Oregon Odyssey: Top 10 Willamette Wines

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By Courtney Cochran

Wine hasn't been big in Oregon's bucolic Willamette Valley for long - in fact, it was only in the 60s that the first plantings were made in what is now considered by many to be some of the most hallowed ground for wine production in the world. With a cool, moist climate that favors Pinot Noir in particular, the region just an hour's drive from Portland has fast turned into one of the most exciting places to swirl, sip and savor your way through wine country. Read on for my top ten wines tasted on a recent visit.
Number 10: 2007 Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Riesling ($18)
With its crisp, unoaked flavor profile, Penner-Ash's Riesling offered a welcome break from the many reds I tasted in Willamette. Clocking in at just 12% alcohol by volume, it was easy to sip and super refreshing, with notes of custard, lemon hard candy, pear and honey before a balanced, clean finish. Reminiscent of Clare Valley Rieslings from Australia - some of my all time favs! 88 pts.

Number 9: 2007 Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($32)
Another low alcohol number, Adelsheim's popular Willamette Valley Pinot (12.8% ABV) pairs all of my favorite Willamette flavors - red fruits, leather, bergamot and earth - with a super silky mouthfeel and lovely balance. Though certainly not the most complex wine I tasted on my trip, it's the winner that captured the best qualities of the region in a single bottle - and the price is quite nice, by Oregon standards. 88 pts.

Number 8: 2007 Adelsheim Caitlin's Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($40)
Caitlin's Reserve, Adelsheim's signature Chardonnay, marries complex aromas and flavors with a super elegant Burgundian-like structure (Medium body! Acid! Length!) in a truly classy package. With just 20% new oak used and only 20% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation, it's no wonder this wine plays so lightly on the palate. Watch for beguiling notes of golden delicious apple, banana, kiwi, white peach, butter, caramel and mineral. 91 pts.

Number 7: 2007 Lange Estate Winery "Three Hills Cuvee" Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($40)
Made with fruit from three different vineyard sites ("hills") Lange Estate uses for its single-vineyard Pinots, the Three Hills Cuvee seems to have the best of all three - and costs less than each single-vineyard bottling! To wit, ebullient aromas of red-black fruits, toast, mineral, bergamot and brown spice pour from the glass, while the palate offers hearty flavors, firm but smooth tannins and a long finish. We can thank the volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills for the wine's deft combination of structure and elegance; in all, a serious red ready for charcuterie and roasted meats. 93 pts.

dragon2.jpgNumber 6: 2006 White Rose Estate White Rose Vineyard Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($75)
With its cool "grown up" Dungeons & Dragons-esque label, this exquisite White Rose Estate Pinot wows with both packaging and nearly perfect Pinot fruit. Crafted from old vine fruit grown in the volcanic Dundee Hills, the wine offers lifted notes of raspberry, black cherry, charcoal, black tea and a good amount of toasty oak. It's all superbly integrated, though the style is more hedonistic (i.e. forward, fleshy and oaked) than most other Oregon Pinots I tasted on the trip. Verdict: If a Willamette Pinot had an affair with a California Central Coast Pinot, this would be their love child. 93 pts.

Number 5: 2007 Penner-Ash Dussin Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($60)
Penner-Ash's premier Pinot bottling costs a pretty penny at $60/bottle, but it was so incredibly integrated, concentrated and yet elegant it occurred to me I'd pay even more for the pleasure of sipping it again. Its intense notes of strawberry-blackberry preserves, spice and toast, leather, earth and mineral combined for the most "funky" - not to mention full-throttle - Pinot experience I had on my visit, but it was also a trip I'll gladly take again - and soon. 93 pts.
Number 4: 2007 The Eyrie Vineyards Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Gris ($16.75)
A trip to The Eyrie Vineyards is not quickly forgotten; the spot's simple rusticity and the owners' commitment to classic winemaking techniques would make the spot a standout even if it weren't for the unforgettable fact that Eyrie essentially founded the Willamette wine industry. Besides this benevolent task, the Eyrie team introduced the first Pinot Gris cuttings to the valley and today make a simply standout Gris that seduces with its creamy, leesy mouthfeel, copper penny color and pretty fruit flavors. A wow wine and one ready for the table. 93 pts.

Number 3: 2004 The Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($60)
Ahem. Sipping this Pinot - made from fruit grown in the very first Pinot vineyard planted in the Willamette Valley - was a revelation. It showed its age in its brick color before delivering big time on the nose with a complex bouquet of dried rose petals, rhubarb, dried fig, brown spice, caramel and dust. On the palate, the wine was a sheer pleasure, marrying raisinated developed flavors with excellent balance and good length. A beautiful example of what Willamette Pinots can do with a little bottle age, and - even better - one still available for purchase! Merci, Eyrie. 93 pts.

Number 2: 2005 Domaine Drouhin Willamette Valley "Laurène" Pinot Noir ($65)
A thoroughly classy, well-made offering, DDO's fabulous '05 Laurène Pinot brings together the best of both worlds - stylish Old World winemaking and precocious New World fruit. Together, these qualities make a stunning wine replete with über complex notes of red, blue and black fruits, spice, orange peel, bergamot, toast and mineral. The wine's bright acidity ably backs its smooth but sturdy tannins, and the length is, well, loooong. Altogether a classic wine, a sipper that drinks like a song today but will come into still better pitch with age. 94 pts.

Number 1: 2007 Scott Paul "Audrey" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($65)
Occasionally, I come upon a wine so fabulously enchanting I know I'll never forget it. Such was the case with Scott Paul's beguiling 2007 Audrey Pinot Noir, a cuvée named for the resplendent actress. Made from some of the oldest Pinot vines (biodynamically farmed, natch) grown in Oregon, the wine positively enchants with aromas and flavors of strawberry, blackberry, intense spice, mineral, cinnamon stick, anise, earth, toast, leather and crushed rose petals. With its medium body, outstanding balance and high degree of complexity, it easily wins as best wine of the trip.  WOW.

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Nice post!

That's beautiful country up there in Oregon. On his v-blog, www.pardonthatvine.com, Chris Riccobono does a taste test of a Willamette Valley wine. You should check it out. He does great reviews, too.

thanks, Don

I lived and worked in the Willamette Valley for 2 years. I was never a pinot noir drinker until that time. I was fortunate to meet many wine makers and taste their exquisite wines. One of my favorites is Owen Roe, Left Hand. Fabulous!! I actually got to participate in their crush one year and learned alot. This area is well worth a stay and winery tour.
Enjoy, Patty

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