Oregon's 50 Best Wines 2013
FROM CLASSIC PINOT TO HOT-BLOODED TEMPRANILLO, Oregon wine can hit some amazing highs. But how to choose the best? This year, we asked nine of Portland’s savviest wine pros to pick their favorite current releases. The impressive results span 20 varietals, 11 AVAs, and 25 bottles under $30. From toast-worthy bubbles to Southern Oregon superstars—and, of course, plenty of pinots— there’s never been a better time to be a local wine lover. Cheers to you, Oregon.
- •Prized Pinot
- •Sure-Bet Splurges
- •Best Bargains
- •Whimsical Whites
- •Southern Oregon Stars
- •New Wave Chardonnay
- •Breathtaking Bubbles
- •The New Class
- •The Biodynmaic Brigade
The Pro: Randy Goodman
The longtime wine director of Portland’s pioneering Wildwood Restaurant now owns and operates SE Division Street’s neighborhood bistro Bar Avignon with his wife, Nancy Hunt. Here, Goodman shares his favorite examples of the wine that put Oregon on the world wine map—with plenty of options priced to please.
1. Soter Vineyards
2010 Pinot Noir • Mineral Springs Ranch • Yamhill-Carlton • $50
Combining the decades-long passion of proprietor Tony Soter and the cellar prowess of winemaker James Cahill, this complex wine showcases a maturing vineyard’s potential for pinot. Sourced from vines at the 32-acre Mineral Springs Ranch—planted by the Soters in 2002—this stunning wine bursts with aromas of black raspberry, cocoa, and earth. Though delicious now, it will age into something spectacular. Pair one bottle with grilled pork tenderloin, and stash away a second to savor in a few years.
2. COLENE CLEMENS VINEYARDS
2010 Pinot Noir • Reserve • Chehalem Mountains • $45
Oregon newcomer Stephen Goff is quickly earning respect from his well-established neighbors. Rich and concentrated with flavors of dark Bing cherry and smoke, this wine reveals the charms of the 2010 vintage and shows off Goff’s pedigree—he was an assistant winemaker at Beaux Frères from 2001 to 2006.
3. Cristom Vineyards
2011 Pinot Noir • Mt Jefferson Cuvée • Willamette Valley • $30
Produced since 1994, this ever-reliable wine is a testament to winemaker Steve Doerner’s skill. Boasting a blend of fruit from several estate vineyards (most with stellar views of the titular peak), the 2011 vintage is bright and light with aromas of cranberry, pie cherries, and a touch of cinnamon.
4. Ayres Vineyard & winery
2011 Pinot Noir • Willamette Valley • $25
After cutting his teeth at Oregon’s famed Domaine Drouhin, Brad McLeroy has been quietly making delicious pinot from his family’s 38-acre Ribbon Ridge estate since 2000. In this bottle, McLeroy blends estate fruit with grapes from the Eola Hills for a flavorful pour of tart cherries, vanilla, and black plums.
5. Cameron Winery
2011 Pinot Noir • Dundee Hills • $26
This wine illustrates why winemaker John Paul’s bottles have been on every wine list at Bar Avignon since it opened: bright and high-toned with zippy acidity, it’s Oregon terroir in a glass, begging for a light chill and a backyard grill fired up with spice-crusted Oregon albacore and charred vegetables.
6. Love & Squalor
2011 Pinot Noir • Willamette Valley • $24
Matt Berson wears many hats: he’s the owner, winemaker, and chief bottle washer at Love & Squalor. With this bottle, Berson’s multitasking abilities are on display with sophisticated flavors of red earth, spicy cloves, and cinnamon.
7. Crowley Wines
2011 Pinot Noir • Willamette Valley • $24
Bright and juicy with flavors of dried strawberries, cola, and baking spice, winemaker Tyson Crowley’s latest vintage is a crowd-pleaser with a real sense of place. Thanks to a commitment to natural winemaking with certified sustainable fruit, Crowley’s wines reveal the best of the Dundee Hills: elegant, bold, and unflinchingly honest.
