The wines of Washington and Oregon
When it comes to quality wines, Washington state and Oregon are no longer California’s stepsisters.
Although the two states produce wines in smaller quantities, this often equates to better-made wines. And the Pacific Northwest continues to increase its quality of juice by the ton.
Wine production in the region began to flourish in the late 1960s with Charles Coury (Erath) and the incredible David Lett (Eyrie). Joseph Drouhin from the Burgundy, France, region saw the potential in the area and planted grapes there in 1987.
Today, the region continues to pump out delicious and world-class wines. It’s worth noting that Oregon’s wine laws are stricter than California’s. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris must comprise a minimum 90 percent (normally 75 percent) of the grape varietal mentioned on the label and a minimum of 95 percent (normally 85 percent) of the grapes for the wine must come from the appellation (AVA) if it is mentioned on the label.
Oregon lies roughly on the same latitude as Burgundy, France. Therefore, Pinot Noir wines thrive in this mild, rainy and temperate climate. From vintage to vintage, you see the same variations in Oregon as you do in Burgundy, with some years better than others. The most important wine region is the Willamette Valley, which runs southward from Portland for about 150 miles.
The Pinots of Oregon are riper and more generous with their fruit than the Burgundy Pinots. They are a tad more terroir driven (earthy) and lighter than the larger-than-life Pinots from California. You could say Oregon Pinots are a nice cross between Old and New World Pinots. The white grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling are also notable in Oregon.
Washington state, with its long sunlight hours in the growing season, is the second-largest producer of premium wines in the United States. Most of its vineyards are located east of the Cascade Mountains. There are roughly 650 wineries in business in Washington state. The Columbia Valley AVA is the largest. Oregon and Washington share the Walla Walla and Columbia Valley AVAs.
The white grapes of Chardonnay and Riesling have a higher production in Washington state than the major red varietals of Cabernet and Merlot. Other well-known varietals making great strides are Syrah, Gewurztraminer, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Put the wines of the Pacific Northwest on your radar and taste the success they are exuding.
Sips at home
Great sipper by Joe
Wine by Joe 2009 Pinot Gris, Oregon — $12.17
Pinot Gris is the same grape as Italy’s Pinot Grigio. It’s lighter than Chardonnay and has a sexy crispness to it with flavors of candied citrus and green apple. It has a little more weight than Italy’s version and is the perfect white wine for fall months.
Boom Boom! (Charles Smith) 2009 Columbia Valley Syrah, Washington state — $14.35
This will set off an explosion of jammy, ripe blackberries, black cherries and boysenberries in your mouth. It’s sensuous yet delivers intense flavors and medium tannins.
A perfect Pinot
J. Christopher 2008 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore. — $22.61
This is a joint venture between Ernst Loosen of Germany and J. Christopher Winery of Oregon and is made in the traditional Burgundy style — lighter body; solid acidity; and delicate raspberry, redcurrant and strawberry flavors.
Sips around town
Palace Café 1301 E. 15th St.
Owner James Shrader has his own hot pick when it comes to Washington state wines: K Syrah by K Vintners, selling for $12 a glass and $48 a bottle. “We sell a ton of this Syrah, and everyone loves it,” Shrader says.
Fusco’s fine dining 9912 Riverside Parkway
Michael Egan, general manager for Fusco’s Fine Dining, has a hot pick when it comes to Oregon Pinot Noir: The Vista Hills Foreman Pinot Noir. “It’s not only delicious but also an incredible value,” Egan says. Priced at $11 a glass and $44 a bottle.