Tannin Salon: Touring the Tasting Rooms of Oregon

by A.A.

One of the biggest draws of Portland is its close proximity to approximately a billion high-quality wineries (give or take a few). Unlike some of our neighbors to the south, the Willamette Valley AVA hasn’t yet been heavily infiltrated by the tour bus crowd, so it’s easy enough to take a quick drive down there, visit a few tasting rooms and wineries, and call it a day.

The best advice I can give anyone about wine is that when it comes to wine tasting, everyone is making it up as they go along. Even the experts. Maybe especially the experts. So your first step is to go to any local wine shop and buy one of those fold-up wallet-sized tasting sheets, which generally list all the major grapes, and have lists of typical flavors, aromas, and other fun adjectives that you might associate with wines from that varietal. The next time you taste a new wine, whip it out and see which adjectives you can use in front of your friends without being accused of outright fraud. Try to avoid “grapey.”

Anyway, tasting. My tasting companions and I visited a few of Oregon’s more well-known wineries, Argyle and Ponzi, and one slightly less well-known place, Torii Mor.

Argyle’s claim to fame are its sparklers and its pinot noirs. Its Knudsen Brut is one that I fell in love with several years ago (lemon! cream! biscuits! brioche!), but it seems less impressive every time I taste it today. My impression has always been that sparkling wines, Champagne in particular, exhibit relatively consistent quality across bottles, but maybe that’s less true than I thought. The Nuthouse Pinot Noir is subtle on the front end and full of that yummy refined pinot fruit on the finish — black cherries and raspberry.

Ponzi is a great place to go taste if you’re reasonably sure that you’re not up to buying $60 bottles of pinot anytime soon. Instead of focusing on the pinot noirs that I ordered, I stole tastes from all of the whites that my companions were trying instead. Their pinot blanc is round and delicious, with a miniscule amount of residual sugar that effectively functions as crack or something similarly addictive. It was hard to walk out of there with just a bottle of it and not a case.

Torii Mor is hidden up in the hills in Dundee, Oregon, and has a Japanese design theme on its labels and in its tasting room, probably due to the idiosyncrasies of the place’s owners. This was by far the best deal of the lot — $10 for tastes of six (6!) bottles of pinot blanc, gris, and noir, plus a choice of port or Gewürztraminer to finish? Sign me up, and then sign me up again. It’s a shame that this was the last stop on our junket, because three $50 pinot noirs presented in succession tend to run together, especially when you’re on your 14th or 15th wine.

As if the slew of fine wines weren’t enough, the gods of Dundee tried to make us stay by presenting us with a double rainbow at the end of our journey:

I know people always joke about the number of people who move to Oregon because they think it’s some kind of utopia. But, it is! Fine wine, plentiful rainbows. You were expecting utopia to be something better than this?


2 responses to “Tannin Salon: Touring the Tasting Rooms of Oregon

  1. Oregon wines, especially Willamette Valley wines, are definitely a hidden treasure. I have very fond memories of living in Salem and driving through some of the vineyards and participating in wine tasting right in the grocery stores.

  2. For Oregon wine available in DC, I particularly like A to Z (http://www.atozwineworks.com). Any thoughts on that AA?

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