8. The Eyrie Vineyards
2010 Pinot Noir • Estate • Dundee Hills • $35
In 1966, against all advice from the winemaking world, David Lett (a.k.a. “Papa Pinot”) risked it all to plant his young family (and vines) in the Dundee Hills. The winery is now in the very capable hands of his son Jason, whose mastery of the estate’s old vines has resulted in wines like this one—complex, balanced, and rich with plummy fruit.
9. Patricia Green Cellars
2011 Pinot Noir • Estate Vineyard • Ribbon Ridge • $30
Patty Green and Jim Anderson founded this landmark winery in 2000, before the Ribbon Ridge AVA was on the map. After years of new plantings (and replantings) of the 52-acre estate, their vineyard is one of the best in the neighborhood. This vintage, the estate’s 12th, shows off the site’s powerful old-vine character, with minerality, subtle tannins, bold ripe raspberries, and spice.
10. Vincent Wine Company
2011 Pinot Noir • Ribbon Ridge • $24
Vincent Fritzsche founded his winery in 2009, and moved to the Southeast Wine Collective in 2012. In this vintage, his low-input approach delivers honest notes of blackberry, vanilla, and earth in each ruby-toned glass, and a long, complex finish lands it squarely as one of the best wine values in the state.
The Pro: Erica Landon
The powerhouse behind Walter Scott Wines is also an instructor for Portland’s Wine & Spirits Archive and crafts the wine lists at Bluehour, Clarklewis, 23Hoyt, Saucebox, Tabla, and Castagna. Here, she recommends five go-to bottles for indulging with confidence.
1. BETHEL HEIGHTS VINEYARD
2011 Pinot Noir • Casteel Reserve • Eola-Amity Hills • $60
Every year for a decade, the Casteel family has chosen a few barrels that best express the vintage to create their sought-after Casteel Reserve. The 2011 selection shows stunning balance with intense concentration, low alcohol, and vibrant acidity, teeming with notes of blackberries, black currant, and cherries.
2. Antica Terra
2011 Pinot Noir • Botanica • Willamette Valley • $75
In 2005, Maggie Harrison made a leap of faith, leaving the famed Sine Qua Non winery in California’s Ventura County to move her family to the Willamette Valley. It paid off. Thanks to her boldness and skill, Harrison has become known for silky, supple wines like this one, boasting a lush texture and concentrated flavors of black cherries and blood orange, with hints of rose.
3. Cowhorn Vineyard
2009 Reserve Syrah • Applegate Valley • $45
Bill and Barbara Steele broke ground in Southern Oregon in 2003 and quickly discovered that their land was covered in layers of river stones reminiscent of France’s Rhône Valley. They planted Rhône varietals like Syrah, grenache, and viognier—and today their wines are drawing national attention. This bottle offers a balance of power and elegance, with notes of blueberries, black plums, and black cherries layered with dark chocolate, baking spice, and hints of vanilla.
4. J. Christopher
2012 Über-Sauvignon • Croft Vineyard • Willamette Valley • $35
With their single-vineyard über-sauvignon, Jay and Ronda Somers have taken their passion for Old World–style elegance to the next level. This extremely limited bottling (just 166 cases) was aged in acacia wood for eight months, resulting in a mineral-driven wine with aromas of grapefruit, jasmine, and wet stones, bracing acidity, and a refined texture.
5. Cameron Winery
2011 Clos Electrique Blanc • Willamette Valley • $60
Sourced from Cameron’s organically farmed Clos Electrique estate vineyard, this age-worthy chardonnay is winemaker John Paul’s ode to the rich white wines of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Offering a full body with bright acidity, it’s a bottle you won’t soon forget.
The Pro: Dan Beekley
At his bottle shop CorksCru Wine Merchants, this approachable oenophile showcases small-label gems at unbeatable prices. His new project, Remedy Wine Bar, opened in June 2013 on the North Park Blocks with a similar message. Here, he reveals five budget-friendly bottles you can rely on.
