Tag Archives: oregon

Chardonnay from Oregon is crazy good

Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me total access to the Willamette Valley wine country and after living here for over a year, I can say I've visited… twice. Yes, tis sad. I blame it on my travel, my husband's travel and a baby (who is now a toddler). It just has not happened near as often as I'd like. Luckily, a colleague's visit last week was the impetus to get us out the door and down to some wineries. Instead of dragging you through each visit and what we tasted, I'm going to do what I like to call the tasting takeaway – in other words, Oregon Chardonnay rocks.

We visited Adelsheim, where we tasted through the lineup in their lovely new tasting room (best bathrooms ever!). Though I have always been a fan of their Pinot Gris and Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir, I came away loving their Chardonnay, too. Though I know many dislike this comparison, it really was Burgundian in style – luscious and round, yet crisp and light on the palate. Made with 100% Dijon clone and no malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was mineral-driven yet textured. Duly impressed.

At this point I'm liking Chardonnay, but not swooning. Till I reach Shea Vineyard. Hands down, my favorite wine was their Chardonnay. And to be honest, we tasted some pretty amazing wines out of barrel that day. But I could not help going back to the Chardonnay – it was the best Oregon Chardonnay I'd ever tasted, and one of the best Chardonnays from anywhere I'd tasted (in a while at least). I've also loved the offerings from Argyle (Nuthouse Chardonnay is excellent) and Domaine Drouhin, but it's been a while since I've tasted those and I just see so much more Oregon Pinot Gris.

Why aren't more people talking about Oregon Chardonnay? Maybe the are and I'm missing it. Yes, Pinot Gris can be delicious, but when you think of Oregon's climate and it's ability to create amazing Pinot Noir, why do we so often also think of Pinot Gris instead of Chardonnay? Burgundy, Carneros, Russian River – most great Pinot Noir growing regions make great Chardonnay as well. Like every great region, there will be some Chardonnay not worth the effort, but the potential here I think is stellar.

So when it comes to white wine from Oregon, what do you gravitate towards and why?

Newport Wine & Seafood Festival: A take on Local Wine Tastings

Last Friday, my husband and I headed over to the Oregon coast to attend the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. The Festival lasts all weekend long, though we only had the pleasure of attending Friday's event.

To be honest, this is not a festival I would have sought out to attend – it's a 2 hour drive and I have a one-year old, so we choose our events carefully. Yet through friends of friends, we ended up in Newport, and are quite glad we did. We've been to a lot of wine tastings, many of them the "bigger" events, with the occasional celebrity chef or 100 point wine. I checked out Newport website beforehand and between the pictures of last year's pirate-clad attendees and the event directions to the town's fairgrounds, you knew you were going local. 

The theme this year was the "The Grape Wild West," so I donned by boots and the hubby put on his Stetson. Most other attendees were in University of Oregon garb, but there were some cool theme-based decorations around. The cost was $10 to enter, and another $5 for a glass (one that costs $1 at Target, but it did have a logo). I was surprised when I hit the first booth and realized there was an extra charge for each taste (usually 1 oz) – $1 for most wines, $2 for reserves and some had deals of $5 for a taste of the entire line up. This sort of thing adds up. Then again, I remembered plenty of tastings where I wished someone had been charging, as free tastes can lead to all-to-free-flowing imbibing.

A few highlights:
Willamette Valley Vineyards. After reading a post reviewing the Tualitin Estate wine from the the Blog Wine Cellar, I was eager to try this one. First taste out of the gate, and totally worth the $2. Delicious, complex, lingering, this Pinot had structure and body and a fantastic savory characteristic that I loved, even in my small rolled-rim glass. 

Milbrandt Vineyards – had the great pleasure of meeting Butch Milbrandt, who comes from a good farming family and runs Milbrandt Vineyards with his brother. They have over 1700 acres of grapes in Washington, much of it sold to nearby wineries, but some of the good stuff going into their own Milbrandt label.


A couple of my favorites? From the Traditions label, which runs about $15, the Riesling, Merlot & Syrah. The Merlot is one of those Merlot that reminds you that good Merlot can be made under $20 AND it can have character. The Riesling was slightly off dry, but with a nose reminicent of a Clare Valley Riesling and a wonderful acidity that made it cry out for food. The Syrah was juicy and peppery and easy-drinking. From the Estates side, we tried the Malbec. Have not had Malbec from Washington much, but this was delicious stuff. We're broadening our selection of these wines from Milbrandt on Wine.com so stay tuned. The team behind the booth were all wonderful ladies that were cousins and aunts and sisters… great family business, which we always love to see in wine!


Cooper Mountain – I remember working in Best Cellars in New York in about 2004 selling the Cooper Mountain Pinot Gris – it was the only organic wine we sold and it was such a new term" for wine back then. They were "green" before green was cool. They are now 100% biodynamic and the wines are as delicious as ever. The Pinot Gris is a favorite and I loved the '08 vintage. Also tried a Malbec they are making from a property in Argentina. Cool stuff, though apparently only available at the winery.


