Oregon is home to over 775 wineries, 19 designated wine regions, with nearly 100 grape varieties being cultivated for wine.
Pinot Noir helped establish Oregon — namely the Willamette Valley — as one of the premier wine regions. Pinot Gris and Chardonnay have played major supporting roles in the success of the Oregon wine industry.
In July, I visited Oregon (with the Oregon Wine Board) to explore wine regions from Eugene to the Umpqua Valley and up to the Willamette Valley. As expected, I tasted many world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays but it was the state’s other grapes that really impressed.
Seek out these five wines for a taste of Oregon’s viticultural diversity:
Johan Vineyards 2017 Melon de Bourgogne ($25)
Of all the wines I tasted during this trip, those from winemaker Morgan Beck, Dan Rinke and team at Johan Vineyards were some of the best and most compelling. Situated in the Vanduzer Corridor (known for the maritime air flow), Johan Vineyards is one of six wineries in the newly formed AVA. Beck and her team farm the 85-acre property Biodynamically. Demeter certified.
Best-known as the grape of Muscadet in the western Loire Valley, Melon de Bourgogne has found a home in Oregon and especially in the windy vineyards at Johan. Beck and team produce a still wine and a Pet-Nat from the Melon grapes planted in 2011. In addition to delicious Melons and Pinot, they produce a seriously delicious Blaufrankisch to seek out.
Fresh, crisp and clean, oyster wine! Bright in color, salty aromas jump from the glass, followed by green melon, cucumber and hints of gooseberry. Wonderful stone fruit texture in the mouth with saline, ripe green apple and lime spritz. 11% abv.
Eyrie Vineyards 2015 Pinot Meunier ($55 – $60)
Better known as one of the ‘big three’ grapes used in Champagne, Pinot Meunier is finally getting some much-deserved attention and more winemakers are producing serious street cred as a varietal still wine. It’s known as the ‘crazy uncle’ of the Pinot family. Few can compare to this one from Eyrie Vineyards.
Founded in 1966 by Oregon wine pioneer David Lett, Eyrie (eye-ree) Vineyards is named for the red-tailed hawks who make their homes in tops of fir trees on the property. David’s son Jason took over the winery and vineyard in 2005. Eyrie vineyards are own rooted and farmed without herbicides or insecticides. This wine spent about 18 months in neutral French oak and bottled unfined, unfiltered.
Translucent ruby in the glass, aromatically charming, offering aromas of tart cherry, cranberry, pomegranate and unripe strawberries. Moderate tannins in the mouth with flavors of dried strawberries, cherries and hints of earth. Zippy tart red berry acidity and lengthy finish with notes of forest floor and dark cherry. 13% abv.
Here’s an informative video of Jason Lett talking about Pinot Meunier.
River’s Edge 2017 Aligoté ($18)
Situated in the scenic Elkton AVA in the Umpqua Valley region of southern Oregon, River’s Edge was founded by Mike and Vonnie Landt in 1998. The Umpqua Valley area is one of the most beautiful — emphasis on seriously beautiful! — areas of the country. The Umpqua River flows west through the region, Douglas fir trees towering along the banks of the river and atop of rolling hills. This region should be on your list places to vacation.
Known as Burgundy’s other white grape, Aligote is not a grape often seen in the U.S. Lighter than Chardonnay and aged in 20% new oak. Fresh with aromas of white peach, lemon, white flower with slight hints of vanilla. Each sip delivers baked apple and crushed rocks with oregano lingering. Zingy tart green apple acidity. Utterly drinkable! 12% abv.
Paul O’Brien 2015 Cask 11 Tempranillo ($36)
Founded by friends Dyson Paul DeMara and Scott O’Brien Kelley who met while working at Mondavi Winery in Napa. The duo sources grapes exclusively from the Umpqua Valley region.
Widely known as the black grape native to Spain, Tempranillo is thriving in the Umpqua Valley region. As a fan of wines from Rioja, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a delicious Tempranillo in Oregon.
Fermented and aged in 1200 liter French oak casks. As of July 2019, this 2015 is the current release. Dark ruby color in the glass, dense but not heavy, it delivers dark fruit, earth and spice. Layered flavors of tobacco leaf, dark cherry, and hints of leather, lifted by red berry acidity. Grippy tannins. Lengthy spice notes on the finish. Decidedly old world. 13.5% abv.
Brooks Winery 2015 Extended Tirage Sparkling Riesling ($55)
Soon after my trip to Oregon, work took me to Denver where a friend shared this with me at dinner. Riesling grown in Oregon continues to impress. This one from the Brooks Winery team is fantastic. Light gold color in the glass, this sparkling wine is bright and refreshing, offering aromas of white flowers, lemon-lime with an herbal edge. Zippy in the mouth with flavors of tropical fruits, saline and oyster shell. Evokes standing on the beach following a hot afternoon rainstorm. Seriously delicious and unique! 12% abv.
Brooks wines are widely distributed throughout the U.S. They currently produce about a dozen different Rieslings ranging from dry to off dry to sweet. Find Brooks wines here. (Photo Credit: Brooks Winery website, restaurant too dark for decent photo).