Oregon's 50 Best Wines 2014

It takes a village to taste and rank more than a thousand bottles of wine. Luckily, we’ve got lots of friends.

Edited by Allison Jones September 26, 2014 Published in the October 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Gone are the days of the wine critic’s monopoly on taste. Here in Oregon, nuance is king, oddball wines are winning, and old-school winemakers are defying expectations with lighter, more eclectic styles. For this year’s annual blind tasting of Oregon’s wide world of wine, we rallied 13 of our favorite grape-stained wretches to uncork more than a thousand bottles. The results were clear: great wine is great wine, regardless of hue, price, or region. We were so pleased and surprised with our final ranking that this year we decided not to divide our list by category, but by ranking alone. So in celebration of Oregon’s new era of grape diversity, we raise a glass to 17 varietals from around the state in a single list, allowing the pinot noir to entwine with the pinot blanc, the Riesling with the tempranillo, the merlot with the Melon de Bourgogne. It is a true democracy of wine, and it’s time you added your palate to the chorus

1. Tyee Wine Cellars 
2012 Estate Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $25 

99 This bright, balanced bottle from winemaker Merrilee Buchanan Benson melds classic pinot noir fruit flavors of cherries and cranberries with an herbaceous backbone of eucalyptus and tea tree. The family-owned and -operated label has maintained a commitment to small-batch quality wines and sustainability for more than 29 years, using 100 percent solar power at the winery and managing its own certified Salmon Safe estate vineyards side by side with wetland and woodland habitats. Visitors to Tyee’s Corvallis farm and tasting room can explore the estate’s nature trails and hazelnut orchards, catch outdoor concerts, dive into the family history of the land (dating back to 1885) and, of course, taste the estate’s wines.

“Two years ago, when this bottle appeared in Portland Monthly’s Top 50, it was one of my favorites. What wonderful things are happening down there? I’m so impressed by its balance, earthiness, and structure. It is the real epitome of what good pinot noir should taste like: elegant complexity that unveils its layers like a beautiful peacock.”—Savanna Ray (manager, RingSide Fish House)

2. Brandborg Wines 
2011 Riesling
Umpqua Valley, $16 

98.8 From the state’s new cool-climate Elkton Oregon AVA, wine pioneers Terry and Sue Brandborg prove that Southern Oregon isn’t all hot air. This vibrant, textbook-dry Riesling combines crisp minerality with flavors of tart peach that you won’t quickly forget. 

3. Domaine Drouhin Oregon
2012 Arthur Chardonnay
Dundee Hills, $35 

98.7 This exciting European-style chardonnay is rich and elegant with aromas of lemon pie and anise, and gets even fresher on the palate with flavors of tart apple and nectarine.

“I love a beautiful chardonnay that tastes like chardonnay, and this is one of Oregon’s best. Fermented in both older oak and stainless steel, this bottle rides that great line between richness and acidity.”—Dana Frank (wine director, Ava Gene’s)

4. Croft Vineyards 
2011 Savoir Vivre Organic Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $35 

98.5 Best known for providing certified organic grapes to some of Oregon’s top-shelf winemakers, Croft Vineyards also blends its own pinot noir with incredible results. This structured wine offers refreshing acidity and plenty of cranberry, cinnamon, orange rind, and tart cherry.

“I know Croft for its great sauvignon blanc, but I think we were all floored when this wine was unveiled. It displayed those classic cool vintage Oregon characteristics, making it immediately charming but with potential to improve over the next five years.”—Michael Garofola (general manager, Accanto)

5. Van Duzer Vineyards
2011 Alchemy Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $65  

98 Waving a banner for the velvety, polished side of pinot noir, this silky wine from certified Salmon Safe and LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) vineyards in Dallas, Oregon, offers bright acidity and notes of grapefruit and strawberries. 

6. Ponzi Wines
2012 Chardonnay Reserve
Willamette Valley, $35 

98 Grassy and bright, this new-wave chardonnay offers flavors of peaches, melon, apple, and lemon. Pair its delicious minerality with salmon or roast chicken. 

“This lush, creamy wine shows off what’s great about Oregon-style chardonnay—and why the grape deserves its reputation as one of the best in the world.”—David Speer (owner/sommelier, Ambonnay Champagne Bar)

7. Apolloni vinEyards
2012 Estate Chardonnay 
Willamette Valley, $15   

97.9 A true “patio pounder,” this fun, easy-drinking wine will convert anyone with its bright stone-fruit tang. Serve with pineapple salsa and scallops.  

