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Oregon’s Golden Era

Oregon’s modern winemaking era recently passed the half century mark, and it’s really just in the past two decades that its industry growth has accelerated. Such a young region might be expected to be more of a work in progress than one capable of attracting worldwide attention. But as the ratings and reviews here show, Oregon’s grape growers and vintners have accomplished near miracles in a very short time.

Great wines begin in the vineyards, and ongoing improvements in clonal selection, rootstock and site selection, along with maturing vines in many locations, have all contributed. New AVAs—there are now 18 in the state, and more on the way—have proven to be much more than marketing gimmicks. When you taste Pinot Noir from McMinnville, for example, it’s distinctively different from Ribbon Ridge or Eola-Amity Hills.

Oregon’s grape growers and vintners have accomplished near miracles in a very short time.

Oregon is best known for its outstanding Pinot Noir, which is why the Willamette Valley continues to attract important investors such as the Jackson Family Wines and Maison Louis Jadot. The 2013 vintage, though challenging, has produced ageworthy, elegant Pinots from many producers including Angela Estate, Antiquum Farm, Archery Summit, Bethel Heights, Elk Cove, the Eyrie Vineyards, Owen Roe, Ponzi and Winderlea.

With their moderate alcohol levels, vibrant acidity and impressive balance and length, these wines will not only shine when new, but with proper cellaring will age into the resonant, subtle, palate-bending wines that make Pinot Noir the Holy Grail of winemaking. There is much here to admire, and much to explore.

Drink Up These 10 Diverse Oregon Selections


Antiquum Farm 2013 Luxuria Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley); $75, 92 points. Just one barrel was made, all 777 clone and aged in 100% new French oak. Extra concentration and darker fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry are the payoff. It’s a wine resonant with complex streaks of mineral and steel.

Sineann 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel (Columbia Valley); $39, 92 points. The original vines date back almost a century, perched above the Columbia River on the Oregon side. This is ultraripe, with brambly fruit running from strawberry preserves right on through cherry pie. As the alcohol would suggest, it’s full bodied and loaded with jammy fruit.

Obsidian 2012 Tempranillo (Oregon); $28, 90 points. Smooth and appealing, with a smoky edge to the purple plum and berry fruits, this is a flavorful, forward and easy-drinking rendition of what may become Southern Oregon’s signature grape. The tannins are silky and the length impressive.

Folin Cellars 2012 Estate Syrah (Rogue Valley); $32, 89 points. The color of oxblood, this meaty, tannic wine pours espresso, black licorice and composted earth around tart blackberry fruit. It’s aromatic, spicy and nicely balanced.

Day 2013 Hock & Deuce Mae’s Vineyard Red (Applegate Valley); $34, 89 points. Composed of 80% Syrah and 20% Viognier, this is rather light in color for Syrah, but flavors are full and penetrating. It’s intensely aromatic, with a mix of smoke, sage and briary flavors.

Whites and Rosé

The Eyrie Vineyards 2014 Estate Chardonnay (Dundee Hills); $27, 96 points. Even if winemaker Jason Lett tripled the price of this wine, it would still be a standout among its peers. This opens with intense aromatics of pineapple fruit, bracing acidity, and compelling length. On the second and third day after opening it remained quite fresh and expressive, with further details of fruit and mineral beginning to emerge. Drink now through 2035. Cellar Selection.

Argyle 2005 Extended Tirage Brut (Willamette Valley); $75, 93 points. Two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, this aged a decade in bottle on the yeast, before being disgorged in August 2015. Amazingly fresh, it bursts with subtle, well-integrated flavors of citrus rind, peach, almond and pastry. The length and imposing structure suggest it can age for another decade. Drink now through 2025. Cellar Selection.

Antiquum Farm 2014 Daisy Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley); $20, 92 points. The less expensive of the winery’s two Pinot Gris, this is in some respects the better wine. Excellent focus pulls crisp flavors of pear, lemon curd and flinty mineral into sharp resolution, and appealing minerality gives the acidity a resonant texture. It all resolves in a lovely, creamy finish. Editors’ Choice.

Swick 2014 Cancilla Vineyard Blanc de Noir (Willamette Valley); $20, 90 points. All Pinot Noir, fermented in neutral oak and put through partial malolactic, this belongs in the rosé category. A pretty, pale-copper color, it offers a pleasing toasted-cracker frame around stone fruit and supple acids. Drink this chilled to white wine temperature.

Sweet Cheeks 2014 Riesling (Oregon); $14, 89 points. Here is an easy-drinking, off-dry and delightfully fragrant wine to enjoy as an apéritif or with lightly spiced Asian fare. Honeysuckle and orange blossom aromatics dovetail with pear and papaya fruit flavors. It’s round and appealing, with a good lift to the finish. Best Buy.