Oregon's 35 Most Interesting Wines Right Now
Willamette Valley pinots, of course, enjoy steady love from critics and thirsty consumers. Lately, our chardonnays have gotten their due, too. And as dozens of other varieties and distinctive styles rise, this is an exciting time for our homegrown vines. These 30 bottles from around the state—grouped by region, not any kind of rank—provide a critical snapshot of where Oregon wine stands right now. Prices may vary slightly; a few may take some web, winery, and wine shop sleuthing. All are worth tracking down. —Paul Gregutt
(Scroll down for five additional picks from wine writer Jordan Michelman: wilder finds that hint at where Oregon is headed.)
From the Willamette Valley
2017 Ribbon Ridge Estate Dry Riesling // Ribbon Ridge // $32
Ribbon Ridge, a subsection of the Chehalem Mountains American Viticultural Area, is proving magic for both Rieslings and pinots noirs. This crisp, peppery wine is packed with penetrating apple, fennel, and white radish flavors.
2016 Sauvignon Blanc // Willamette Valley // $25
J. Christopher produces two of this varietal, which still has yet to really take hold in Oregon. This one is sharp and acidic, with fruit flavors of green apple and pink grapefruit.
2017 Pinot Gris // Willamette Valley // $14
The texture and detail in this young wine vault it above the vast majority of others in its price range. A pleasing mix of grapefruit, melon, and nectarine finishes with highlights of lemon zest and zippy acidity.
2017 Estate Pinot Blanc // Willamette Valley // $19
Pinot blanc, when done this well, offers a sophisticated alternative to chardonnay and pinot gris. This young Elk Cove release shines with bright, focused flavors of apple, melon and white peach—a fresh, stylish wine at an affordable price.
2016 Gewürztraminer //Willamette Valley // $28
This versatile wine from a winery once dedicated exclusively to pinot gris deemphasizes baby powder aromatics while retaining the grape’s typicity. Flavors show lemon pith and rind along with tangy citrus fruits.
2017 Estate Pinot Gris // Eola-Amity Hills // $24
This wine starts with ripe fruit flavors of peach, apricot, and papaya, along with a touch of honey: it’s a pinot gris as rich as the richest chardonnays.
2014 Prismé Pinot Noir Blanc // Yamhill-Carlton // $45
This is not pinot blanc, but rather a blush wine produced from red pinot noir grapes. It’s dry and barrel-fermented, using free-run (unpressed) juice. Flavors of papaya, plum, and melon combine in a softly fruity and open style, ready to drink.
2016 Avni Chardonnay // Willamette Valley // $35
This high-profile new winery hits a home run with a creamy, oaky, toasty young wine. With bright acidity and fresh fruit flavors of crisp apple and white melon, it’s a wine to enjoy young, or tuck away.
2016 Old Stones Chardonnay // Willamette Valley // $37
Bergström’s Sigrid is one of the state’s best chardonnays. But the Old Stones cuvée, at less than half the price, comes mighty close, weaving a lovely mesh of citrus, peach, and pineapple, supported with clean, refreshing acidity.
Big Table Farm
2016 Chardonnay // Willamette Valley // $45
Any list of Oregon’s best chardonnays must include this gorgeous, barrel-fermented (in 10 percent new French oak) effort. Here are pinpoint flavors of Meyer lemon and stone fruits, subtly highlighted with seams of butterscotch and toast.
2017 Estate Cuvée Rosé of Pinot Noir // Dundee Hills // $25
In the midst of the national rosé boom, Oregon’s pinot noir rosés remain under the radar. We’re lucky to have wines like this fragrant, spicy, organic, estate-grown gem, packed with flavors of fresh strawberries, pink grapefruit, and blood orange.
2013 Mineral Springs Vineyard Brut Rosé // Yamhill-Carlton // $65
Soter’s sparkling wines—such as this brut rosé—can rival the finest Champagnes. This shows fine bubbles and seductive aromas of cherry and cocoa. It’s elegant and sophisticated, its tart cherry fruit elevated with bracing minerality.
2015 Twelve Oaks Estate Gamay Noir // Chehalem Mountains // $25
There’s not a lot of gamay noir planted in Oregon, but the grape, widely enjoyed in the Beaujolais wines of France, would seem to be a natural fit here. This example brings a mouthful of jammy blueberry, with light tannins and hints of breakfast tea.
The Eyrie Vineyards
2016 Trousseau // Dundee Hills // $35
Eyrie’s Jason Lett continues the pioneering spirit of his parents, who founded the Willamette Valley wine industry. This red (not gris) trousseau—principally grown in Portugal and France, where it’s known as “bastardo”—is rare in this country. There’s a musky, animal note to the aromas, with tightly wound, wild fruit flavors of cranberry and raspberry.
Patricia Green Cellars
2016 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir // Willamette Valley // $37
The winery produces a dizzying array of pinots noirs, but this one stands out as relatively low-priced. It displays the same detail-oriented polish as its stablemates, with bright and nuanced raspberry fruit integrated with barrel notes of chocolate and coffee.
2015 Incline Pinot Noir // Dundee Hills // $60
A new project from second-generation Beaux Frères founders Jared Etzel and Marc-André Roy, this is a dark, dense wine, packed with black fruit flavors, the signature of the Dundee Hills AVA. Subtle streaks of iron ore, coffee grounds, tar, and tobacco bring added complexity and length.
2015 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir // Willamette Valley // $75
This winery produces a stunning array of single-vineyard pinots, but it labels this reserve “the defining standard” for them all. It’s packed with brambly purple fruits, which roll into a layered finish with hints of herb, clean earth, and brown spices.
