Oregon’s 50 Best Wines 2012

After blind-tasting more than 500 bottles over two weeks, our panel of local wine connoisseurs landed on a delicious (and surprising) selection of 50 wines. Drink up!

By Allison Jones September 15, 2012 Published in the October 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Oregon cork design o0skke

Image: Kate Madden

Welcome to a new era of Oregon wine. Gone is the total domination of pinot noir’s old (and new) guard. Sure, our signature grape remains a mainstay of any best-of list, but it finds itself among an ever-livelier crowd of gamay, rosé, and Auxerrois produced in Oregon’s idyllic vineyards.

Over two weeks of marathon tasting sessions—every label concealed from the judges’ view—our panel of local wine experts sampled bottles from wineries large and (very) small, and producers both young and seasoned. The resulting list of 50 wines is a snapshot of Oregon’s state of the art, circa 2012. Best of all, more than half of the bottles are under $30.

It’s a whole new world, and it’s delicious.

Tasting guide uaus00

Pinot Noir

1. White Rose Estate Winery | 2010 Pinot Noir
98 Points

Dundee Hills Apellation Series
Dundee Hills, $45


Image: Kate Madden

Sourced from three vineyards perched on the Dundee Hills’ east- and southeast-facing volcanic slopes, this world-class wine showcases the remarkable trajectory of winemaker Jesus Guillen’s career. Guillen began as a vineyard worker in 2002, but his sophisticated palate and passion for the art of enology launched him into the role of head winemaker in 2008. Since then, his balanced, elegant, and complex wines have earned him a respected place among the state’s wine elite. With rich flavors of cherry compote, baking spices, mushroom, and dill—a surprising element of the classic Oregon pinot flavor profile—along with a savory earthiness, this wine drinks beautifully right now, and will age well for at least five to seven years. 

2. White Rose Estate Winery | 2010 Pinot Noir
 98 Points

White Rose Vineyard
Dundee Hills, $70

Thanks to Guillen’s winemaking prowess and owner Greg Sanders’s long-standing love of elegant whole-cluster wines, White Rose has produced a lineup worthy of both of the top spots on this year’s list. Grapes from the four oldest blocks of the hilltop White Rose estate vineyard (planted in 1980) were selected for this intense, weighty wine with notes of cinnamon sticks, cedar, wet leaves, and ripe red fruit. This gorgeous whole-cluster–fermented wine was processed with the winery’s signature old-world wooden basket presses to ensure soft tannins and delicate aromatics with a long, satisfying finish.

3. Elk Cove Vineyards | 2010 Pinot Noir
 97 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $27

This beautiful, inexpensive pinot delivers what fans around the world think of as a classic Oregon version, with bold aromatics of black cherry and truffle that seem to jump right out of the glass. From one of Oregon’s pioneering wineries—boasting a legacy of nearly four decades of great wine—it offers luscious flavors of ripe red cranberries, raspberries, and cherries characteristic of 2010’s late-hanging harvest.

4. St. Innocent Winery | 2010 Pinot Noir
 97 Points

Zenith Vineyard
Eola-Amity Hills, $36

With heady scents of blackberry pie, campfire smoke, and black tea, this complex single-vineyard wine develops an earthy, floral undertone on the palate. It’s rounded out with soft tannins and great acidity that allow for both easy drinking now and development over time—guaranteed to please both the adventurous oenophile and the novice.

5. Willamette Valley Vineyards | 2009 Pinot Noir
 95 Points

Willamette Valley, $45

Winemaker Don Crank selected the best barrels from Willamette Valley Vineyard’s sustainably grown vine blocks to create this lush and complex wine, offering aromas of grapefruit, plum, and cherries with multilayered flavors of Campari and orange peel. There’s enough spice, tang, and acid to rejuvenate anyone craving a truly different kind of pinot.

6. Atticus Wine | 2009 Pinot Noir
 95 Points

Atticus Vineyard
Yamhill-Carlton, $42

Owned by two passionate, diverse families—with roots in Hong Kong, Peru, Ireland, Greece, and Paris—Atticus Wine applies a worldly approach to Oregon terroir. This bottle’s complex aromas of dark fruit, Asian spices, and sesame oil deliver a silky-textured, layered palate, dark and deep and with just enough acid to keep things bright.

