It’s back to red wine this week, with a look at one of the world’s greatest places for one of the world’s greatest grapes-and it’s here in America.
Try a new wine this week!
Some of the world’s greatest wine regions are right here in the United States, particularly along the west coast. For pinot noir grapes, many believe the very best is Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It lies along the 45-degree parallel, the wine world’s most famous latitude.
Following the Willamette River about 100 miles from Eugene north to Portland, the valley is sheltered between the coastal range to the west (between it and the Pacific Ocean), and the Cascade Mountains to its east. The climate overall is cooler than most California wine regions, which is great for pinot noir. Summers are long, mild and mostly dry, while winters are wet and mostly mild as well. Snow is rare.
Fortunately for visitors, Interstate 5 runs through the valley, providing easy access from Portland, and there are lots of B&Bs, restaurants and more than wineries. This fertile region is great for other crops as well, especially berries, vegetables and hazelnuts, used by local chefs, and hops for Portland’s many craft breweries. Some of the wine towns to visit include Newberg, McMinnville, Dundee, Eugene, Rickreal, Salem and Yamhill.
Most Willamette wine labels will say simply “Willamette Valley,” but it contains subappellations, each with its own unique climate. Here’s a list: Chehalem Mountains (includes Parrot Ridge and Ribbon Ridge), Dundee Hills, Eola/Amity Hills, McMinnville.
One of the most important geographical features is a gap in the coastal range called the Van Duzer gap. It allows cool Pacific breezes inland to the vineyards.
Willamette’s main white wine isn’t chardonnay, but pinot gris. Most is made in a style reminiscent of chardonnay, moderately full-bodied compared with their Italian pinot grigio cousins, and often is oak aged. Both pinot gris and pinot noir are poured with salmon.
Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir from Left Coast Cellars benefits from cool ocean breezes through the Van Duzer gap in the coastal range. It retails in the $25-$30 range.
Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.