Oregon is one of the few new world regions where focus on a single variety makes oenological and viticultural sense. Oregon Pinot Noir, unlike New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Shiraz, or Argentinian Malbec, is at the apex of what is possible in the soils and slopes of the Willamette Valley. It also offers drinkers true diversity and has the greatest potential to approach distinction.
In the face of this deserved focus, little serious attention is given to other grapes. While I agree that the other grapes grown in Oregon rarely reach Pinot Noir’s greatness (with the exception of certain Chardonnays, Rieslings and Eyrie’s old vine Pinot Gris), there remains an increasing number of wonderful everyday drinking wines with character that deserve greater attention.
A Somm in the Vineyard
Gamay has become a darling grape in the industry. The rise of Beaujolais Cru precipitated the interest and now you can find some compelling examples grown in both California and Oregon.
James Rahn is the sommelier at the Heathman hotel restaurant in Portland (an excellent stop). He also makes wine. Three years out of Chicago and Rahn is already deeply immersed in Oregon’s wine scene, focusing his list on quirky small production wines and producers while also giving varieties other than Pinot Noir attention at his eponymous winery.
While the 2014 is only Rahn’s second commercially released vintage, the Gamay I tried shows that this guy is onto something. Something delicious. Add character and a good price and this vibrant cherry fruited, mineral laced Gamay has a lot going for it. There is also quite a firm tannic structure to the wine right now, making it a good candidate for medium term aging. The wine is aged in neutral oak and bears no overt wood footprint. It is 12.6% ABV.
If you are into wines like this from Oregon, I also highly recommend Bows & Arrows and Teutonic.
Very Good to Very Good+ (more toward the latter with more time in bottle to soften the tannins)
$21 at Oregon Wine on Broadway, Portland