If a wine trip to Burgundy isn’t an option every year do the next best thing, take a trip to Willamette Valley to taste their earthy, elegant Pinot Noir. Just a 40 minute drive outside of Portland the charming, casual Willamette Valley welcomes visitors with open arms to this destination with volcanic, mineral rich soils, days with hours and hours of sunlight opening with morning fog leading into afternoon heat, and hearty Pommard and Dijon clones creating beautiful, Burgundian style Pinot Noir.
My Portland native sweetie and I visited the region recently with some friends who had never been to Willamette before. As much as we love the valley, we enjoyed this trip that much more given the opportunity to show friends unfamiliar with the wines and people of Willamette one of our favorite places. Over three days we tasted through some of the best the valley had to offer. Here are some of the best we experienced.
We had an opportunity to stay at Domaine Serene as guests in their cottage and enjoyed a full tasting of their current portfolio including a brand new Chardonnay just added earlier this year. The 2009 Clos de Lune is a light, fresh and fruity, this Chardonnay produced from 4 1/2 year old vines is filled with bright golden apple and ripe pear. A perfect aperitif wine. I am a fan of their Yamhill Cuvee everyday style Pinot Noir, as well as their delicate, earthy and always spot on Evanstad Reserve that is created from the best vines grown on their estate. This trip we had an opportunity to taste the Monogram, known as the Pinot Noir owner Ken Evanstad wanted to make when he and his wife Grace opened the winery. We tasted the 2002, the inagural vintage of this stunning wine, which easily could be held another 10 years. Complex, refined and simply delicious. Everything that I love about Pinot Noir with black cherry, licorice, baking spice and dense mushroom earthiness. This is a wine that defines what Oregon Pinot Noir can be and why this region is so suitable for growing Pinot Noir fruit.
A new wine from Domaine Serene will be introduced this spring called Grand Cheval blending Pinot Noir and Syrah together. Early predictions are that this will be a great steakhouse wine with bold, intense flavors. Can’t wait to try this one!
Adelsheim celebrated 40 years of making wine in Willamette Valley last year, one of the first wineries in the valley started by David Adelsheim, and certainly one of the best. Their Willamette Valley line of wines introduce the brand with approachable, well priced varietals like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their Chehalem Mountain Pinot Blanc is a favorite subtle, silky white with floral and citrus aromas. The 2009 Calkins Lane single vineyard Pinot Noir comes from the Adelsheim estate vineyard located right around the winery, formerly a hazelnut orhcard. Spicy flavors with cranberry, raspberry and cherry pie.
The extra special treat for this tasting was a Pinot that belongs to their “Best of Vintage” series introduced with the 2006 vintage, their Vintage 29. Only made in special years where the grapes really shine, the 2006 was the 29th vintage for Adelsheim made from the three most exceptional barrels produced by Adelsheim in that year. Velvety and smooth with pomegranate, blackberry and strawberry flavors complimented by licorice and chocolate notes and a subtle layer of cedar and spice. Delicious.
Winderlea has been a favorite since the former financial executives from the Boston area opened their winery a few years ago. The couple had fallen in love with great Burgundian wine and decided to give wine-making a shot in a part of the world they knew would grow great Pinot Noir. The site of their winery and estate vineyards on the Dundee Hills with mineral rich red volcanic soils is especially suited for growing Pinot. Their 2009 will be released summer 2011, but we had an opportunity to taste through the release. The Ana and The Legacy Pinot Noirs were the highlights. 2009 Ana Pinot Noir opens with red fruit and violet aromas followed by cherry, blackberry and just a touch of cedar and cola. The luscious 2009 Legacy reveals a heartier flavor profile with black truffle, nutmeg and clove mingled with red and black cherry and strawberry.
Domaine Drouhin Aurthur Chardonnay can rival a White Burgundy with ease, and it should as their winemaker, Veronique Drouhin, is the same for their parent winery Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune, as is their vineyard manager, Veronique’s brother, Phillipe Drouhin. This fourth generation of Drouhin’s celebrate the classic style and flavors of great Burgundy, allowing the grapes to shine in the wines from both regions. The Arthur is crisp and lively, much like a classic Chablis, hand-picked in small batches with half of the wine then fermented in 20% new French oak barrels, the other half fermented in stainless steel. This creates a clean, mineral rich and aromatic wine with balance, a nicely rounded texture and just a hint of creaminess on the finish.
Over a dinner of fresh Northwest Salmon and just harvested Oregon mushrooms and Oregon truffles we enjoyed a bottle of Archery Summit Premier Cuvee.
Blended from grapes grown on five different estate vineyards, this wine wraps cherry and berry flavors around layers of licorice, violets and cola with earthy, forest floor aromas. A perfect pairing with the wintry mix of mushrooms and truffles and fresh grilled salmon.
Stoller Vineyards was the first winery in the United States to receive LEED certification for its gravity-flow wine making, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and waste-water reclamation. This former turkey farm was purchased by Bill and Cathy Stoller in the mid-1990′s, releasing their first wines in 2001. We started our tasting at Stoller Vineyards with something quite special, a sip of still fermenting Rose of Pinot Noir. Glasses of cloudy, cold pink juice were poured that had aromas of red grapefruit juice and floral notes, the taste of it too. Delicious in this state, though quite unrefined. This wine with continue with its stainless steel fermentation, then be fined and filtered, ending with a wine filled with strawberry, cherry and wild flowers with touches of that initially dominant red grapefruit. The SV Pinot Noir comes from the best vineyard blocks on the 400 acre estate, 180 planted with 4 Pinot Noir clones and 3 Chardonnay clones. The SV blocks are some of the oldest on the estate, each hand selected for use in the SV, and filled with cassis, berry, Asian spice and mushroom.
Soter Vineyards was a new winery for all of us on this trip, and ended up being one we will include on each trip going forward. The baby of Tony and Michelle Soter, the man behind Etude winery in Napa Valley, Soter Vineyards excels in the same high quality standards of its Napa Valley sister. Now Tony focuses mainly on Soter, working more in a consulting capacity with Etude. And lucky for us, as the wine he is making is beautiful. We started with a glass of Soter Brut Rose. An ideal opener filled with rose petals, strawberry and honey. The Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir is concentrated with blackberry, cassis and dried herbs with touches of wild flowers. We had a chance to try the last Cabernet Tony Soter made in Napa Valley as well, the Soter Proprietary Red celebrating 30 years of making wine in Napa Valley which blends 40% Heirloom clones of Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Black cherry, dark chocolate, pencil lead and anise spill out of the bottle with balanced tannin and a silky smooth mouthfeel.
Though not made in Oregon, the Siduri Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir is an excellent example of lush Chehalem Mountain fruit. Fresh and fruit driven with strawberry and raspberry finishing with touches of herbal and mushroom notes.