I have sipped my way through my luggage wine stores from France and must replenish. When a working trip to Oregon came up, I knew it was the perfect time to sneak in a day in Pinot Noir country. Willamatte Valley is quickly becoming known as the best U.S. grower of Pinot Noir. But with only one day to capitalize and a strict budget, it needed to be a mission of the surgical strike variety.
After extensive research, I ended up choosing 3 vineyards. The first was Sokol Blosser, located just south of Dundee Hills. The landscape reminded me vividly of Burgundy, France, with its rolling hills festooned with neat rows of grapes and sprinkling of ancient looking trees. The tasting room on their lands rolled into the horizon like a picture book and you couldn’t help but marvel as you stood on their front steps and took a picture. Inside, when the sommelier poured our tasting, I admired the distinct plumy color, dark with royal purple around the edges. When it comes to comparing reds I’m no expert, just an avid sipper, but I would say for the most part, Pinot Noir’s are lighter than your Cabernet or Merlot. To me, a good Pinot Noir can travel the menu, complimenting more dishes than just about any other red. I’ve even tried it with fish (gasp). In all, this first tasting at Sokol Blosser was a great start.
My second Pinot Noir choice ended up being my economic undoing. Four vineyards decided to combine forces and set up a tasting room in a little complex right off the Pacific Highway in Dundee Hills proper. Brand new, even the concrete looked fresh. Though not as picturesque as going to the vineyard, it was the picture of convenience. Evening Land Vineyards was my next target and it was nestled amongst its competitors: Le Cadeau Vineyard, Tertulia Cellars, and Angela’s Estate. If I had my druthers (and made a lot more money) I would have happily tested them all, but time wasn’t on my side and my research told me Evening Land was going to be worth it. My nerdy research bore fruit. If you only visit one Pinot Noir place while in Willamatte Valley, this should be a contender. If you don’t take my word then consider the three slightly inebriated women who came tumbling out of the tasting room, cases in tow and all toothy smiles.
“Oh, my god, you won’t be able to stop yourself. I only wish I had more room in my car.”
That’s a pretty good endorsement and I only had one foot in the door. At the time of my visit their wines were rated No. 4 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2014. The wines were so smooth yet so complex of flavor my taste buds were pirouetting. I heartily agreed with my new three best friends and didn’t hesitate to order a case of their 2015 vintage. Now, several months later, Wine Spectator has come out with their Top 100 and Evening Land bested themselves and sit at No. 3.
My final stop was an indulgence; bubbles at Argyle Winery. Any who have read my previous blogs, particularly regarding my trip to the Champagne region of France, know I’ve got a wee bit of an addiction to effervescence. I’m just glad bubbles don’t leave track marks. So I could not drive by what is thought to be one of the better sparkling shops in America without stopping to taste their wares. I was not disappointed. Particularly their rose´, which was light as air, not sweet but never bitter. They just built a new sprawling tasting room with high ceilings, tasteful decoration and designed for intimate enjoyment. I also learned Argyle’s bragging rights: they craft the only American sparkling served at the White House. Whatever your politics, that’s impressive. I left with a bottle under my arm to enjoy later at my hotel (and may have signed up for a case to be shipped home, I won’t confirm nor deny).
Anyone who has run the gambit of a one day tasting knows that when evening comes you are no longer interested in wine. After a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called Recipe in Newburg, I headed back to Dundee Hills. Amongst all the wine shops and next to the Psychic Healing Counselor (in case your aura needs a tune up) sits a little roadside bar representing Deception Brewery. The closing act of my adventure called for beer. The bar itself was tiny, holding perhaps 4-5 seats at the bar with a few scattered tables but the place was packed (and this was a Wednesday). My beer tastes swing towards the blond and less hoppy so I was surprised when I found an IPA I really liked: the Polygraph IPA. But their real winner was the Apricot Cream Ale; that baby won awards in 2014.
I have learned in all my wine travels, that where there is good wine there is usually good beer. So for all you beer drinkers out there forced into wine country, hold strong, hope is alive. They are usually of the craft variety with interesting concoctions that would do any mad beer scientist proud. Do a little research or just pay attention when you are driving around. You too can find a great beverage in wine country.
And trust me, after a day of tasting, I’ll join you. Whether it is Pinot Noir or beer, enjoy your beverage of choice!