Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tasting the wines of Oregon

At the end of the summer, I had a call from our friend Jean-Frédéric. His brother and his wife — both wine lovers — were coming from France and he was wondering whether we could organize a wine tasting at his place sometime during their visit. We agreed that we should taste some wines from Oregon since I had visited a few Oregon wineries earlier in July. Moreover, his brother and his wife were not very familiar with Oregon wines.

While wine grapes have been grown in Oregon for nearly two centuries, it is only since the 1960s that wine production has become a significant industry in the state. Oregon is now the 4th largest wine producing state in the US, after California (89% of the wine production), New York, and Washington. In 2006, it had more than 370 wineries, up from 70 in 1990, and only 5 in 1970. In 2007, four grape varieties made up more than 80% of the state's wine production: Pinot Noir (55%), Pinot Gris (17%), Chardonnay (5.6%), and Riesling (4.2%). Additionaly, Oregon has recently become a leader in green viticulture and winemaking with more than 140 vineyards and 20 wineries certified by LIVE: Low Input Viticulture & Enology, Inc.

Oregon Wine Regions

Oregon's largest wine producing region is the Willamette Valley, which runs from the Columbia River in Portland to the Calapooya Mountains outside Eugene. The valley has a relatively mild climate with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. The long growing season enjoys warm days and cool nights, allowing the grapes to develop their flavors while still retaining their acidity. The Willamette Valley AVA includes six sub-appellations: Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton District, and Chehalem Mountains.

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2009 Evesham Wood Blanc du Puits Sec: founded in 1986, Evesham Wood Vineyard makes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer in the Willamette Valley near the town of Salem. The estate vineyard is located on a low terrace (300-420 ft. elevation) on the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge. It was named Le Puits Sec, which means the dry well in French, because there is one in the vineyard. The winery and Le Puits Sec vineyard are certified organic. The wine is a blend of 80% Pinot Gris and 20% Gewurztraminer with minute quantities of Rieslaner and Kerner, two German varieties. My notes: very pale color, a bit shy on the nose, more mineral than fruity. The guests didn't find it very exciting.

• 2008 Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling Willamette Valley: Chehalem is a small winery established since 1990 in Newberg in the Northern Willamette Valley. It produces wines from Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Gamay Noir. The Reserve Dry Riesling is produced in very limited quantities and is sourced from the Corral Creek vineyard that surrounds the winery and Stoller Vineyard, a 175-acre vineyard on the southern slopes of the Dundee Hills in Yamhill County. My notes: light color, mineral nose with aromas of honey and tart apple, medium-bodied, crisp on the palate with stone fruit flavors, lively finish, tasty.

• 2009 Evening Land Celebration Les Gamines: Evening Land Vineyards is based in both Oregon and California. It owns two vineyards in California, Occidental Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast and Odyssey Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. In Oregon, it leases Seven Springs Vineyard, a 65-acre Pinot Noir vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills appellation. The Oregon wines are made by winemaker Isabelle Meunier with the help of consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes-Lafon in Burgundy. Inspired by the Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains, Les Gamines is made from a small block of Seven Springs Vineyard old vine Gamay Noir (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%). My notes: medium purple-pink color, bright strawberry nose, fresh aromas of plums and berries on the palate, quite pleasant.

• 2007 Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: owned by Petaluma Winery of Australia, Argyle Winery was founded in 1987 by Australian vintner Brian Croser and winemaker Rolin Soles. Housed in a former hazelnut processing plant in Dundee, the winery is well known for its still and methode champenoise sparkling wines. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is sourced from the Knudsen Vineyard in the heart of the Red Hills of Dundee, Argyle's primary vineyard source since 1987. My notes: medium color, fresh fruity nose, soft texture, mid palate on the light side, easygoing and not really popular among the guests.

• 2007 Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: founded in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards is one of Oregon's oldest wineries. It is located just 30 minutes from downtown Portland in the city of Beaverton. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a blend of several 100% Certified Sustainable vineyards. The fruit is hand sorted and destemmed and then fermented in small lots with five days of cold soak to increase aroma and color. The wine is aged in French oak barrels (30% new) for 11 months. My notes: medium garnet color, attractive nose of red and black cherry, medium-bodied, well balanced acidity, quite tasty, more complex than the Argyle.

• 2008 Shea Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley: Shea Wine Cellars was founded by grape growers Dick and Deirdre Shea in 1996. The winery produces wines from the Shea Vineyard, a 200-acre vineyard property located in the Yamhill-Carlton District that also supplies fruit to several of Oregon's and California's premium wineries. Roughly 25% of the vineyard production is used by Shea Wine Cellars for its releases. My notes: dark color, sweet nose of blackberry and spicy cherry, full-bodied, more power than finesse, somewhat too bold for a Pinot Noir.

• 2006 Francis Tannahill Syrah Mason Dixon: Sam Tannahill was winemaker at Archery Summit before founding Francis Tannahill Wine Co in 2001 with his wife Cheryl Francis, who was co-winemaker at Chehalem. They are also co-owners of A to Z Wineworks. The Mason Dixon Syrah is a blend of several vineyards including Deux Vert, a small vineyard planted on a low elevation southern slope outside the town of Yamhill and the only producing Syrah vineyard in the northern Willamette Valley. My notes: dark color, pepper, plum and violet aromas on the nose, dry, complex, well-balanced palate with some good acidity, spicy finish without being very fruity, a northern Rhone style of Syrah and one of the best wines of the evening.

Related posts:
•  Touring the wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley
•  Our Oregon trip: wine tasting at the Ponzi Wine Bar
•  Our Oregon trip: The Beaux Frères Vineyard
•  Oregon Trip: Dinner at the Painted Lady Restaurant
•  Oregon Trip: J.K. Carriere Wines
•  Last but not least from our Oregon trip: Brick House Vineyards and The Eyrie Vineyards

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1 comment:

Elanie said...

These wines all seem so great. Cheers!