As you may know, a few weeks ago I moved back to the States after living in London for the past 6 years. I love London, it’s an incredible, vibrant, fascinating city (and it’s where this site was born!), but I’m very excited to be back in the US of A because now I can reacquaint myself with American wines. That’s not to say there aren’t any US wines in the UK, there are, but not many and the majority are so pricey that it’s easier to choose something of no less quality, but significantly less expensive from Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Greece, Croatia…you get the idea.
In a recent chat with Jancis Robinson on The Punch Down about all the intriguing ‘new’ wine regions around the country she and co-author Linda Murphy have just written about in their (beautiful!) book ‘American Wine‘, I was even more inspired to explore.
To begin my rediscovery, I started with the wines of Oregon at a tasting held in the picturesque courtyard of the Oak Tavern restaurant in Miami. What a wonderful way to kick start my American immersion!
Oregon is the 4th largest producer of wines in the US and what’s interesting and attractive about this region (other than their wines!) is that the majority of wineries (with the exception only of one or two) are small production, family owned and operated, which is for me, is where the exciting wines are most often found. These wineries are usually run by people who have come to wine as a second or third career and have found their true passion in the vineyards – these are the fascinating people making amazing wines.
We’ve long known Oregon, makes good Pinot Noir, particularly in Willamette Valley, but I was curious how the style of these wines has evolved and what other developments are coming from Oregon.
I found the overall style of Pinot Noir to be much improved from my previous perception, having very elegant soft, bright fruit and judicious use of oak, reminiscent of wines I tasted earlier this year in Burgundy. A few winemakers did say they were making their wines in a ‘Burgundian style’, but not in a copycat, emulating kind of way, but instead of making powerful, intense, in your face wines, they are striving for subtlety, refinement and charm that have a distinct ‘Oregonian style’.
After Pinot Noir, the grape variety that’s making rapid strides in the state, especially in the region of Southern Oregon, is the grape of Rioja, Tempranillo. The warm summers combined with very little rainfall is ideal for the heat-loving grape. Abacela winery in the Umpqua Valley are leading the charge with a powerful, aromatic, structured version with the tannins for aging.
The whites of the tasting however, were the eye-opener for me. No longer does Pinot Gris stand alone as the signature grape variety – now Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürz and even the oft boring and maligned Müller Thurgau, are taking the stage. I enjoyed a Pinot Blanc from Bethel Heights with its crisp acidity, apples and minerality. The ‘Almost Dry Riesling‘ from fully Biodynamic winery Montinore Estate was quintessentially zesty lime sherbert and their off-dry ‘Borealis Blend‘ of Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer had baskets full of ripe, tropical, perfumed fruit.
These wineries all understand and respect the land and know they couldn’t do what they do without a certain reverence, which is why most practice sustainable viticulture with more and more making the move to fully organic or biodynamic.
I’ve just dipped my toe into the wonders of Oregon, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m looking forward to diving in and learning, tasting and drinking more!
Which Oregon wines are your favorites? Which American region should I try next? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below – thanks!
Here’s to trying something new, learning something new, and enjoying every glass a whole lot more!
Tara – The Wine Passionista
Tags: Abacela, American Wine, Bethel Heights, Gewurztraminer, Montinore Estate, Oak Tavern, Oregon Pinot Noir, Oregon wine, Pinot Blanc, pinot gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, wine from America, wine from Oregon