Did you know that living in the Portland area means you’re in the middle of one of the largest wine-producing regions in the US? This unique area is located virtually at the center of Washington State and Oregon, the 2nd and 3rd largest wine-producing regions in the US, respectively. What does this mean for you as a wine-lover?
Access to great, locally-produced wines
The Pacific Northwest, as this area is known, is home to a number of different wine varieties and styles. In Oregon, Pinot Noir reigns supreme, with the cool climate providing the perfect microclimate (in French, “terroir”) for growing Pinot Noir grapes.
The traditional home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy in France, which, like Oregon, lies on the 45 degree North latitude. Both regions share a cool climate and similar soil conditions, making the style of Pinot wines they produce very similar. Although Burgundy typically takes top honors in world wine competitions on Pinot Noir, Oregon also performs very well and continues to improve over time.
After Pinot Noir the most-produced grape variety in Oregon is Pinot Gris, a crisp, acidic white wine from Italy, followed by Chardonnay, another Burgundian grape. Oregon’s cooler microclimate means that Chardonnays produced here are quite different from the wines coming out of California further South. Hot and dry California produces full-bodied Chardonnay wines that hold up well when aged in oak. In Oregon, however, the style is much closer to that of Pouilly-Fuissé or the Mâcon.
Aside from these is a smattering of other grape varieties such as Syrah, Riesling, Tempranillo, and Merlot. One of my favorites from the area, however, is Gamay, the soft, light, fruity wine from Beaujolais. Only a handful of local wineries produce it today, but it seems to be especially well-suited to the local climate, and the number of producers is growing. Try the excellent Brick House Gamay from the tiny Ribbon Ridge AVA in Willamette Valley for a wonderful example of Oregon Gamay.
North of us is Washington State, home to a wide variety of grape varieties, both red and white. Bordeaux-style red wines dominate here, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot leading in terms of production. Washington State has many Approved Viticultural Areas (AVAs), and the region is becoming known as home to many world-class wine producers.
Oregon wine country is simply beautiful, and getting there is easier than you might think. 45 minutes south of Portland is Oregon’s largest wine-producing region, home to the Willamette Valley and Dundee Hills AVAs, among others. Many of the wineries there have tasting rooms that are open to the public every single day of the week. In Oregon there are over 300 tasting rooms! Spending an afternoon visiting wineries and tasting the wine produced there can be both fun and educational.
Worried about drinking and driving? Hire a car or limousine using one of the many companies providing such services. These services cater to groups of all sizes, and the larger the group, the less the per-person cost. Package tours are available which include not only the driver and transportation, but also tasting room fees and food along the way.
Winery visits are great not just for the good wine, but they also afford the opportunity to see how and where wine is produced, and the spectacular beauty of the vineyards themselves. You could do worse than to spend a day touring wine country!
Epicurean delights aplenty
Wine is meant to be enjoyed with the food local to it, and this is just as true here as it is in Burgundy, Sicily, or Vienna. Pacific Northwest wines go wonderfully well with local seafood, game and produce, and many local restaurants go out of their way to pair the two to excellent effect. La Rambla in downtown McMinnville is an excellent example of a restaurant where you can enjoy the full bounty of locally-produced wines accompanied by a wide range of tapas-style dishes prepared with seasonal local ingredients.
What are some typical pairings you’ll find here in Portland? Pinot Noir and grilled wild salmon is a classic favorite. Like shellfish? Try oysters from the Oregon coast with some un-oaked Oregon Chardonnay. If meat is more your style try pairing a Tempranillo from the Umpqua Valley with Oregon lamb. Or of course you can leave it up to your trusted local restaurant, many of which take great pride in showcasing local food with creative abandon.