If you are heading to Willamette Valley for a wine tasting experience, it means that you must love Pinot Noir. After all, 68% of all grapevines planted in the valley are Pinot Noir. Similarly, if you head to Napa, you must love Cabernet Sauvignon. But what really gets my Pavlovian responses into overdrive is when I discover the “other wine” of the region.
These wines typically are not publicized, are listed last on their website, and not included in the basic tasting. And that is what makes finding them so much fun. The wines are typically pet projects of the winemaker made in super small batches with great prices. They are unexpected, perhaps because it is from an obscure grape varietal. Or it is a common varietal that “should not” do well in that region. Or, of course, it could also be about the winemaking process, like skin contact Pinot Grigio (Ramato) that makes orange or amber wine instead of white wine.
What makes an “Other?”
Willamette Valley, OR by acres planted are:
Pinot Noir – 16,536 acres (68%)
Pinot Gris – 4,104 acres (17%)
Chardonnay – 1,941 acres (8%)
Riesling – 282 acres (1.2%)
Syrah – 261 acres (1.1%)
Pinot Blanc – 213 acres (0.9%)
Cabernet Sauvignon – 211 acres (0.9%)
Gamay – 114 (0.5%)
All Others Combined – 774 acres (3.5%)
Gewürztraminer: 85 acres; Müller-Thurgau: 66 acres; Tempranillo: 58 acres; Viognier: 40 acres; Sauvignon Blanc: 39 acres; Cabernet Franc: 20 acres; Albariño: 14 acres; Merlot: 11 acres; Malbec: 3 acres.
Leaving approximately 400 acres as not designated.
Given that the top three varietals make up 93% of total acres planted, it would make sense that anything else is, therefore, an “other.” Well, that would be a maybe but then again perhaps not. Stay tuned, and you will see what I mean.
“Other Wine” from Bryn Mawr Vineyards
Bryn Mawr Vineyards is doing some fun stuff with both processes and unusual grape varietals. I had the good fortune to sample a little of both.
2017 Estate Grown Dolcetto
Dolcetto is a variety typically seen in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. It is enjoyed as a young and lighter wine, compared to the region’s tannic and aged Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Planting these vines in Willamette was a risk that paid off in spades. I love this dark, intense, yet easy to drink, fruit-forward wine. Not too much fruit, but a tad more so than the Italian Dolcetto I have since tasted.
From the winemaker: Medium-dark garnet in color Bright and lifted aromas of blueberry and cedar box spice complexed with high-pitched stone and petrichor notes. Light and bright on the palate, this wine is an Old World throwback expressing verve and tension. – Rachel Rose, Winemaker. Winter 2019.
100% Estate Grown – Bryn Mawr Vineyards, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. From their website: $35.00 per bottle. Only 150 cases made.
If you like Merlot, Malbec, Montepulciano, Blaufränkish, or Bonarda, you may be a fan of Dolcetto.
You will find a Dolcetto at Ponzi Vineyards as well, although I did not have the opportunity to taste it, they make excellent wines so that I will taste it on my next visit.
Sokol Blosser is one of the seven original growers and wineries of Willamette Valley. They are most known for their estate-grown Pinot Noir. After our tastings and lunch at the vineyard, I wandered into the tasting room and sampled a few other wines. This white wine is one I brought home.
2018 Estate Müller-Thurgau
The history with Müller-Thurgau is deep at Sokol Blosser, as they are the first commercial producer in the U.S. to plant this varietal with the intent to sell.
For those unfamiliar, Müller-Thurgau is a white grape variety created by Hermann Müller from the Swiss canton (state) of Thurgau in 1882. It is a crossing of Riesling with Madeleine Royale in hopes that he could retain the flavors of the Reisling with the earlier ripening qualities of the Madeleine Royale. While this was not what happened, it went on to become a widely planted grape throughout Germany.
I do enjoy a dry Reisling, so this was a no brainer for me. My first thought was “Reisling-lite,” in that it has similar qualities but presented more softly and gracefully. And at least in this bottling absent the aroma of petrol which is typical for Reisling.
From the winemaker: This wine has big aromas of orange blossom, lemon zest, and ripe peaches. It is delicate on the palate with a little hint of sweet lemon and kiwi.
This is a delicious wine and one that came home with me in my suitcase. It is currently not listed on the Sokol Blosser website but, I would ask for it if I was in their tasting room.
If you are a Riesling fan, you want to track down a good bottle of this.
“Other Wine” from Native Flora
I LOVE Native Flora wines. Moreso, I find the contrarian owner, Scott Flora, to be a great storyteller, willing to run against the grain and will always question conventional wisdom. These are what made him a successful businessman and now a successful winemaker. Native Flora was the only winery where I placed a large enough order that it had to shipped versus taken home in my luggage. But this is about other wine, and this one from Native Flora is rare. So even though it is sold out, I had to include it in this post.