“A crisp, clean expression of the varietal that hits all the right points and gives you tons of value.”—Josh Wiesenfeld (general manager, Remedy Wine Bar)

8. RoxyAnn Winery
2011 Tempranillo
Rogue Valley, $26 

97.8 Lush with flavors of ripe marionberries and jammy blackberries, this balanced, complete wine is rich enough for lovers of big, bold reds but won’t put off fans of lighter wines. 

“After a change of winemakers a few years back, this Medford winery is back with an impressive new take on tempranillo that has it all—power, structure, finesse, and the ability to age alongside your favorite Ribera del Duero for the next five years or more. A real standout from Southern Oregon!” —Darryl Joannides (owner, Cork Bottle Shop)

9. Willamette Valley Vineyards 
2012 Estate Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $30 

97.75 Winemaker Don Crank transforms the fruit from vineyard founder Jim Bernau’s 31-year-old vines into a beautiful pinot noir that delivers from the nose—bursting out of the glass with black pepper, candied cherries, and spice—to a satisfyingly long finish. 

10. Torii Mor Winery
2013 Viognier
Applegate Valley, $20 

97.75 Introducing your go-to Thai takeout wine: with lush flavors of creamy peach, plenty of acidity, and a complex finish, this bottle can stand up to spicy, salty, savory, and sweet. (Fish-sauce wings, anyone?)

11. Brooks Wines 
2012 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $28 

97.75 Our tasters loved the complex and playful nose of this biodynamically farmed wine (bouncing from sweet thyme to crème fraîche and back to white flowers) and its evolution into a clean, savory bottle that’s tailor-made for the Oregon wine geek and ready to drink right now.

12. Ribera Vineyards
2013 Pinot Noir Rosé
Willamette Valley, $18 

97.68 A true rosé lover’s rosé, this complex, crisp wine refreshes with flavors of peach, rhubarb, and an edge of salinity.

“This is the easy-drinking, Southern French–style rosé you want to drink alfresco with your friends. It won’t break the bank, it’s super food-friendly, plus it’s just such a pretty pink!” —Samantha Hobbs Chulick (beverage director, Feast Portland)

13. Brigadoon Vineyards
2012 Lylee Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $22 

97.5 Spicy and jammy, this is a pinot noir for big-red lovers. While it will benefit from a few years in the cellar, it can stand up to heartier food—and wouldn’t be out of place on your Thanksgiving table. 

14. Longplay Wine
2011 Jory Bench Reserve Lia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
Chehalem Mountains, $38

97.5 Grower Todd Hansen and winemaker Jay Somers aim to make “analog wine for a digital world.” Full of character and a sense of place, this bottle does just that with flavors of tart, crunchy cranberry and black tea with an edge. 

15. Abacela 
2013 Albarino
Umpqua Valley, $20 

97.5 Effervescent and rhythmic with lemony and floral notes, this bright, Spanish-style wine is
affordable and picnic-ready. 

“This is an every(wo)man wine—serious enough for those that want it, with enough fruit character for the novice. A real crowd-pleaser.”—Greg Cantu (wine director, Grüner)

16. Brooks Wines 
2011 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir
Eola-Amity Hills, $48 

97.5 Drinkable right now, this wine jumps out of the glass with aromas of Asian spices and shiso. Extremely food-friendly, it’s ready to pair with funky blue cheese or brie. 

17. Methven
Gamay Rosé
Eola-Amity Hills, $21 

97.5 Love Beaujolais? This pretty, dark pink rosé offers a clean finish that begs for burgers and ribs. 

“What a distinctive take on one of my favorite ‘underdog’ grapes! Playful, vibrant, and beautiful, with flavors of bright strawberries and cherries.”—Colin Howard (owner, Oso Market and Bar)

18. Jaxon
Rogue Valley, $35

97.5 A complex mouthful of wild raspberries with spearminty menthol and structured tannins, this easy-drinking intro to grenache will please all kinds of wine lovers.

19. Harper Voit
Surlie Pinot Blanc 2013
Willamette Valley, $20 

97.5 Blending flavors of poached peaches, warm spices, and a tropical edge, this wine is big and rich, balanced by bright acidity and a light honeysuckle finish. Pair it with pork tenderloin and apples or stuffed winter squash.

