin said in 2015, they had a 10-day heat spike when temperatures soared above 100 degrees. This really helped grapes like syrah.
This is a big, bold wine with concentrated flavors. It is dry and balanced and not overly extracted. There is plenty of fruit here, but it doesn’t seem over the top. The flavors I picked up were blackberry and cherry.
The wine was aged 19 months in French oak, 27% new and underwent malolactic fermentation, making it an even smoother wine.
The grapes come from a small section of vines left from a section where Christom grafted syrah vines onto chardonnay root stocks in 2002. After three cool growing seasons, half of the estate syrah was grafted over to viognier in 2011. All that is left of the syrah is 1.24 acres.
Paul and Eileen Gerrie founded the winery in 1992 after moving from Pittsburgh. The winery was named after their children Christine and Tom, who now own the winery. Steve Doerner has been with the winery since its beginning.
The sale price for this wine was $42.99.
Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2016
This is a fun wine to drink. It has plenty of red fruit up front with hints of spice. Raspberry and cola flavors pop up, and it’s all balanced with a crisp acidity. The finish is long and smooth.
The wine is aged for 10 months in all neutral oak, so you don’t get any heavy oak flavors.
Kaitlin called it a solid wine you could drink wherever and whenever.
“This is a drink now wine,” she said. “You don’t want to cellar it.”
Part of the reason you won’t want to cellar the wine is it tastes so good, you’ll drink it up right away. With a sale price of $21.99, it’s a wine you could drink every day, even though it drinks like a special occasion wine. This was another of my favorite wines of the night.
To show its support for environmental projects the winery donates $1 from every bottle sold to the Oregon Environmental Council. The grapes are sustainably grown.
Established as a second label for Soter Vineyards in 2009, Planet Oregon was founded with a goal to make delicious, environmentally responsible wine at an accessible price.
Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir 2015
This delicious wine opens with aromas of black cherries with pepper notes. The first sips tell you this is a powerful, supple wine, loaded with dense fruit. It has a velvety mouthfeel balanced with crisp acidity and a long finish.
I really like this wine, especially after Kaitlin called it “sexy and flashy, but still tasting like pinot noir.”
After cold soaking the grapes were punched down twice a day during fermentation. After settling for 8-10 days the wine spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 36% new. The sale price on this wine was $20.99.
Kaitlin got into a discussion of native yeasts, but said winemakers really can’t control the yeasts because they can fly through the air and float in, “and then another yeast can finish your wine.”
She laughed about “going down the yeast wormhole,” then added, “That’s a phrase we won’t repeat.”
Domaine Serene Vineyards Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2015
This is a premium Oregon pinot, made in a consistent style from year to year. Cuvée in the name means it is a blend from grapes throughout Yamhill County, including some from the Domaine Serene estate.
Dark ruby in color, this beautiful wine starts with inviting aromas of pomegranate and cocoa and some clove. On the palate you get a complex mix of flavors, especially blueberry, cherry and cranberry. Integrated tannins lead to a long, smooth finish.
The wine spent 15 months in French oak, 45% new. If you like oak, this wine shows more of it than some of the others we tasted. This is a showcase wine that is a great example of what Oregon pinot producers can do.
Domaine Serene was one of the early pinot producers in Oregon. Grace and Ken Evenstad arrived in Willamette Valley in 1989 after building a successful business in Minnesota. They loved Burgundy wines and wanted to create something similar in the Dundee Hills.
They produce a wide variety of pinot noirs and chardonnays, including some from their vineyards in Burgundy. The sale price for this wine was $49.99.
Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir 2015
For me this was the highlight of the night, and the sale price of $68 reflected that. This wine was worth the price.
It is rich, full, endlessly complex and tasty. This is a wine that drinks great now, but should improve in the cellar for years to come.
It opens with raspberry and blackberry aromas while on the palate I got lots of juicy cherries, with some plum and blackberry notes. This is a wine with great mouthfeel, loaded with character and nuance. Every sip brings new flavors, with a long finish.
After 30 days of maceration to extract maximum flavors, the wine spent 12 months in 50% new French oak barrels. The result is spectacular.
You could drink this wine with all kinds of fine meals, but also enjoy sipping it before or after dinner.
Mineral Springs Ranch is 240 acres, with pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards along the ridgeline. The vineyards (36 acres of pinot and four acres of chardonnay) are farmed Biodynamically, resulting in high quality, memorable wines.
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