These days, when we think about wine from Oregon, we immediately blurt out Pinot Noir. It makes sense, of course, as this is one of the U.S.’s meccas for wines made from the grape, and of our more unique expressions of it to boot. But what I think we have learned here at VinePair, with an entire month focusing solely on American wine, is that even though one grape may define a region to the general public, a wine region is much more than a single grape.
Pinot Noir was brought to northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1960s to prove it could thrive there. Winemakers planted vines in the hills west of the Willamette River, sure to take advantage of the cool Pacific climate and newly discovered soil compositions, such as Jory soil, which is unique to this part of the state. Pinot Noir did so well here that an entire industry was built around its wines.
But Pinot Noir is not the only cool-climate grape out there. And American winemakers are pioneers. Throughout this wine region’s history, other varieties suitable for these hills, ridges, and valleys have been planted to great success. White wine grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Pinot Gris have been happily growing in these drainy soils. Even Pinot Noir’s Burgundian progeny enjoys the temperate nights and warm days.
Whether these wines are influenced by the cooling winds of the Van Duzer Corridor, or soaking up the sun on high ridges in the Chehalem Mountains, they retain acidity the same way Pinot Noir does. This results in beautiful, bright, and expressive wines that are just as fun to explore as the many terroir-driven Pinots.
American wine regions are only tied to the land, the vines that want to live on it, and the skillful hands making decisions that benefit wine and the culture surrounding it. Here are some Oregon wines beyond Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley that will excite your palate.
This is a great American Riesling. It’s razor-sharp, balanced by a calm creaminess. It smells like river rocks and fresh sliced pears, with a whiff of lemon. This wine has such a grip and release as it coats the palate. At the same time, its bright acidity is cleansing.
This is a fun burger night wine. It has bright, juicy vibes, yet it still retains a slight tannic grip. The fruit is earthy and tart to the core, but broken up by little wisps of fizz. Throw this in the fridge for about 30 minutes to enjoy it chilled.
An American Sparkler from Oregon? I must admit, this was a first for me. And now I want more. This wine shows just how alive acidity can make a wine in this region. It’s grippy and dry with persistent bubbles, and begs for a dozen oysters or ceviche.
Juicy and round with a little weight on the palate, this wine has a unique richness for a Pinot Gris. It smells like almonds, edging on full-on granola, and the sweet concentration of Meyer lemons. This is the kind of wine to pair with artisan cheeses and local cured meats. It’s got that oomf.
This wine has more of that Oregon mineral-driven vibe. The acidity is vibrant, amplifying the aromas. It smells like honey and river rocks, with a slight waft of lean white pepper. It’s a great wine to pair with spicy dishes like pad Thai or Taco Tuesday fare.
This has to be one of my favorite wines I’ve tasted from Oregon that’s not Pinot Noir. I could drink it all day. It has such wonderful balance, with a juicy depth (which is so Grüner Veltliner) and playful acidity winding through. The palate is refreshing and creamy at the same time, with just the right amount of grip. I feel this Austrian grape has found a new home, and I want it with a schnitzel, stat!