Image: Kate Madden

 7. Walter Scott | 2010 Pinot Noir
 95 Points

Holstein Vineyard
Dundee Hills, $38

A labor of love from top local wine experts Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow, this small-production wine shines with the 2010 vintage’s unique flavors of Campari, cranberries, orange zest, raspberries, and rose hips. Aged for 15 months in French oak—30 percent new—this elegant, unfiltered wine perfectly balances sweet and bitter notes for a sophisticated sip.


Image: Kate Madden

 8. Apolloni Vineyards | 2009 Pinot Noir
 94 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $26

The Apolloni estate vineyard’s south-facing slopes are carefully cultivated for low yields of complex, sustainably grown fruit. The 2009 vintage benefited from a warm, dry fall that allowed for the development of lush, ripe grapes. They infuse this unusual wine with flavors of dried fruit, tea leaves, and dried roses.


9. Tyee Wine Cellars | 2009 Pinot Noir
 94 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $24

Brooding yet balanced, Tyee showcases the darker side of pinot noir, with firm tannins, shadowy floral scents, and flavors of cranberry, bitter orange, and black cherry. Its complexity results from the unique blend of grapes from the estate vineyard’s young and old vines.

10. Evesham Wood Vineyard | 2010 Pinot Noir
 94 Points

Le Puits Sec Vineyard
Eola-Amity Hills, $36

Boasting aromas of pomegranate and black currant, this pinot’s nose is soft and delicate. Dried lavender accents flavors of ripe red fruit and a savory midpalate. Sourced from the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge, known for its shallow volcanic basalt soils and low fruit yield, this wine is certified as organically grown by Oregon Tilth.

11. Hawks View Cellars | 2010 Pinot Noir
93 Points

Hawks View Vineyard
Chehalem Mountains, $35

A select blend of sustainably farmed grapes from the Hawks View estate vineyard results in a balanced wine, marked by aromas of violets and plum. Strong but well-integrated tannins round out flavors of marionberry and chocolate for a bold but elegant glass.

12. Haden Fig | 2010 Pinot Noir
 93 Points • Best Buy

Cancilla Vineyard
Willamette Valley, $30

This bright and tangy selection is perfect for pairing with Oregon seafood. With an herbaceous nose boasting notes of dill, orange peel, and raspberry, it develops into a gorgeous dark-fruit palate with a touch of minerality, bright acid, and a long, pure finish.

13. Ardiri Winery | 2009 Pinot Noir
 91 Points

Willamette Valley
Chehalem Mountains, $34

The only wine on our list to make an appearance two years running, this estate pinot noir continues to impress with its rich flavors of cassis, dark cherry, and black pepper, balanced by big, luscious tannins. A note of menthol on the finish adds a refreshing touch to a deliciously dark wine.

14. Utopia Vineyard | 2009 Pinot Noir
 91 Points

Paradise Private Reserve
Ribbon Ridge, $55

Utopia owner Daniel Warnshuis’s first private reserve release is a lush garnet beauty presenting bold flavors of rose petals and ripe red fruit. The single-vineyard wine’s elegant tannins and spirited acidity balance with complex spice.

15. Lazy River Vineyard | 2009 Pinot Noir
 90 Points

Lumpkin Family Estate
Yamhill-Carlton, $36

This robust wine showcases the savory side of the versatile pinot noir grape with big, balanced flavors of soy sauce, truffles, dry earth, blackberries, and dried flowers on the palate. A long finish offers notes of barbecue smoke and charred meat.

Image: Kate Madden

 16. Tyee Wine Cellars | 2009 Pinot Noir
 90 Points

Estate Barrel Select
Willamette Valley, $35

Offering sweetly herbaceous aromas of fresh English peas, mint, and red plums on the nose, this pinot rounds out with ripe red cherries and a touch of vanilla on the palate. A bit shy out of the glass, it will develop into a true beauty within a few years.