From Southern Oregon
2017 Albariño // Umpqua Valley // $21
Abacela pioneered tempranillo in Oregon, and has subsequently expanded into a deep portfolio of Iberian and Mediterranean varietal wines. This white wine shows dense flavors of apple, pear, peach, and guava, supported with refreshing minerality.
2016 Estate Cuvée Grüner Veltliner // Umpqua Valley // $24
Reustle is one of many Umpqua Valley wineries exploring new territory, and it’s no exaggeration to say that its multiple versions of this Austrian grape are as good as any in the country. Crisp green apple and lemon rind flavors headline a wine with complex botanical flavors.
J. Scott Cellars
2017 Sauvignon Blanc // Oregon // $18
The grape’s natural herbaceous pungency is the focus here, ameliorated with a hint of residual sugar. That light touch of sweetness rounds out fruit flavors of pineapple, apple, and melon. Though finished dry, a whiff of hibiscus honey trails through the finish.
2016 Fleur de Lis White Pinot Noir // Elkton Oregon // $25
From a tiny AVA on the western edge of the Umpqua Valley, this white wine is produced from pinot noir grapes pressed off the skins and then fermented in neutral oak. It’s loaded with fruit flavors of apple and pear, along with grace notes of chocolate and almond paste.
2017 GSM Rosé // Rogue Valley // $16
Quady North, an extension of California’s famed sweet wine specialist, produces several different rosés. But this blend of 55 percent grenache, 39 percent Syrah, and the rest mostly mourvèdre is the best one to start with. Smooth and broadly fruity, its fresh strawberry flavors come wrapped in a tasty streak of caramel.
2015 Tempranillo // Oregon // $20
The Oregon Territory wines are the second label from Roseburg’s Paul O’Brien, a tempranillo specialist. This budget-priced effort doesn’t skimp on flavors, with a lively mix of citrus, fig, cherry, tobacco, and bourbon tea.
2016 Malbec // Rogue Valley // $29
The first sniff brings scents of mixed berries and plums, along with subtle highlights of minty chocolate. It’s a smooth and supple wine with fresh, rich raspberry, blueberry, and black cherry fruit.
Leah Jørgensen Cellars
2016 Cabernet Franc // Southern Oregon // $25
Leah Jørgensen champions cabernet franc as her personal signature grape, beautifully expressed in this entry-level “Loiregon” bottling. Deep, saturated blue fruits lead into a delicious mix of coffee, pepper, tobacco, and musky, dusty tannins with exceptional depth and concentration.
From the Columbia Gorge
Stave & Stone
2016 Van Horn Vineyard Riesling // Columbia Gorge // $24
The Columbia Gorge is one of about a dozen bistate AVAs in the country, and Riesling is a clear strength here. Intense aromas of lemon tea and citrus blossoms introduce flavors of citrus and melon in this one, with an underlying acidity that keeps it poised and refreshing through a graceful finish.
2016 Retro Old Vines Riesling // Columbia Gorge // $22
Rich Cushman chose to make this off-dry, and the sweetness amplifies massively concentrated fruit flavors of peach, apricot, and papaya. There is a pungent, piney aroma, as well, with sugar counterpointed by tangy acidity.
2016 Old Vine Zinfandel // Columbia Valley // $34
Just outside the Gorge AVA boundaries, the roots of these old vines date to the 19th century. They produce an exceptionally potent wine, with deep blueberry and cherry fruit, set against barrel flavors of caramel, coffee, and dark chocolate. A wine to cellar.
From the Rocks District
2015 Funk Estate Vineyard Syrah // The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater // $60
The Rocks District lies entirely on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley AVA (another two-stater) and has a stellar reputation for Syrahs. Complex aromas of orange blossom and rind lead into ripe blue fruits and highlights of black pepper in this pick, impressive for its depth and purity, and a finish with notes of black olive.
2015 Tall Tales Stoney Vine Vineyard Syrah // The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater // $60
This 17-acre site was planted in 2007, primarily dedicated to Rhône and Mediterranean varieties. Syrah is king in this AVA, located in a dry river bed. Richly detailed with flavors of green and black olive, cured meats, and potpourri, this knockout wine is packed with savory highlights. —Paul Gregutt
Fossil & Fawn
2017 Do Nothing Red Blend // Ribbon Ridge // $20
Jim Fischer makes elegant wines in the Eola-Amity, but also experiments with F&F partner Jenny Mosbacher. Hence the ’17 Do Nothing, built from 100 percent Mondeuse: think hallucinatory strawberry basil sorbet.
Five on the Wild Side
These small-scale finds hint at where we're headed.
2017 Helen Atty Willamette Valley Pinot Gris // Willamette Valley // $20
Checks all boxes for what people hate about natural wine: volatile acidity, hints of mousiness. But if you’re open to turmeric kombucha and pineapple sour beer....
2016 Petillant Natural Melon // Willamette Valley // $20
Pet-nat wines—naturally carbonated in the bottle—are so hot right now. Johan winemaker Dan Rinke makes some of Oregon’s best. Lean and linear, with enough sweetness and pop to cut through the meanest dry curry or spicy chicken, made from certified-biodynamic grapes.
St. Reginald Parish
2017 Disco Nap // Willamette Valley // $35
The release of winemaker Andy Young’s 50/50 blend of trousseau gris and pinot gris is hotly anticipated. Expect golden, glowing-orange stone fruit walking a mountain highwire.
2016 LaVelle Vineyard Dry Riesling // Willamette Valley // $25
Alex Neely’s 2016 Riesling makes the most of noble rot, harnessing the fruit’s sweetness. Unfiltered and unrefined, this wine is both wild and precise—the Oregon wine scene in miniature. —Jordan Michelman