Winemakers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley win critical acclaim for their vibrant expressions of pinot noir. As the state’s flagship grape, it’s the varietal most associated with this verdant corner of the Pacific Northwest. But these talented grower-producers also craft a delicious array of pours from grapes you may not expect.
Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate — the largest producer of certified estate wines crafted from biodynamic grapes in the United States — talks about how he came to vinify an aromatic white as part of a portfolio that includes pinot noir and Italian varietals. On a trip to Argentina, everyone sipped wine made from the rose petal-scented torrontés. “I was enjoying the profound aromatics and said, ‘I could do this at home.’ ”
Upon returning to the Willamette Valley, Marchesi and his team crafted a blend of müller-thurgau, gewürztraminer, riesling, and pinot gris. The wine’s tag line, “The Great Northern Whites,” refers to the cool-climate grapes and their Old World origins. Because the phrase sounds like “Northern Lights,” it was natural to name the bottle “Borealis.” A trace of residual sugar left in the wine provides what Marchesi calls the “yum factor” in this lively, craveable pour.
Dan Welsh, winemaker at Welsh Family Wines, wanted to craft an everyday-drinking red to add to his portfolio of vineyard-specific pinot noirs. So when his wife, Wendy Davis, learned that one of the oldest vineyards in Willamette Valley was selling blaufränkisch, a varietal associated with Austria’s Burgenland, the couple jumped at the opportunity. From those dry-farmed grapes, Welsh created a lovely table red. “I want something that feels approachable, not esoteric,” says the winemaker. “It’s overall very thematic of what we’re trying to do.”
A roundup of Oregon wines would not be complete without mentioning Kate Norris, co-owner and co-winemaker of Division Winemaking Co. She also has her own label, Gamine. Both brands are housed at the Southeast Wine Collective in Portland, the urban winery and wine bar that Norris launched with Thomas Monroe in 2012. (Welsh Family Wines is among several wineries under that same roof.) A fresh, crushable gamay noir called “Les Petits Fers,” part of the Division-Villages line, recalls time spent in Beaujolais, France. Gamay is one of a dozen grapes with which she and Monroe work.
“I love Oregon pinot, and I also love that there is room in our wine culture and wine community here to explore other varietals,” says Norris. “We never stop adventuring and pioneering.”
Welsh Family Wines Blaufränkisch 2017 Cranberry, violets, and pinch of garden soil greet the nose, leading to a red-fruit palate that is poised, generous, and entirely food friendly. $23 to $30. At Ball Square Fine Wines, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Vinodivino, Newton, 617-527-8466.
Division Winemaking Company “Les Petits Fers” 2017 Drawing together gamay noir from five different vineyards, this bottle offers exuberant berries, lithe texture, and a winsomely gracious sensibility. Around $30. At The Urban Grape, South End, 857-250-2509; Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040.
Montinore Estate “Borealis” A whiff of mineral flintiness rides atop aromatic yellow fruit and white flowers, pointing to a bright palate of lime zest, petals, and passion fruit. Around $14. At Ball Square Fine Wines; Inman Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-945-2902.Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org