17. Domaine Drouhin Oregon | 2009 Pinot Noir
 90 Points

Dundee Hills, $65

A truly classic Oregon pinot noir: lightly oaked and luscious, it shines on the palate with notes of pure red cherries and black currants. Produced entirely with grapes from the Drouhin family estate in the Dundee Hills, it offers a vivid sense of place.

18. Adelsheim | 2010 Pinot Noir
 90 Points

Elizabeth’s Reserve
Willamette Valley, $55

This blend of estate and non-estate wines showcases the Willamette Valley in a single glass. Winemaker David Paige carefully selects the best characteristics from different soil types, clones, and barrel characteristics for a wine that’s satisfying and extremely drinkable, with flavors of bright raspberry and soft, musky cedar.

19. David Hill | 2009 Pinot Noir
 89 Points

Winemakers Cuvée
Willamette Valley, $50

The first signature cuvée from winemaker Jason Bull, this big, bold pinot bursts with lush flavors of blackberries and dark plums. Thanks to its full-bodied profile and robust tannins, it will hold its own against bold dishes like grilled meats.

20. Libra | 2008 Pinot Noir
 89 Points

Momtazi Vineyard
Willamette Valley, $35

Complex and slightly heavy aromas of anise and dried dark fruits give way to a surprisingly lively palate with plenty of acid and bright red-fruit flavors.  

Slide Show: Behind the Scenes of the 2012 Wine Tasting

Other Reds

Image: Kate Madden

 1. Division Winemaking Company | 2011 Gamay Noir
 94 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $20

Forget what you know about gamay: this beauty is no cheap Beaujolais nouveau! Thomas and Kate Monroe (members of the new Southeast Wine Collective) are leading a gamay brigade, aiming to bring this delicious varietal to more of Oregon’s vineyard slopes. Aged five months in neutral French oak, this well-balanced, tannic, and sophisticated cherry-red wine carries both the fresh berry and spicy white-pepper notes that characterize the upper echelon of the varietal.

2. Teutonic Wine Company | 2010 Pinot Meunier
 94 Points • Best Buy

Borgo Pass Vineyard
Willamette Valley, $22

One of the traditional components of Champagne blends, pinot meunier enjoys a solo performance in this pale red wine, showing off its ripe cherry and pomegranate flavors and a smoky, earthy edge. Though the grape is rarely grown outside of Europe, Teutonic’s Barnaby and Olga Tuttle make the most of Oregon’s few plots of pinot meunier to create this easy-drinking, one-of-a-kind wine.

3. God King Slave Wines | 2009 Syrah-Tempranillo
 93 Points • Best Buy

Rogue Valley, $26

God King Slave’s young owners, Chris Jiron and Christine Collier, are tireless champions of Southern Oregon wine, believing that the region’s diversity and climate will broaden the state’s international wine reputation. (Their motto: “Create like a God. Command like a King. Work like a Slave.”) With their first vintage of this herbaceous, meaty, and compelling syrah-tempranillo blend, they’re on their way.

4. Tesóaria Vineyards | 2010 Barbera
 91 Points

Southern Oregon, $35

Bursting with the lush flavors of red and dark blue fruit, a food-friendly acidity, and a savory backbone through the palate, this easy-drinking, hand-harvested wine hails from the Olson family’s sustainably farmed winery on the banks of the Umpqua River.

5. Bryn Mawr | 2009 Tempranillo 
 91 Points

Image: Kate Madden

 Eola-Amity Hills, $35

The Bryn Mawr estate—one of the few in the Willamette Valley to successfully grow tempranillo—is perched high above the valley floor, where cool afternoon breezes preserve the acidity and freshness of the fruit. The result: a bold wine that balances the classic tempranillo characteristics of plum and dark cherry with smoky coffee notes and vivacious acidity. 

6. Glaser Estate Winery | 2011 Malbec
 90 Points • Best Buy

Southern Oregon, $28

Recalling the bright, floral malbecs of France’s Loire Valley, this fresh and richly colored wine sparkles with flavors of tart cherry and grapefruit zest, plus a touch of stony minerality.