1. Alexana Winery
2012 Riesling • Revana Vineyard • Dundee Hills • $28
This rich, complex Alsatian-style Riesling marks founder Madaiah Revana’s relatively young winery as one to watch. Crafted by lauded winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash, this bone-dry and delicious bottle will convert even the most adamant Riesling skeptic.
2. Dominio IV
2011 Viognier • Still Life • Oregon • $22
Using biodynamically farmed Southern Oregon fruit at their small McMinnville winery, Patrick Reuter and Leigh Bartholomew offer stunning wines at amazing prices. A quintessential viognier with aromatic fireworks of lavender, honeysuckle, and white peaches, this rich, mouthwatering wine drinks like chardonnay’s sexy younger sister.
3. Jan-Marc wine Cellars
2010 Merlot • Kortge Vineyard • Columbia Gorge • $22
Bursting with plummy richness, this bottle will make you forget what you thought you knew about merlot. Sourced from old vines near The Dalles in the Columbia River Gorge, this is a truly small-production find: just 31 cases were bottled in Jan-Marc and Barbara Baker’s “two-car winery” in North Portland.
4. Matzinger Davies wine company
2012 Sauvignon Blanc • Gorgeous Savvy • Columbia Gorge • $18
This clean, crisp, and citrusy creation from power couple Anna Matzinger (longtime winemaker at legendary Archery Summit) and Michael Davies (New Zealand–born winemaker at A to Z and Rex Hill) sips like a dream, with herbal notes and fresh minerality.
5. RoxyAnn Winery
2009 Claret • Rogue Valley • $26
Red Bordeaux blends—featuring cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, and petite verdot—are referred to as claret in the UK, but this chocolaty, rich pour with plenty of deep fruit flavors is all-American. The grapes hail from an estate vineyard near Medford called Hillcrest Orchards, which also grows pears, peaches, and apples.
The Pro: Ken Collura
Andina’s celebrated wine director and sommelier launched his career as a nationally syndicated wine writer credited for discovering easy-drinking, off-the-radar gems. We tapped into Collura’s love of the obscure to unearth these indie bottles pushing the boundaries of Oregon white wine.
1. Dobbes Family Estate
2011 Grenache Blanc • Crater View Vineyard • Rogue Valley • $26
How’s this for a wine obsession: each year, Joe Dobbes purchases all the grenache blanc grown in the state of Oregon. Thanks to the 2011 vintage’s hallmark acidity and brightness, this limited-production wine is vibrant and complex, with a silky weight thanks to more than five months aging in neutral French oak barrels.
2. Adelsheim Vineyard
2012 Auxerrois • Ribbon Ridge • $25
This bright and zingy white varietal (pronounced oak-sair-wah) hails from Alsace, where it generally ends up blended into the local sparkling wines. On its own, it’s a superb partner for seafood. The Adelsheim family is one of only seven wineries producing the varietal in the United States.
2012 Albariño • Umpqua Valley • $18
This crisp, clean varietal hails from Galicia in northwestern Spain, and it’s difficult to find renditions made in the States that taste like their delicious Spanish brothers. This one succeeds, thanks to the light hand of winemaker Andrew Wenzl. Drink it young—its flavors of green apple and zippy lemon zest are great with oysters.
4. J. Christopher
2012 Cristo Misto • Oregon • $14
Fermented in stainless steel, Jay Somers’s lively, dry blend of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and Riesling sparkles with snappy acid—perfect for balancing foods with a bit of richness. Uncork a bottle to complement soft, creamy cheeses or substantial fish like halibut or salmon.
5. Matello wines
2012 Whistling Ridge White • Willamette Valley • $24
This rich, refreshing white is made with a combination of Riesling, pinot noir, pinot blanc, and gewürztraminer grapes. Winemaker Marcus Goodfellow has a knack for drumming up an element of surprise in his white wines, and the 2012 cuvée is no exception—you’ll find a pleasing hint of residual sugar with bouncy acids and a long finish.
