Northern Willamette Valley is one of the most enjoyable wine regions in the Pacific Northwest to visit especially if you like Pinot Noir, although thats not required here in the heart of Oregon wine country.
There is a wide swath of wine to try here.
Plenty of wineries not only make Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling; some also bring in warm-climate grapes from southern Oregon, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The northern Willamette Valley is less than an hours drive from downtown Portland, and it combines tranquil vineyards and tree-lined countryside with enjoyable small towns. It is a fantastic touring experience, thanks to the more than 100 wineries and at least 15 B&Bs.
Use the towns of Carlton, Dundee, McMinnville or Newberg as the base for your visit. Carlton in particular has emerged as the wine capital of Oregon.
The small town is home to more than two dozen wineries and tasting rooms, including venerable Ken Wright Cellars. The influx of wineries has drawn a number of restaurants and other tourism-related businesses.
The northern Willamette Valley can be broken into six distinct regions, all of which have been approved American Viticultural Areas for a half-decade. They include the Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton, McMinnville and Ribbon Ridge. The latter, at 3,350 acres, is the smallest appellation in the Pacific Northwest. All the AVAs are within a few miles of each other, but you can easily spend a day in each.
If you are planning a visit to the northern Willamette Valley, here are a few examples of great wines from the region.
Amity Vineyards 2009 Crannell Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $35: Here is a fruit-forward Pinot Noir that opens with whiffs of dark strawberry, boysenberry, black cherry and smoky milk chocolate. A sip makes for a smooth drink of black cherry that evolves into cherry pie flavors with lingering lip-smacking blueberry acidity and a late showing of blueberry skin tannin. Enjoy with a pork loin prepared with LaBarge Gourmet Spices Rib Rub.
Carlton Hill Wine Co. 2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, $50: This wine opens with aromas of black currant candy, elderberries, blueberries and vanilla. On the palate, it reveals flavors of currants, black cherries, blackberries and chocolate orange sticks.
Luminous Hills 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, $28: This remarkable Pinot Noir opens with aromas of saddle leather, a whisper of smoke, mint, mocha, tobacco leaves and dried blackberries, followed by flavors of black olives, dark chocolate, black raspberries, elderberries and a nice cigar. Its a mouth-filling wine backed with bright acidity and moderate tannins.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.