7. Folin Cellars | 2008 Estate Tempranillo
 90 Points • Best Buy

Folin Vineyards
Rogue Valley, $30

Southern Oregon’s hot summer days and cool nights provide ideal conditions for warm-climate varietals like tempranillo, as this wine gracefully proves. Dark and full-bodied, Folin’s rich wine boasts deep, spicy black-fruit flavors and well-integrated tannins lightened by fresh acidity and a delicate floral overtone.

8. Styring Vineyards | 2008 Petit Verdot-Cabernet Sauvignon
 90 Points

Reckless Red Blend
Columbia Valley, $35

The only wine on our list sourced from Columbia Valley vineyards, this well-balanced blend of warm-climate varietals offers a unique flavor profile studded with Indian spices, lush blackberries, dark plums, and fresh grape skins. 

Image: Kate Madden

 9. TeSóSria Vineyards | 2010 Syrah
 89 Points

Southern Oregon, $35

Medium-bodied and lively, TeSóAria’s ruby red holds flavors of savory spice, black pepper, and roasted meats, with a lingering note of barbecue smoke on the finish. Notes of ripe raspberry and chocolate balance the wine’s intriguing savory characteristics.

10. J. Scott Cellars | 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
 89 Points • Best Buy

Rogue Valley, $28

Southern Oregon’s sunny Rogue Valley averages 10 inches of rainfall annually—an ideal climate for big, juicy wines like this, that serve up generous fruit flavors of black currant with a base of pleasing spice and fresh violets.


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Image: Kate Madden

 1. Ribera Vineyards | 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir
 94 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $24

Darrel and Molly Roby’s small West Linn winery is quickly gaining acclaim for its delicate, thoughtful, and affordable wines. Copper-toned and shimmering with notes of fresh strawberry and watermelon, this food-friendly dry rosé is a dinner-party pleaser.

2. Domaine Drouhin Oregon | 2011 Pinot Noir Edition Rosé
 94 Points • Best Buy

Dundee Hills, $20

Made entirely from pinot noir grapes grown at the Domaine Drouhin estate vineyard, this breezy wine offers delicate flavors of rose petals and raspberries with a lively saline edge.

3. Abacela | 2011 Rosé of Grenache
 94 Points • Best Buy

Umpqua Valley, $15

The Spanish specialists at Abacela are revealing just how light and fresh warm-weather varietals can be. This delightful, dry rosé pulls you in with aromas of pomegranate and strawberries and hooks you with flavors of peaches, tart cherry, and zippy citrus.

4. Luminous Hills | 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir
 93 Points • Best Buy

Aura Estate
Yamhill-Carlton, $21

This sustainably farmed wine reveals the lighter side of pinot noir, balancing refreshing flavors of strawberries and melon with a subtle, earthy complexity. Winemaker Byron Dooley pulls off the wine after brief contact with the grapes’ plum-red skins—the “saignée method”—to achieve a lush hue and intensity.

5. Division Winemaking Company | 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir
 91 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $19

Inspired by the dry and structured rosés of France’s Loire Valley, this light salmon–colored wine showcases flavors of watermelon, green apple, and fresh peach.


Image: Kate Madden

 1. Crowley | 2010 Chardonnay
 96 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $24

A perfect example of the new Oregon chardonnay, with lively acid and light, well-integrated oak aging (25 percent new barrels), this bottle allows the passion fruit and stone fruit notes to shine. Using Wente and 108 clones from the lauded Four Winds Vineyard and Maresh Vineyard estates, owner/winemaker Tyson Crowley’s sustainably farmed and affordable wine shows just how delicious a light touch can be. 

2. Amity Vineyards | 2010 Riesling
 96 Points • Best Buy

Wedding Dance
Willamette Valley, $17

Bursting out of the glass with aromas of honeysuckle, lemon zest, and sweet white flowers, Amity’s Wedding Dance offers touches of petrol and flint that characterize a classic Riesling—a joyous effort sure to convert Riesling skeptics into fanatics.