20. Quady North
2013 Rosé
Rogue Valley, $14.50  

97.5 Jubilant and delicious, bursting with strawberries, cherry, and lime, this easy-to-find bottle is a revelation for anyone who thinks they don’t like rosé.

21. Brick House
2012 Cuvée du Tonnelier Pinot Noir
Organic and Biodynamic
Ribbon Ridge, $45 

97.3 Smart, balanced, and elegant, this earthy wine blends vanilla, cedar, and sandalwood with the pleasantly musty aroma of tomato leaves on a hot day. 

“It’s pretty simple—you should drink Doug Tunnel’s wine as often as you have the opportunity. I think of his wines as being soft-spoken but incredibly opinionated (and I often agree with his opinion).”—Joel Gunderson (wine director, Coopers Hall, St Jack, Oven and Shaker, Grassa)

22. Adelsheim 
2012 Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay
Willamette Valley, $45 

97.26 Tropical and vibrant, this delicious Dijon-clone chardonnay is all about pineapple, guava, and macadamia nuts—it’s the beach in a bottle.

23. Torii Mor
2011 Nysa Vineyard Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills, $55 

97.25 Attention, dessert lovers: this bottle bursts with aromas of banana and brown sugar and flavors of molasses and brandy—it’s like pinot noir dreaming of a perfectly caramelized fruitcake. 

24. Van Duzer 
2013 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, $18

97.25 Charming floral aromas jump out of the glass, shifting to a slightly savory, herbal palate accented with apricot. 

25. Flying Trout
2010 Mary’s Block Malbec, Windrow Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley, $39 

97.2 Inky purple in the glass, this ode to elegant Argentine-style malbec offers flavors of boysenberry and dark chocolate-covered cherries—surprisingly balanced while jammy and fruit-forward.  

“Winemaker Ashley Trout knows a thing or two about malbec, having crafted the grape both in the Pacific Northwest as well as in its New World homeland of Mendoza, Argentina. The wine is fruit-driven and spicy, but full of restraint.”—Caryn Benke (beverage director, Andina) 

Want more great wine coverage? Check out itineraries for the perfect wine country weekend, and dive behind the scenes of wine harvest in the Willamette Valley with our immersive photo essay—or read on for the rest of the list!

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26. Winter’s Hill
2012 Estate Block 9-115 Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills, $44 

97.1 Think dark cherry pie filling with notes of juniper and pine—perhaps infused with aromas from the protected Douglas fir woodland bordering this LIVE and Salmon Safe–certified vineyard.

27. Domaine Serene
2010 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $45

97 Bright and juicy, this approachable wine is like a grown-up’s Vanilla Cherry Coke, with bold, ripe fruit and vanilla from a year spent aging in French oak barrels.  

28. Folin 2010 Syrah
Folin Vineyards
Rogue Valley, $30 

97 Bloody, earthy, gamey, and dusty ... if you’re a lover of big, lush Syrahs balanced by bright acid and creamy oak, this gutsy Northern Rhône–style wine will surely seduce.

29. Love & Squalor
2011 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $24 

97 Food-friendly and easy-drinking, this fresh, vibrant bottle is your go-to for a weeknight dinner with friends.

“What I love about Matt Berson’s wines are their simplicity. He works with the varietals he loves, and he’s consistent. That’s the trick in my book, and that’s what makes his wines so versatile.”—Sarah Egeland (sommelier, Smallwares)

30. Willakenzie 
2011 Pierre Leon Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton, $48 

97 With flavors of cherry cordial, orange, and anise, this bright, easy-drinking pinot is about as sessionable as a red wine can get. 

31. De Ponte Cellars
2012 DFB Estate Melon de Bourgogne
Willamette Valley, $25 

97 A perfect match for fresh Northwest oysters, this bright wine’s salinity draws its spiritual lineage back to Loire muscadet. 

32. Winderlea
2012 Dundee Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir
Dundee Hills, $38 

97 Smooth and seamless, this wine is all about texture. While the flavors stay safely in cherry country, this is one you’ll keep coming back to for the mouthfeel, with a finish that just won’t quit. 

