Oregon wine long ago found its niche on the world stage as a home for great Pinot Noir. That reputation is growing as the wines become more widely available.
A tasting Thursday in downtown Chicago proved the wines are getting better. I’ve visited the Willamette Valley several times and find the wines improve with each visit.
More than 60 Oregon wine producers poured for 500 trade and media members Thursday afternoon and another 500 that night to customers shelling out $65 a person.
Many Oregon wineries, particularly the better boutique efforts, sell all of each year’s vintage. Jesse Lange, a winemaker who has always treated us like a friend, noted his winery has increased production nearly 10,000 cases the last five years.
The tasting was spectacular. Most of these wines are widely available in Midwestern states but not in huge supply. Obviously, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association thought it was time to expand Oregon’s presence in the Midwest with the first-ever Chicago event.
I managed to get to many different tables and still missed out on many I had never before visited. I do have quite a bit of material to use for future print stories and the blog.
Most of the wines listed here are top shelf offerings. After all, who wants to taste the entry level bottles at a tasting? Here are some of the real winners I tasted:
Adelsheim 2010 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir – It’s always safe and smart to turn to a region’s pioneers for a great bottle of wine. Big fruit, nice strawberry, and incredible balance make this one worth $55.
Bergstrom Sigrid 2011 Chardonnay – Karen Bergstrom defines this wine the “very best of the best” from their vineyards. It was bright and fresh Chardonnay. $80
Crumbled Rock 2010 Julliard Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted the Crumbled Rock wine in 2007 from their first vintage as winemakers. Gerard Koschal, owner and winemaker, had been growing and selling grapes for some time before making wine. That first vintage, released in 07, was more unremarkable than memorable. So it was a delightful surprise to be blown away by their beautifully wine in Chicago. $35.
Evening Land 2010 Mad Hatter Chardonnay – Brace yourself regular readers, the Evening Land might have been THE best wine I tasted all day. Largely whole cluster Chardonnay with Chablis-like characteristics of acid and minerality. It might have also been the most surprising wine I’ve tasted from Oregon. Without mentioning names, this was a wine more than one producer said I must taste. They were right. $40.
Joe Dobbes Grenache Blanc – Hobbes is a winemaker and consultant who wanted to use his experience to do something different. He is buying all of the grenache blanc grown in Oregon from the southern Rogue Valley and making a light, spectacular version of the southern French classic. If you’re unfamiliar with Grenache Blanc, one critic suggested thinking of Pinot Gris with more richness. I’d agree. I loved this wine! $26
Lange 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir – It’s simply one of the most consistent wines, at a reasonable price, you can find at the price point from Oregon. Full disclaimer: Regular readers know I’m a Lange fan. Jesse and Don have always been available and accomodating during my visits to the valley. But their wines just get better and better. Don wasn’t one of the original pioneers, but his name belongs right beside them. $32
Penner-Ash 2011 Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir – A classic bottle of Oregon Pinot with nice big fruit and the balance of one of Oregon’s great, great winemakers – Lynn Penner-Ash. $65.
Winderlea 2009 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir – Winderlea makes the term ’boutique winery’ work every time you taste their wines. Bill Sweat and Donna Morris produce just 2,000-3,000 cases annually but they make gorgeous Pinot and wonderful Chardonnay. The Ana Vineyard is classic Oregon. $48