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Aside from a handful of select Napa Cabs, I feel that Oregon Pinot Noir ‘can be’ one of the most amazing wines produced in the US (just my opinion – if your opinion differs from mine, then you are most likely wrong).  I would drink Oregon Pinot every night if I could reasonably afford to – or if the Willamette Valley Winery Association would just ship up a monthly allotment of wines for me to blog about.  As prices for Willamette Valley pinot noirs continue to climb, they are on the verge of losing a spot on my ‘wines to drink a few nights a week’ list and are moving to my ‘drink on special occasions’ list.   The adage ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ is clearly obvious in the Willamette Valley.  Even producers of moderate quality pinot have benefited from this rising tide of prices and gotten away with high prices.

One of the by products of the success of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley is the shadow cast over other varietals, in particular Chardonnay.  Historically, the quality of most Chardonnay coming out of Oregon has been questionable at best, and some of it was down right awful.  Realizing the opportunity lost, a small group of winemakers formed an organization called ORCA (Oregon Chardonnay Alliance) that is dedicated to improving the quality of Willamette Valley Chardonnay.  

One of these winemakers dedicated to producing wines that express the full potential of the Chardonnay grape is Mike Hallock of Carabella Vineyards.  Carabella was started by Mike and Cara Hallock back in the 90’s after a 12 year search for a location that “combines the best criteria of top quality Oregon and French terriors.”  That location turned out to be a 49 acre plot located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley. 

I had the chance to meet Mike last week while he was here in Virginia speaking at wine maker event at Bon Vivant in Smithfield, VA.  Mike has a background in geology and was trained as a winemaker in Colorado of all places (I believe Mike is the first Colorado trained winemaker that I’ve met). 

As part of the tasting, we sampled five of his Carabella wines including his 2006 Chardonnay made from the Dijon 76 clone.

Carabella 2006 Chardonnay Dijon 76 Clone

Carabella ChardonnayAt $32/bottle, this one is on the high side of what I typically pay for a Chardonnay.  This price appears consistent with other high quality Willamette Valley Chardonnays in Carabella’s peer group.  14.7% alcohol.  This dark straw wine opens with a strong butterscotch aroma which continues in the mouth.  As a compliment to that initial butterscotch aroma, I found buttered toast, pear and hints of mineral on the nose.  Smooth mouth feel with more butterscotch flavors along with vanilla and some citrus.  Clean finish with more pear.  We paired this with grilled fish tacos that worked very well together.

Although Carabella doesn’t have a tasting room to visit if you are in the Willamette Valley area, their wines are available for online ordering at their site:  http://www.carabellawine.com/home.html

Upcoming Travel Note:  I will be visiting Willamette Valley in August and am looking for recommendations on wineries to visit.  To date, I have plans to visit a handful of wineries including Sokol Blosser, De Ponte and a few others.  I would like to visit Amity, Adelsheim and Bergstrom – if any of you my fellow wine bloggers/readers have contacts at any of these Oregon wineries, please let me know.  I would like to make personal contact prior to my trip.