Southern Oregon Stars
The Pro: Savanna Ray
Wildwood’s savvy sommelier helps hone the next generation of wine professionals as an International Sommelier Guild instructor and lends her palate as a member of the board for the Willamette Valley’s International Pinot Noir Celebration. Here, Ray shines a light on five stellar selections from Oregon’s other wine country.
1. Brandborg Wines
2011 Gewürztraminer • Umpqua Valley • $18
Terry and Sue Brandborg create beautiful wines in the newly established, cool-climate Elkton Oregon AVA. This bottle’s floral nose, stone-fruit flavors, full body, and generous acidity reveal the exciting potential of the region. Pair this beauty with Thai takeout—its weight and touch of sweetness can handle the spice.
2. RoxyAnn Winery
2009 Tempranillo • Rogue Valley • $26
Rich with aromas of dark cherries, leather, vanilla, and coconut, this spicy, earthy wine offers solid tannins and well-integrated French and American oak. Pair with rib-eye steaks or smoked meats as the weather gets cooler for a sophisticated taste of fall.
3. Velocity Wine Cellars
2008 Velocity Malbec • Rogue Valley • $24
Winemaker Gus Janeway established Velocity Wine Cellars to focus on the many faces of malbec. This well-structured specimen reveals aromas of earth, chocolate-covered black currants, and spice meeting flavors of cocoa powder, juicy dark cherries, and star anise.
4. Kandarian Wine Cellars
2010 Syrah • Carpenter Hill Vineyard • Rogue Valley • $30
Jeff Kandarian’s boutique wines satisfy cravings for the bolder side of Oregon’s vines. This Syrah showcases the varietal’s savory smokiness, with notes of bacon, blackberries, and black pepper balanced by refreshing acid. Pair it with roasted lamb chops and mashed potatoes.
5. God King Slave wines
2012 Sauvignon Blanc • Rogue Valley • $19
Serving up flavors of fresh-cut grass, green apple, and key lime, this full-bodied, balanced wine is the creation of native Oregonians Christine Collier and Chris Jiron, a young couple bringing new energy to Southern Oregon’s deep-rooted wine history, with delicious results. Sip alongside goat cheese covered in honey.
New Wave Chardonnay
The Pro: Todd Steele
At his Pearl District restaurant Metrovino, this seasoned wine pro harnesses the techy side of the grape with Enomatic wine preservation machines to offer more than 90 choices by the glass [Editor's note: Metrovino closed in September 2013]. Here, Steele reveals the best of Oregon’s gold—modern chardonnays that prove the grape has a home forever in our state’s barrel room.
1. Bergström wines
2011 Chardonnay Sigrid • Willamette Valley • $80
Josh Bergström is one of the winemakers leading the charge of the next generation of Oregon chardonnay. The Sigrid, named after Bergström’s grandmother, is the winery’s flagship chardonnay, layered with notes of orange blossom, ginger, lemon curd, buttered corn, and baking spices with a silky, rich palate that’s cut with an edge of lemon, tangerine, and lime.
2. Black Cap wines
2009 Chardonnay • Dundee Hills • $60
Sourced exclusively from David Lett’s pioneering 1966 plantings of chardonnay, this microproduction wine from Jason Lett’s second label oozes old-vine sophistication and modern class. Elegant, focused, and able to age well into the next decade, this stunner should be saved for a special occasion worth savoring.
3. Antica Terra
2011 Chardonnay • Aurata • Willamette Valley • $75
Vibrant, clean, and invigorating, this racy bottle shatters expectations. Winemaker Maggie Harrison’s signature style is on display in this bottle that balances crisp apple and bright lemon aromas with creamy weight, minerality, and a bit of spice.
4. Brick House Vineyards
2011 Chardonnay • Cascadia • Ribbon Ridge • $36
Brick House’s Doug Tunnell is helping to redefine the varietal by artfully cultivating vibrant acidity and satisfying, creamy weight from biodynamically grown Dijon clone fruit. Bursts of lime, melon, and pears dance in a glass of this elegant, age-worthy golden beauty.
