Like their college football counterparts, the wines of the Pacific Northwest rarely get their due.
If you’re a college sports fan, it’s easy to overlook Oregon football. They don’t get the recognition or have the game tradition as PAC-10 powers USC or UCLA, but the Ducks always stand out. That’s because a few years back, the university partnered with Nike to develop new uniforms in bold styles and colors that can be mixed and matched to create more than 350 combinations.
The story of Oregon football is not that different from that of the wine regions of Oregon and Washington. Often overshadowed by the popularity of California labels, the Pacific Northwest has been quietly producing quality wines for more than three decades and is now the country’s second-largest wine producing region.
And while Nike didn’t have anything to do with the wine region’s newfound attention, the winning combination of ideal weather, fertile soil and climate effect of the Cascade Mountains certainly did.
Located on the same latitude as some of the best French vineyards, Washington’s grape-friendly climate results from the rain shadow effect of the Cascade Mountains: As cool easterly moving air risesover the Cascade Mountains, the air temperature drops and rain falls, thereby “shadowing” the east side with dry conditions. (The Ducks uniform is water-resistant because of Eugene’s wet weather.)
Most of the vineyards are located on the east side of the mountains where warm days and cool nights allow the grapes to ripen fully while maintaining high acidity.
In whites, look for the refreshing crispness of Riesling or fuller-bodied Rhône varieties such as Marsanne and Roussanne. The region also has stellar reds, including Rhône-styled Syrah and Bordeaux-styled blends crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The grape scene changes west of the Cascade Mountains. In Oregon, fantastic Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir varieties are the gems. Vineyards in the valley stretching from Portland to Eugene benefit from the moderating marine breezes that slow the ripening process and give the grapes extra hang time to develop flavors. The result is world-class Pinot Noir with bright red fruit and acidity alongside fuller-bodied Pinot Gris crafted for the table.
It’s variety even the Ducks would love.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by her tasting consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
2007 Next Riesling, Oregon ($14): Next, a brainchild of King Estates, is designed as an everyday value wine with character and balance. Citrus, floral blossom, peach, lemon and perfumed aromas are supported by crisp acidity.
2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Oregon ($18): Classic in style, the wine shows ripe aromas of pear and melon with a hint of spice. Medium-bodied with medium-plus acidity, this wine is great alone or with food.
2006 DeLille Doyenne Roussanne, Columbia Valley, Washington ($37): Crafted from a classic Rhône Valley grape called Roussanne, this wine is concentrated, full-bodied and floral. Meyer lemon and peach aromas are balanced by bright acidity.
2006 Panther Creek Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir,
Oregon ($44): This version is made using fruit from the hilly Shea Vineyard in the north. The wine has fantastic floral components along with plenty of plum and blackcherry fruit.
2006 Tamarack Firehouse Red, Washington ($20): A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and other red grapes, Firehouse Red is a great value. Blackberries and dark cherry fruit are spiced with coffee, dark chocolate and peppery aromas.
2005 NXNW, Columbia Valley, Oregon ($29): Made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes harvested in the Colombia Valley, which straddles Washington and Oregon. A big wine that is approachable with loads of red fruits, spice and a hint of chocolate.