Willamette Valley, Oregon. It’s Not Just About Pinot Noir
Top Chardonnay’s, Rosé’s, and Sparkling Revealed
I write every year about the wonderful Willamette Valley wines, especially in the pre-Thanksgiving timeframe. Pinot Noir is the Willamette Valley area’s signature grape and a perfect pairing for the Thanksgiving turkey. But, did you know that they are also famous for their Chardonnay and rosé wines? Including Sparkling Rosé?
We put several wines to our “group taste test.” Thank you Brian and Wendy Hatfield, and DD, my Level 1 Somm neighbors for staging our tasting. First, however, I will give you some background on Willamette Valley, Oregon. See “Touring Oregon’s Willamette Valley Wine Country,” Feb. 2021. Note the beautiful “Fall in Willamette Valley” photograph by my favorite wine photographer, Janis Miglavs.
About Willamette Valley, Oregon – The Valley Resembles France’s Burgundy Region
The midpoint of Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees north latitude, the same latitude as France’s Burgundy region near Dijon. Oregon’s premier wine region, Willamette Valley, is sometimes nicknamed “The Burgundy of the West.” Both Willamette Valley and Burgundy have a terroir** that supports the growth of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes among other grapes like Pinot Gris. Both Willamette Valley and Burgundy feature beautifully structured vineyards in picturesque settings. Many differences set them aside though. Oregon’s Willamette Valley caters to a visitor’s sense of adventure offering winery experiences and outdoor adventures you will only find in America. Burgundy exhibits majestic and historic vineyards quite often not necessarily linked to one winery, but famous for individual plots called “Climats” and sometimes enclosed by a stone wall called a “clos.”
As you drive through the Willamette Valley, you might be surprised by the extraordinary vista of vineyards and pine trees with Mt. Hood hovering in the distance. The Willamette Valley countryside is home to some of the most celebrated wines in the world. But, up until the 1980’s, Christmas tree farms actually dominated the farmland.
It is not surprising given the terroir that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown in Oregon with Rosé of Pinot Noir one of the popular wines now.
Best of Tasting Chardonnay’s and Rosé’s of Pinot Noir, and Sparkling, Willamette Valley – Fall 2021
93 Points, Wine Enthusiast Editors Choice
Hyland Estates just celebrated 50 years in Willamette Valley. Half the vineyard is farmed biodynamically, half organically.
Tasting Notes: layers of apples, peaches, pineapple, and vanilla bean with highly exotic aromas. Great finesse. 30% new French oak, yet subtle. A top choice of mine.
93 Points, Decanter Magazine
One of my favorite visits to Willamette Valley was a tasting at Domaine Drouhin. With their catch-phrase “French Soul – Oregon Soil” they make (obviously) Burgundian style Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noirs. Robert Drouhin’s vision, and daughter and winemaker, Veronique’s style, set the stage for success.
Sit on the patio and take in the valley scene! This wine is my kind of Chardonnay. Pear, apple blossom, cardamom aromas, elegant texture and mouthfeel. Will age for 5-7 years and take on more tertiary flavors and aromas. A wonderful first course pairing for your Thanksgiving dinner.
Best Rosé of Pinot Noir:
Winemaker, Katie Santora, a UC Davis grad in enology and viticulture, is in her 9th year at Chehalem where they make sustainability a priority in farming and winemaking. Her 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir showed the most elegance of the tasting and we fully appreciated the lingering finish. Aromas of rose petals, white flowers, and grapefruit invited you to the glass. Truly refreshing.
90 Points, Wine Enthusiast
Perennially one of my favorite rosé’s in Willamette Valley. Winemaker Melissa Burr has been with Stoller since 2003 and was an early vintner of rosé. This winery is often chosen as “Best Tasting Room in America”…. A beautiful estate. This 2020 rose exhibits subtle strawberry and white peach aromas and is made more in the Provence style of rosé. Highly refreshing in the summer and perfect for those “hard to pair” Thanksgiving dishes.
Left Coast Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier, Sparkling 2016, $55- you may have to wait for next vintage
92 Points, Wine Enthusiast
Crafted from 100% Pinot Meunier (one of the 3 varieties of grapes used in the Champagne region), this brut rosé exhibits amazing structure and aromas of brioche, apricots, and raspberry.
Other Notable Great Chardonnay’s from Willamette Valley
90 Points, James Suckling
The oak is subtle, the wine is refreshing. Both French oak and stainless-steel tanks were utilized.
90 Points, Wine Enthusiast
With 50% new French oak, this is a creamy, caramel and lemon flavored, rich Chardonnay.
A great value Chardonnay, and popular at our tasting.
With 10 months in 28% new French oak barrels, this Chardonnay from the Tualatin Estate Vineyard would pair beautifully with lobster bisque, fried chicken, and cream-based pastas.
90 points, Wine and Spirits Magazine
With zesty flavors of citrus and baking spices, this balanced Chardonnay has a lingering finish. Perfect with halibut and chicken dishes.
93 Points, Wine Enthusiast
92 Points, Wine Advocate
This elegant Roserock Chardonnay has ripe apple, dried lemon, and creamy pastry flavors...an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving table.
91 Points, James Suckling
An unoaked Chardonnay. Highly refreshing.
90 Points, James Suckling
This wine features flavors of lemon curd and candied ginger with a long finish. 85% stainless steel and concrete, only 5% neutral French oak. Vibrant.
94 Points, Wine Enthusiast
Features flavors of ripe apples, hazelnut, and apricot. Great length and finish. Perfect pairing with a grilled salmon.
Dobbes Family Estate Chardonnay, 2019, Check current prices
Notes of Meyer lemon, Granny Smith apples, a hint of vanilla, and floral scents make this a heady Dobbes Chardonnay. 20% new French oak is used in the barrels.
Other Notable Great Rosé’s from Willamette Valley
Fresh apples and strawberry flavors make this vibrant rosé shine with a light meal or as an aperitif.
This pale strawberry-color wine has hints of citrus, vanilla, and cream.
**”What is Terroir? Terroir is a French term representing the special combination of climate, soil, latitude, rain, sun, geography, elevation and aspect, and growing conditions that are unique to a vineyard or viticulture region. It evokes a “Sense of Place.” It only took 37 English words for me to describe terroir. That is why the French term terroir is such a useful term for winemakers, viticulturists, and wine writers! Ask yourself, does this wine express the aromas, body, and flavor of its terroir? The great ones often do. Tricia Conover, DipWSET®, CSS, AWE
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