Known for its sweeping landscape, berry bushes, hazelnut trees and lovely vineyards that conform to the swales and contours of rolling hillsides, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has developed into one of the great wine destinations of America over the past four decades. Today, Pinot Noir is the highlight of Oregon’s wine industry. With a cooler climate and shorter growing season than California, the elegant flavors of red, black and blue fruits, and nuances of earth, mineral, and spice are lifted with high levels of natural acidity. Beyond Pinot, there is also a new resurgence in the high-quality white wines from the region, particularly with Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Whites: Typically planted in the same vineyards as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris is an extremely popular grape to grow in the Willamette Valley. Other special white varietals to look for include Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Müller-Thurgau, a special Swiss hybrid of Riesling and Madeleine Royale.
Reds: No doubt Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in Willamette Valley, but smaller plantings of cool-climate Syrah and Grenache are intriguing as well.
White Wines: Pinot Gris is bright and racy with fragrant aromas and flavors of peach, tropical fruits, citrus, white pepper and zippy acidity. Chardonnays from the region are known for their plush texture with flavors of apple, pear, wild mushroom and mineral.
Red Wines: Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley tend to have an earth quality comparable to those found in the fine red wines of Burgundy. In addition to the classic aromas and flavors of rose petals, ripe red fruit, cherry, cranberry, and wild herbs, the best affordable Pinots from the region often have secondary flavors of red currant, pomegranate and forest floor. For the higher-tiered reserve and vineyard designate wines, expect deeper flavors, more texture and potential for long-term aging in the cellar.
For whites, think fresh produce, salads with hazelnuts, wild herbs, fresh fish, poultry and pasta dishes with savory white sauces. With Pinot Noir, think fruit-based salads, wild mushrooms, deeper fish dishes, pork, duck, and complex cheeses.