You’ve almost definitely tried a wine from Oregon, whether you found it at your local grocery store, wine boutique, or a top sommelier has recommended one to you. Oregon wine commands respect because, despite the relative youth of vines there—David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards planted the first vines in the Willamette Valley in the late ’60s—producers are delivering some of the most elegant and delicious bottles out there, often featuring Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as a whole host of other grape varieties.
Get to know Oregon wine varieties and producers, and you just might have a new favorite domestic wine region. Here are five good reasons to delve into Oregon wines and some labels to keep an eye out for.
It’s Freaking Gorgeous
Oregon is brimming with gorgeous vineyards, most of which have open tasting rooms where you can gaze out onto the leafy vines and watch the sunset. Summer, especially, is amazing in Oregon. The weather is dry and sunny, and there are ferns and evergreen trees for days. You can stay at The Vintages, a super cute trailer park—that’s right, a trailer park—consisting of actual vintage trailers retrofitted with insanely comfortable beds, little patios, and vintage furniture. It’s right by Dundee, a central point for tasting rooms and many nearby wineries. And don’t forget to drive a bit north of Portland, into the Columbia River Gorge, where there are many craft beer producers, artisanal wineries (such as the fantastic biodynamic Analemma), beautiful day hikes, and other adventures to be had.
Pinot Noir Is King
Perhaps you’ve already been seduced by the lure of Pinot Noir, one of the world’s most beloved grapes. Pinot Noir is often considered the red grape most capable of expressing terroir, and for that reason winemakers work very hard to cultivate the best possible Pinot Noir vines they can on the best possible sites. Oregon has been in conversation with Burgundy ever since the ’80s about how to create beautifully perfumed, elegant Pinot Noir. Typically, Pinot from Oregon is a bit more red-fruited. There are plenty of single-vineyard Pinots from Oregon that will whip all you Burghounds out there into New World submission. For some very beautiful expressions, try the single-vineyard or entry-level Pinot Noirs from: Walter Scott, Belle Pente, The Eyrie Vineyards, Day Wines, and Division Wine Co. Note that if you go to Oregon and want to visit these producers, you’ll need to contact them for an appointment as some are less tourism-focused and don’t have tasting rooms.
BUUUUUUT There’s More Than Pinot
“We’re not just Pinot!” This is the battle cry of winemakers all across Oregon, especially Southern Oregon, who are intent on growing Tempranillo, Grenache, Malbec or random and weird grapes like the Hungarian red variety Kadarka. And you know what? Those guys are right. A lot of diversity in Oregon’s microclimates allow for many different grape varieties to grow successfully. The Iberian-style wines of Abacela, a Southern Oregon winery, are fairly widely available and are generally on the oaky, fuller side, so if that’s your preference you’ll love them. And, they’re somewhat more affordable than stuff from Napa or Rioja. Also, look for the label TeSóAria, which makes the aforementioned Kadarka (it’s yummy), as well as the Italian white grape Vermentino.
And I can’t forget the delicious Grüner Veltliner from biodynamic estate Johan Vineyards. It’s smoky, with those classic green apple notes, laced with Asian pear, and that coveted balance of texture and acidity. Oh, and Riesling fans should check out the bottlings from biodynamic estate Brooks Winery as well as Chehalem, and Trisaetum, all in the Willamette Valley. Serious stuff!
The Urban Winery Scene Is Killer
You could urban winery hop practically all day in Portland. Don’t miss the new tasting room from Teutonic Wines, which features their entire lineup of Alsatian-style whites and Pinot Noir, a food truck offering Scandinavian food, and“Seafood Sundays” with guest chefs. Also not to miss: SE Division Wine Co, where free tastings are offered on Fridays and where you can relax with a bowl of cheesy popcorn and let the knowledgeable server surprise you with a fun Gamay. You also might want to check out the Hip Chicks Do Wine urban winery—it was the original!
Wine Festivals For Dayz!
In Oregon, including Portland, there’s always some food and wine festival going on where you can sample all the delicious wine described above with food from ambitious, ingredient-focused chefs. There’s the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration, a three-day, big-ticket event (start saving up now) featuring seminars, walk-around tastings, grand al-fresco dinners including the epic salmon bake, and lots of schmoozing with cool sommeliers and winemakers. Also, there’s the Pinot Noir Barrel Auction (fancy!) and FEAST Portland, a massive food and wine festival celebrating—what else?—the wonderful ingredients and wines of Oregon.
Travel to Oregon was provided by the Oregon Wine Board