A few other wineries I really enjoyed – Coleman Vineyards from the Willamette Valley makes some amazing Pinot Noirs. We tasted through the lineup of these – '06 Reserve was the favorite.
HillCrest Vineyard, located in the Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon makes a killer Zinfandel that was just delicious. They sell through the winery only and are totally family run.
EdenVale Winery, another Southern Oregon gem, has an amazing Syrah that was just big, bold and juicy. Family-owned and operated, they have distribution out of the state so will be found in other markets.

Finally, one a more down note, I stopped by Cardwell Hill Vineyards, who I have never heard of, but but they were touting their '06 Pinot Noir, which was a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine of 2009, as well as their '07 which was also well-rated. Being a fan of the '07 vintage, I asked (and paid my $1) for a taste. One sniff and whew! Over-the-top corked. Long story short, when I tried to explain to the man pouring the corked issue, he sniffed my glass and told me: "you just need to let it open up." Seriously? Not only is this is a tasting where people pay a dollar for each taste, but many of these consumers don't know what a corked wine is. If a bottle holds roughly 22oz and they do 1oz pours, that means 22 people will get taste of some possibly delicious wine ruined by cork taint. That's 22 possible customers are forming an opinion on your wine. How winery representatives get by without knowing proper etiquette for dealing with a corked bottle at a tasting is beyond me.  I left the booth, dumped the wine and swore to e-mail or phone the winery to let them know my disappointment. Of course, the winery website has absolutely no contact information available.

Other than my unfortunate experience with the corked Pinot, I had a fun time at this event. The set up, with local seafood vendors, local Pacific Northwest wineries, many family owned and operated, many that sell through these events and at their wineries, reminded me how important community events like this are. I don't put much into the medals and awards given at these tastings, but I do appreciate the wineries getting out there to talk to people in their communities. I appreciate the locals coming to the events and supporting local agriculture and business. 

Every state makes wine. Every state has local agricultures business. Every state has community fairs. You may be eating crab melts and drinking Pinot at a Pacific Northwest tasting, but you'll be eating and drinking other types of local specialties at a community fair in Michigan, Virginia or Texas. It's important to get out in your community and discover these gems, be it a strawberry wine or a killer BBQ sauce or a sweet blush. Taste local and buy local when you can. You'll have to go elsewhere to find your favorite Argentine Malbec, but you may find some gems at these fairs and you'll definitely learn more about your local community.

A Tale of Two Pinots

Last night in muggy DC, I tasted two Pinots, both from Oregon. One, a delicious ripe & lively Pinot Gris from King Estate and the other, a savory yet delicate Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards.

2007 king estaeKing Estate Pinot Gris– showed very ripe fruit aromas and flavors, including peach, kiwi and other such tropical fruits. Bordered on being slightly off-dry, but the zippy acidity kept it crisp and lively and balanced that ripe fruit perfectly. A delightful aperitif wine or with a chicken or pasta dish. We enjoyed it with an arugula salad with cherries & procuitto. A definite keeper for the rest of the summer. King Estate is a great place to visit, too, if you ever get the chance. Really beautiful winery!

eyriaSecond wine – 2006 Eyrie Estate Pinot Noir– Always a fan of Eyrie, this wine was a huge disappointment when first opened. I poured the wine into a decanter and put a bit in my glass to taste. The odor was terrible – acid reflux is  the best way to put it, and while I thought it may be reductive, it was unlike any reduced wine I’d had before. I changed glassware and re-swirled, only to find the same odor. The palate seemed lovely, but I could not move past the acrid smell. Luckily, my husband had more patience. As I moved on to a bottle of Syrah, he continued to swirl it around in the decanter letting more and more air into the wine. About 45 minutes after my first sip, I was given another glass. Thank goodness I took it! The odor blew off and the savory, delicate aromas that replaced it delighted my senses! Cherry, red and wild berry aromas, with a touch of spice. The palate had a good acidic backbone, with bright red fruits, some spice and a touch of meatiness to it that gave the wine the “savory” character I like. Wonderful with grilled pork (or what was left of it after the Syrah). Good length and excellent structure. Good thing we’ve got a few more of this wine left as now that I know the drill, I’ll be sure to open it well in advance and decant. I also think it will get better with a few more years in bottle. I highly recommend this wine, but give it time – both in bottle, and in the glass.

The story behind the wine- Eyrie Vineyards:

David Lett had an idea. He believed the the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley of Oregon were well suited to make exceptional Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and other Pinot varieties. In the mid-1960s, he planted his first vines in an old fruit orchard just outside Portland. His theory eventually panned out and people took notice when his 1975 Eyrie Pinot Noir showed well in an international competition that included the top Burgundian Pinot Noirs of the time. Oregon was on the wine map, and Eyrie’s performance in the competition even brought Burgundian winemaker Joseph Drouhin to Oregon to check out the scene. Seeing potential in the land and the wine, Drouhin founded his own Oregon winery, Domaine Drouhin, which resides near Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards.

Eyrie Vineyards produces wines that have character and a sense of place. You will taste that in both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris –they truly represent the Oregon terroir.

Eyrie lost its founder in October 2008. Lett earned the nickname, “Papa Pinot,” as his pioneering spirit opened up the doors for the Oregon Wine Industry.  The winery is now run by his son, Jason.