Oregon: The New Burgundy

This tasting was the perfect opportunity to get a taste of what Oregon has to offer without having to pay for the flight. Oregon is a very new and wonderful place for some fantastic wine. Grapes were first planted in Oregon in 1847 but never really were of significance until the 1970′s. In 1970 there were only 5 documented wineries. Less than 50 years later and now there are over 700. Oregon has definitely had a boom in production and they are now hailed for making some outstanding wine. The state is most well known for their Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley (Willamette is pronounced the same as ‘dammit’ ;) , which is one of the now 18 AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas) within Oregon.

The reason that they are able to make such wonderful Pinot Noirs in this state has to do with where they are located and like all things Pinot Noir: terrior. Oregon is actually on the same latitude as Burgundy, just with that alone they have fantastic potential. They also have a cooler, dry climate. At a lot of the areas, there is also a major influence of diurnal temperature: nice warm, hot temperatures during the day and quite cool at night, during the summers. This really helps to grow some fantastic grapes. One of the other good influences is the poor soil. There is lots of great soil in Oregon but where you get some awesome grapes they actually have very small amount of topsoil with very difficult subsoil, which is perfect for stressing vines and growing grapes that will lend more complexity and character to the wine.

Along with having these fantastic building blocks for making great grapes, Oregon is also doing an amazing job on the production of wine as well through both modern and traditional methods. Oregon is one of the leaders in the world for sustainable wine methods. Over half of all wineries in the state are certified sustainable with a lot of them working organically, bio-dynamically and now even working towards becoming B-Corps.

If you have ever thought about trying some different wines that are comparable to some of the best in the world, Oregon should definitely be your next stop!

In this tasting we went through 8 different wines, the majority of them were Pinot Noir and the majority were also from the some of the sub-regions within the Willamette Valley area. Just because we mainly tried Pinot Noir doesn’t mean that Oregon doesn’t make fantastic wines from other varieties, they do. I just really love Pinot Noir and wanted to get a taste for the difference between the varying regions and thought that everyone else would appreciate it as well. I will go through the wines in the same order that we tried them at the tasting:

Argyle Brut, 2011, $44.99 (sold out)
This was our first wine of the night, mostly because I love bubbles and think any reunion should start with bubbles. This sparkling wine is made with a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier from their original vineyard, Knudsen Vineyard, located in the heart of the Dundee Hills AVA within Willamette Valley. This 120-acre vineyard was actually planted in early 1970′s by Cal Knudsen but has been the main source for Argyle since they started production in 1987. One of the interesting things about this wine is that it is a vintage wine so every year you will have certain differences. With 2011 being a cool year it definitely had an interesting effect on this wine.

The colour is a lovely lighter gold and on the nose, it smells of citrus, a touch of toast, and slightly yeasty. The palate is crisp and refreshing with loads of citrus, grapefruit, lemon and just full of deliciousness! A wonderful treat to try some bubbles from somewhere different.

Bethel Heights Estate Chardonnay, 2013, $50.99
Bethel Heights is located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, which is a sub-region within the Willamette Valley. It is the closest winery to the Van Duzer Corridor, which is the main corridor that brings weather from the coast into the Willamette Valley and a major factor for the large diurnal temperature changes in the area. Being that close, Bethel Heights can be one of the most affected by these fluctuations, making for some fantastic wines. The winery started in 1977 with just over 14 acres and has over 100 acres in 2014. They also do everything organically. Quite a bit of their vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir but Chardonnay is their most planted white grape with 16 acres being planted to it.

This Chardonnay was fantastic being aged in French oak with 20% new wood. Wine Spectator also really liked it and gave it 90 points. The review: “Fresh and lively, this lighter style offers tension to the pear, citrus and mineral flavours that persist into a focused and expressive finish”.

Foris Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2013, $35.99
Foris Vineyards is the southernmost vineyard in Oregon. Being situated in the Rogue Valley, it gave us an opportunity to try a Pinot Noir from a different region. Foris is one of the pioneering wineries in Oregon, focusing on Alsatian and Pinot Noir varietals. They started in 1974 and were one of the first vineyards to plant “Dijon Clone” Pinot Noir grapes. Ted Gerber started with just 25 buds of 3 different clones and started propagating the vines and eventually started to sell them to wineries all over Oregon and California. A lot of the most famous vineyards in these areas can trace the parentage of their grapes to the original clone field at Foris.

This Pinot noir was our entry level Pinot and quite delightful. The colour was light cherry red. On the nose, there was lots of strawberry, rhubarb, and cherry notes. The palate was light, refreshing with a balanced acidity and some lovely fresh red fruit flavours! If you want to experiment with a great inexpensive Oregon Pinot Noir this is one to get your hands on.

Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir, 2013, $55.99
This is a lovely Pinot Noir from Bethel Heights, located in the Eola-Amity Hills and of course the same producer as the Chardonnay that we also tasted. This region originally received its name from early pioneers that settled here in the early 19th century. They noticed that there was a very strong predictable wind so they named the area after the Aeolus, who was the ruler of the wind in Greek Mythology.

Here’s what the winemaker has to say about the 2013 vintage: “Floral black pepper and warm Christmas spice frame red fruit aromas of currant and pomegranate. The palate enjoys volume without heavy weight, and the punchy red fruits carry a savoury depth that fill the front, mid, and back palate. The finish is lengthy and high-toned, the silky tannins focused by the laser of succulent acidity, suggesting a promising longevity in the cellar. Should evolve beautifully for a decade or more”. Best serving suggestions: seared duck breast, duck pate, roasted chicken, BBQ plank salmon, or cheese: Gruyère, Cantal and Blue.

Ken Wright Savoya Pinot Noir, 2014, $79.99
This Pinot Noir comes from the Savoya Vineyard located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, which was the first vineyard owned and developed by Ken Wright Cellars. Planting began in 1999. There was small production for this wine and the 2014 vintage was one of the warmest and driest in memory.

90 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for the 2014 vintage of this Pinot Noir from Oregon. The review: “It has fine delineation on the nose, very good terroir expression with a light oyster shell influence. The palate is medium-bodied with fine delineation, a little ferrous in style with edgy red and black fruit towards the finish. This is a well-crafted Pinot Noir with good structure and it should drink well over the next decade, possibly longer.”

Trisaetum Pinot Noir, 2014, $47.99
Founded in 2003 this family owned and operated vineyard in the heart of Ribbon Ridge AVA is focused on Pinot Noir and Riesling. This is a blended Pinot Noir from the 3 estate vineyards. In total they have 47 acres of vines split over the 3 vineyards: their main vineyard is 22 acres located on the southwestern boundary of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, 17 acres where their winery is located and in the heart of Ribbon Ridge AVA, and finally an 8-acre old vine vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA.

I found this wine to be one of the best values of all the wines that we tried. It was very well balanced with a good mixture of old world and new traits. It was lovely and fruity on the nose but also had lots of earthiness characteristics such as leather, wet rich black soil, and herbs. The palate was light and lovely with nice acidity but perfectly balanced. Lots of fruit characteristics, nice body, leather, dark chocolate and just totally enjoyable with every sip!

Antica Terra Botanica, Pinot Noir, 2014, $146.99
This is definitely a wine that I feel lucky that we were able to try. An amazing wine, from an outstanding winemaker. It comes from a small 11-acre vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, with very difficult soils and vines that struggle to produce grapes. Maggie Harrison is the winemaker. She never wanted to work at this place but only because she was making some wines at Sin Qua Non, a high-end vineyard from California. She thought that she had everything figured out because she was working there, had a great job at an amazing place. After being approached initially to produce wine at this Oregon winery she refused. The group that wanted her though asked if she would be at least willing to go and check out the vineyard and give them her opinion if it would be good for making wine. She agreed and almost immediately upon looking at the vineyard she was calling her husband and explaining that they were going to have to move to Oregon and make wine there.

This wine is full on Pinot Noir! It is fuller, richer, dense and multi-layered. The colour is a medium purple but still quite vibrant. The nose is loaded with spice, cherry, tobacco, chocolate, mushrooms, and a touch of cranberry. The palate is lovely and fuller with lots of spice, rich fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and it lingers on the palate for a very long time. Such a privilege to be able to taste this wine.

Foris Vineyard Old vines Moscato, 2015, $28.99
I figured we would end the tasting off on a sweet note. We finished the night with another wine from Foris Vineyards out of the Rogue Valley AVA in Southwestern Oregon. This is one of the Alsatian style wines that they make and it is absolutely outstanding! I love this wine for so many reasons but it is definitely a wine that I could drink a lot of. It is a beautiful sweet and slightly fizzy white wine. Fermentation was stopped about halfway to preserve the sweetness of the wine and capturing some of the carbonation from fermentation.

The colour is a light yellow golden and a light carbonation. On the nose, it is loaded with citrus, lemon, cream, and honeysuckle. The palate is light, refreshing, and tangy acidity with an incredible creaminess. It is almost like having liquid lemon meringue pie! So amazing! We paired it with some lemon herb cookies that were provided for us from our neighbour Peasant Cheese. This wine can work great for dessert, pair it with a lemon cake or plain white cake. It is great for an aperitif with some fresh fruit salad or it would go amazing with some Netflix and chill.

There is no need for a special occasion or the perfect pairing for this wine, the best pairing would just be this wine and getting into my mouth as quick as possible! Did I mention that I really enjoyed this wine?

This was such a fun tasting and amazing to be able to try so many different Pinot Noirs that were so distinct from each other. I love Pinot Noir and have grown a huge appreciation for Oregon Pinot Noir. I can’t wait to go through another tasting of such amazing wines!

Until the next time,

Salud!
Dave

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