2017 “Jumping Ship” Pinot Gouges
Pinot what? You read correctly, its Pinot Gouges. First, you need to know that if the name of a grape’s first word is Pinot, then it is related to and is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is known to be one of the most genetically unstable wine grape varieties. Thus, Pinot Grigio (Gris), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir Précoce, and Pinot Teinturier are all clonal variations of Pinot Noir. Now you did not see Pinot Gouges on that list, did you? That is because Pinot Gouges is a next-generation mutation from Pinot Blanc. This grape is super rare with 12 known acres on earth, and Native Flora has access to some of that acreage.
This wine was served at the final dinner of the WWET conference, so I made no tasting notes. But I can tell you that I liked this wine so much that I made sure that I got a bottle in my order to share with Gary. The wine has since sold out as there were only 68 cases produced.
From the winemaker: Bright aromatics and acid drive on attack give way to a much weightier mouthfeel and long, clean finish.
If you like Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Pinot Blanc, this is a wine to try with the 2019 vintage.
Arneis From Helioterra Wines
Arneis is an Italian white grape varietal from the Piedmont region. It has been grown and used in wine for centuries until it almost went extinct in the 1970s. In spite of being a difficult grape to grow, ten years later, there was renewed interest, and Arneis made its comeback. I have since tried Arneis from Italy as well as this one from Oregon, and the wines are delicious. I am so glad it made a comeback. The white wines made from the Arneis grape tend to be dry and crisp with floral aromas that are full-bodied with notes of pear and apricot.
2017 Ribbon Ridge Redman Vineyard Arneis
My palate likes full-bodied white wines. This beautiful Arneis is absolutely stunning. I wish I had experienced this wine so that I could have sipped it slowly and taken my time discovering its nuances. But this was part of a dinner presentation, including eleven different wines, so we were onto the next quickly. Next time I am in Portland, I will plan a stop at Helioterra Wines.
From the winemaker: Delicately laced with aromas of white flowers, chamomile, and white peach that follow with flavors of ripe pear and almond.
Helioterra Wines is an urban winery located at 2025 SE 7th Ave., Portland, OR 97214. The wines are available in the tasting room in Portland or through the wine club.
You will find an Arneis at Ponzi Vineyards as well, although I did not have the opportunity to taste it, they make excellent wines so that I will taste it on my next visit.
More Other Wines from…
2015 Extended Tirage Sparkling Riesling from Brooks Wines
Who knew? A sparking Riesling that was OOTW!
From the winemaker:
Sophisticated and star bright with generous acidity and a lively mousse yield intensity and zip!
Floral & Herbal: Sweet Pea Blossom, Fennel Pollen
Fruit: Meyer Lemon, Tamarind, Gooseberry, Dragon Fruit, Candied Pomelo
Mineral & Earth: Oyster Shell, Wet Gravel
Sweet & Spice: Lace Tuile, Honeycomb, Marzipan
Brooks Wine specializes in growing and making exceptional Rieslings. But this Sparkling Riesling takes the cake. WOW, this was fantastic. Riesling on its own in Willamette Valley is an “other wine,” but a sparkling Riesling makes this “an other, other.”
You can purchase this wine Brooks Wine website for $55.00 a bottle.
2018 Pétillant from Bryn Mawr Vineyards
One of the very first wines I sampled on my trip to Willamette was the scrumptious 2018 Pétillant from Bryn Mawr Vineyards.
Generally, when you see the word pétillant, it is usually followed by a second word, “naturel.” Pétillant means “slightly sparkling,” and naturel means “natural or naturally.” Pét Nats, as they are nicknamed, is a hybrid of natural and modern Champagne-making techniques, including a second fermentation that naturally occurs in the bottle. That is not the case with this wine. This wine was not put through a second fermentation but instead took a contemporary turn when the wine was bottled at subzero temperatures, and CO2 is infused into otherwise still wine. Thus, The Pétillant!
The resilient sparkle lingers. The color is pale, and light pink with orange hue once poured into the glass. This wine cleanses your palate that is fresh and dry. The mouthfeel is generous. The composition of this wine is 59% Pinot Noir, 37% Pinot Gris, and 4% Maréchal Foch.
At 11.7% alcohol by volume, this is a sipper for a brunch that lasts all day. From their website its $25.00/bottle
There are so many more incredible “other wines” that I can not list them all. Please do yourself a favor, and the next time you head to Willamette Valley or any other wine region and seek out the lesser-known – “other wines.”
That is all for now.