5. Evening Land Vineyards
2010 Chardonnay • Summum • Eola-Amity Hills • $90
Evening Land winemaker Isabelle Meunier’s Burgundian-style chardonnay employs native fermentation, gentle whole-cluster pressing, and close to a year in 27 percent–new oak barrels. The result is bright aromas of orange blossom, wet stone, tropical fruit, and flint.
The Pro: David Speer
Portland’s sole sparkling-wine sommelier opened Ambonnay—the first Champagne bar in the Northwest—in 2011, a jewel box of a space with a growing cult following. Speer also serves as an educator at his Red Slate Wine Company, so we called upon his expertise to spotlight five effervescent favorites worth relishing.
1. Soter Vineyards
2009 Brut Rosé • Mineral Springs Ranch • Yamhill-Carlton • $65
Modeled on Champagne, this wine has become an ambassador of the potential for top-shelf sparkling wine in Oregon. With bright acidity, and notes of rhubarb, strawberries, apple blossoms, and dark-cherry skins, this is the bottle for your celebratory sipping.
2. Argyle Winery
2009 Blanc de Blancs • Dundee Hills • $50
Often overlooked in favor of Argyle’s better-known sparklers, this crisp and delicious wine dances on the palate with plenty of green apple, lemon, and mineral tones. Trust the pioneers of Oregon bubbles to get it right—the Dundee-based winery has been producing world-class sparkling wine since 1987.
3. J. Albin Winery
2007 Brut Rosé • Willamette Valley • $30
Using fruit from the Chehalem Mountains vineyard he planted in 1981, John Albin’s rosé offers flavors of strawberries and cherries balanced by grounding minerality. Bring this one to the Thanksgiving table for holiday pairing success.
4. King Estate
2008 Blanc de Gris • Willamette Valley • $35
Pure pinot gris sparklers are a rare breed—but considering the success of this bottle, they shouldn’t be. Classic flavors of pear and citrus come to life in this easy-drinking wine made with organically grown fruit, with bright and playful bubbles and aromas that won’t quit.
5. Kramer Vineyards
2010 Brut Methode Traditionelle • Yamhill-Carlton • $26
Kramer has often been considered a second-tier winery, but if this gorgeous brut is any indicator, a new generation is steering the ship in the right direction. Singing with flavors of apples, blueberries, honey, and brioche, this is the best bubbly for sippers seeking sweetness.
The New Class
The Pro: Brianne Day
Over the past five years, Day served as Riffle NW’s wine director, lent a hand in the cellars of Belle Pente, Scott Paul, WillaKenzie Estate, Grochau Cellars, Murdoch James Estate, and more, not to mention launching her own fledgling label, Day Wines. We asked her to take a moment to showcase a few of her next-generation winemaking compatriots.
1. Kelley Fox Wines
2010 Pinot Noir • Maresh Vineyard • Dundee Hills • $60
After years crafting high-end wines at Torii Mor, Hamacher, the Eyrie Vineyards, and Scott Paul Wines, in 2007 Kelley Fox launched her own label focusing on single-vineyard pinot noirs. In this beautiful release, she harnesses the deep-rooted power of 40-year-old Maresh vines, balanced with her own light touch, for a fresh but substantial bottle with notes of ripe berries, exotic spices, and a touch of savory smoke.
2. Ovum Wines
2012 Riesling • Memorista • Willamette Valley • $25
Crafted by John House and Ksenija Kostic House, lovers of aromatic white varieties with refined texture and terroir, this bottle offers notes of sweet white peaches on the nose, turning stony and mineral-rich on the palate. Extended contact with lees (yeast deposits) brings out a nutty, graham-like flavor, while lively acid puts the whole package into focus.