3. Stoller Vineyards | 2010 Chardonnay Reserve
 95 Points • Best Buy

Dundee Hills, $28

Sourced from Stoller’s Dundee Hills estate vineyard, this complex, rich, and silky Dijon clone chardonnay showcases aromas of citrus zest and honey, with flavors of nectarine and pear edged with a hint of white pepper.

4. Teutonic Wine Company | 2011 Riesling
 95 Points • Best Buy

Crow Valley “December Third”
Willamette Valley, $27

Oregon’s irreverent Riesling ringleaders offer up a refreshing blend of bright aromas, bracing acidity, and well-balanced flavors of green apple, orange peel, kiwi, and a stony minerality.

5. Four Graces | 2011 Pinot Blanc
 94 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $24

A quintessential pinot gris, this bright, crisp bottle delivers aromas of orange flower, star fruit, almond, and apricot, with a perfectly pretty palate of key limes and sweet apples.

6. Pyrenees Vineyard | 2009 Gewürztraminer
 93 Points • Best Buy

Umpqua Valley, $20

This aromatic, off-dry wine sparkles with scents of peach and crisp apple. Though the grape typically grows best in cold climates, the hot summer days of the Umpqua Valley give it a lush fullness on the palate, tasting of melon, honey, and pears.

7. Ponzi Vineyards | 2009 Chardonnay Reserve
 93 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $30

By using the Dijon clones best suited for the Willamette Valley’s cooler vintages, Luisa Ponzi has conjured a rich wine with complex layers of citrus, orange blossom, and a touch of caramel—and a long, satisfying finish.

8. Adelsheim | 2011 Auxerrois
 92 Points • Best Buy

Ribbon Ridge, $22

Home to one of the first plantings of Auxerrois—pronounced oak-sair-wah—in Oregon, Adelsheim continues to produce the best example of this largely unknown varietal. Balanced by notes of pear, pineapple, and orange blossom, its bracing acidity is as fresh as can be.

Image: Kate Madden

 9. Winderlea | 2010 Chardonnay
 92 Points

Willamette Valley, $36

This classic, sustainably farmed chardonnay showcases well-integrated oak and flavors of peach and apricot blossom, gaining depth with each sip for a refreshing tartness on the finish. 

10. Solena Estate | 2011 Pinot Gris
 92 Points • Best Buy

Willamette Valley, $20

Bursting with flavors of red apple, passion fruit, and orange blossom, this pretty wine gets a fruit-forward, juicy flavor boost from an addition of 6 percent gewürztraminer.

11. Penner-Ash | 2011 Viognier
 91 Points • Best Buy

Oregon, $30

Fermented exclusively in stainless steel tanks, this crisp and complex Rhone-style wine is ultra-refreshing, with vibrant acidity, floral aromas, and flavors of white peach, lychee, ginger, and cardamom.

12. Owen Roe | 2011 Pinot Gris
 90 Points • Best Buy

Crawford Beck
Eola-Amity Hills, $21

Luscious and balanced, Eola-Amity Hills’ true-to-type pinot gris features well-integrated acid and tangy-sweet tangerine flavors. Its breezy salinity begs to be paired with raw oysters or fresh crab.

13. Teutonic Wine Company | 2011 Riesling
 90 Points • Best Buy

Medici Vineyard
Chehalem Mountains, $19

Teutonic’s light and subtle old-vine wine is layered with delicate aromas of candied lemon zest and orange blossom—ideal for a picnic, paired with a spread of finger foods.

14. Misty Oaks | 2011 Pinot Gris
 89 Points • Best Buy

Julio’s Hill
Umpqua Valley, $16

Meyer lemon, marzipan, and honeydew notes shine on the palate of a wine that conjures the word “tropical.” Soft and fruit-forward, the estate-grown selection offers a touch of earthiness to ground its rich, exotic flavors.

15. Matello | 2010 Chardonnay Richard’s Cuvée
 89 Points

Ribbon Ridge, $42

Lush and rich, Marcus Goodfellow’s balanced wine serves up tropical notes of pineapple and lemon curd with bracing acidity and a long, silky finish. A foundation of minerality recalls the grapes’ source: the Whistling Ridge vineyard’s dry-farmed vines.

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