For whatever reasons, Napa Valley is still viewed as the Holy Grail of wine destinations for a majority of American wine lovers. Don't get me wrong: I've been to Napa many times and there's no denying that some of the most fantastic juice in the world is produced there.
But given the state of today's less-than-ideal economy married with the typically astronomical price tags dangling from those Napa bottles, you might want to start looking into Oregon wines in a serious way.
So what's got me so hot for Oregon wine? The Willamette Valley -- Oregon's leading wine region -- hosts two-thirds of the state's wineries and vineyards with upwards of 200 wineries calling the region home and has industry big dogs pegging it as one of the premier pinot noir producing areas in the world. Add to this the fact that you can typically score quality bottles of wines featuring all of the noble grapes (and then some), including pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, riesling, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, cabernet, merlot and syrah for much less coin than their Napa counterparts. Added bonus: Some of the state's best wineries are less than an hour's drive from Portland, one of the most food and wine-driven cities in the country.
Here are five Oregon wines to try that'll make you forget that spendy trip to Napa.
Sineann Pinot Gris Oregon 2009 ($18) Pinot gris is known as pinot grigio in Italian but that's where the similarities end: Pinot gris are typically produced in a far rounder, luscious, and mouth-filling style than your everyday pinot grigio. Sineann's version perfectly exemplifies this approach, with rockstar winemaker Peter Rosback (who's a ginger-haired doppelgänger for '70s era Peter Frampton) giving us a wine with a gorgeous pear and floral aromas that delivers juicy nectarine, white peach and toasty flavors in the mouth. Bonus: Table 6 and dish! restaurant in Edwards both have Sineann wine dinners on their schedules this month.
Penner-Ash Willamette Valley Riesling 2008 ($18). Here's yet another fantabulous wine made by a woman winemaker. Lynn Penner-Ash started her career as the enologist for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and then promptly took her mad skills to Oregon, where she launched her winery in 1998. Penner-Ash might be best known for their mouth-watering pinots, but I've grown pretty attached to their riesling, which is as crisp and juicy as biting into a slice of fresh, cold pineapple. There's a great balance of sweet fruit and refreshing acidity here that makes this a wonderful summertime wine, perfect for drinking on those hot nights on the porch or paired with a sticky-sweet slab of barbecued spare ribs. P.S. Penner-Ash's stunner of a tasting room is not to be missed.
Merriman Rosé of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District 2008 ($18). The Oregon wine country is a tight-knit community focused on making some of the best damn wine around. Even though they've only been harvesting since 2006, Merriman winemaker Aaron Berlin has done stints at Argyle and currently serves as co-winemaker at Owen Roe (read on for more on this stellar producer). Their absolutely delightful rosé of 100% pinot noir does everything a rosé should do and then some: It tastes of heavenly strawberries and cherries, goes down like nobody's business, and went perfectly with our meal of Spanish tapas. They don't call this wine the Pink Lady for nothin'.
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Owen Roe Sharecropper's Pinot Noir 2008 ($24). Owen Roe Winery, the long-time darling of Pacific Northwest wine geeks, actually produces wine from grapes grown in both Washington state and Oregon and is renowned for its handcrafted, small production approach to winemaking. Their Sharecropper's pinot noir comes from northern Willamette Valley vineyard sites and serves up a generous mouthful of red berry fruit, enhanced with spicy-oaky flavors of clove and toast. Plan to drink this wine slightly chilled and pair it with mushroom & goat cheese panini or rosemary-grilled chicken.
Adelsheim Vineyards "Elizabeth's Reserve" Pinot Noir 2008 ($50). David Adelsheim's been putting out great wines since 1971, in their distinctive bottles featuring labels originally hand-painted by his wife Ginny. Before you gasp with sticker shock at the price of this wine (made from best-of-vineyard fruit and named for their daughter), realize that its distinctive Burgundian style makes it taste like it costs twice that amount. Rich and elegant, the wine flaunts black cherry and boysenberry fruit with hints of nutmeg, all showcased with a decadent mouthfeel and finish that doesn't quit. This is a wine you'd want to pour on a special occasion, or perhaps just an occasion where you realize those $50 bottles you've been ordering for years in restaurants really would have only cost you $25 at the liquor store.
For more information on Willamette Valley wines, check out http://www.willamettewines.com/.