3. Teutonic Wine Company
2012 Pinot Meunier • Borgo Pass Vineyard • Willamette Valley • $26
Olga and Barnaby Tuttle are inspired by the cool-climate varietals of Germany and have rapidly earned a reputation for unexpected, charming wines. Barnaby has described their red wines as “white wines in drag”—a concept perfectly captured in this light-bodied, feminine wine with flavors of raspberry, nettle, moss, and ferns.
4. Bow & Arrow
2012 Rhinestones • Willamette Valley • $23
Scott and Dana Frank looked to France’s Loire Valley to craft this joyful blend of pinot noir and gamay noir, an inspiration that’s on display in the wine’s rustic tannins and sprightly acid. The aroma and flavors are much more homegrown: think raspberries, rich forest soil, and ripe Hood River cherries.
5. Holden Wine Company
2011 Pinot Blanc • Yamhill Valley Vineyards • McMinnville • $16
Eugene native Sterling Whitted aims to craft honest, delicious wines that allow the fruit to speak—and he hits the mark with this lively bottle. At first sniff this pinot blanc shows Meyer lemon and hay, and then opens up with a deeper layer of earthy smoke.
The Biodynmaic Brigade
The Pro: Michael Garofola
At Southeast Portland’s Genoa, white-tablecloth service is enriched with storytelling from this Court of Master Sommeliers–certified pro. Here, Garofola tells the tales of Oregon’s best biodynamic vineyards—where holistically minded farmers embrace a beyond-organic system that harnesses the interrelationship between soil, vines, animals, and the phases of the moon.
1. Beaux Frères
2011 Pinot Noir • Beau Frères Vineyard • Ribbon Ridge • $80
This elegant, deep ruby pour from winemaker Michael Etzel hails from the estate vineyard’s own-rooted, biodynamically farmed Pommard and Wädenswil grape clones. Complex, dark, and full of beautiful red fruit and floral aromas, this wine proves the power behind low yields and intentional farming.
2. Montinore Estate
2010 Pinot Noir • Swan Song • Willamette Valley • $45
Sourced from a dying vineyard—where yields from old plantings are shrinking every year due to the scourge of phylloxera—this wine is a bittersweet testament to Montinore’s Demeter-certified biodynamic estate. An honest representation of the quirky 2010 vintage, the Swan Song offers notes of orange, Campari, and bright red fruit.
3. Maysara Winery
2011 Pinot Noir • 3 Degrees • McMinnville • $18
Sourced exclusively from the Demeter-certified biodynamic Momtazi vineyard in the McMinnville foothills, this wine offers stunning flavors at an unbeatable price. Gobs of bright red fruit, spice, and bitter cherry meet a streak of acidity for a food-friendly bottle you can stock up on.
4. Brick House Vineyards
2011 Pinot Noir • Cuvée du Tonnelier • Ribbon Ridge • $45
Biodynamic legend Doug Tunnell crafts this layered wine from own-rooted Pommard vines planted in 1990. Expressive, lively, and packed with red fruit, spice, and earthy perfume, this offering is balanced by a welcomed backbone of funk characteristic of the maturing Ribbon Ridge estate.
5. Winderlea Vineyard
2011 Pinot Noir • Legacy • Dundee Hills • $75
Drawing from the LIVE-certified Winderlea estate vineyard’s 30-year-old own-rooted vines, this wine combines the freshness of the 2011 vintage with well-integrated tannins and mature, nuanced flavors of tobacco, cocoa, and malt for a surprisingly structured sip with a finish that lasts and lasts.
A Biodynamic Glossary
- Demeter-certified vineyard:A site that has received official recognition from Demeter International, the leading third-party biodynamic certification organization in the world.
- LIVE-certified sustainable:LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) provides third-party recognition to wineries in Oregon and Washington that protect watershed resources and use sustainable farming and winemaking practices.
- Phylloxera:A tiny insect responsible for the devastation of European-varietal vines worldwide. While historically a European calamity, the louse is now making its way to the Pacific Northwest.
- Own-rooted:Grapevines planted without being grafted onto phylloxera-resitant rootstock. Many wine lovers believe own-rooted vineyards better express terroir and varietal characteristics.