33. Grochau Cellars
2013 Pinot Noir Rosé
Willamette Valley, $16

97 Bright and easy-drinking, notes of raspberry and strawberry are balanced by a savory edge of white pepper and mouth-puckering acid. 

34. Hyland Estates
2012 Gewürztraminer
McMinnville, $28 

96.75 Balanced by a creamy undertone and a backbone of spice, this wine’s flavors of lychee, rose petal, honeysuckle, and poached peaches make it perfect for everyday drinking. 

35. Ledger David 
2011 Syrah
Rogue Valley, $35 

96.75 Fruit-forward and full  of blueberry boldness, this accessible wine won’t overshadow anything on your plate.

36. Andrew Rich
2013 Croft Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Willamette Valley, $22 

96.74 Savory and spicy, this certified-organic wine has hints of lime, green chiles, and white pepper. Pour it with Mexican food, Asian takeout, or pasta.

37. Delfino
Umpqua Valley, $24

96.6 Herbaceous and perfumed with aromas of rose and eucalyptus, Jim and Terri Delfino’s juicy, playful wine shows the bright and light side of tempranillo. Said one taster: “I could smell this all day long—it’s a pinot drinker’s big red.”

38. Jasper Sisco 
2012 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir
McMinnville, $32

96.5 A newcomer to the pinot scene, Alabama transplant Justin Paul Russell crafts this wine at the SE Wine Collective using fruit from the renowned Demeter-certified Biodynamic Momtazi Vineyard. To get the most out of this young wine’s flavors of clove, dried cranberries, and chocolate, decant before drinking.

39. iOta 2011 
Pelos Sandberg Vineyard Pinot Noir
Eola-Amity Hills, $38 
96.5 Aromas of sweet, rich cherry give way to a palate of smoked meat and crunchy red fruit.

40. Trisaetum
2013 Wichmann Riesling
Dundee Hills, $24 

96.5 This classic offering boasts clean flavors of honey, petrol, and white flowers, with a vibrant acidity that draws a line from the nose to the finish. Pair with ceviche or oysters.

41. Trisaetum
Pinot Noir Rosé
Willamette Valley, $24 
96.5 This light copper pour is rounded out with peaches and a long, smooth finish.

42. Griffin Creek 
2011 Cabernet Franc
Rogue Valley, $40 

96.2 A bright red beauty with zippy acid and flavors of tea leaves, jasmine, rose hips, and ripe red fruit, this bottle pairs well with Indian food, braised short ribs, or coffee-infused desserts.

43. Roco
Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $24  

96 Easy-drinking and approachable, this pinot should be sipped on the front porch, where you can savor its notes of roses, brown sugar, lilacs, and dried cherries as the world goes by.

44. RoxyAnn
2010 Claret
Rogue Valley, $26 

96 This juicy, Bordeaux-style blend rounds out with punches of black cherry, espresso, dark chocolate, and dark raspberries. Pour it with a grilled steak and make the most of its creamy oak profile and soft tannins. 

45. King Estate 
2012 Domaine Oregon Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, $28 

96 Balanced with aromas of wet stone and grapefruit, this easy-drinking wine is accented by a warm note of cardamom.

46. BergstrÖm
2012 Silice Pinot Noir
Chehalem Mountains, $65 

96 A versatile, food-friendly pour ripe with fresh raspberries on the nose, this glass reminded our tasters of rich, warm marionberry cobbler.

47. Utopia
Utopia Estate Chardonnay
Ribbon Ridge, $38 

95.41 Complex, with flavors of pine needles, white pepper, and nutmeg, this savory wine features integrated oak and bright acidity. Bring it along on a picnic with cold roast chicken.

48. Hyland Estate
2012 Estate Pinot Noir
McMinnville, $38 

95.5 Tis user-friendly wine is perfect for a dinner party—its bright cherry pie flavor will pair well with anything your hosts are serving. 

49. Dancin Vineyards
2011 Syrah Danseur
Southern Oregon, $30

95 Light ruby in the glass, this pretty wine will appeal to lovers of pinot and gamay, with its notes of sweet green herbs, red currants, and cherry skins. 

50. Cliff Creek Cellars
2010 Merlot
Rogue Valley, $22 

94.5 Ripe and rich, this über-drinkable merlot offers clean flavors of sweet orange peel, cherries, and roses.

For more wine tasting discoveries, check out our behind-the-scenes slide show from the 2014 blind panel!

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