On June 12, 2023, the Northwest Wine Expedition returned to Toronto’s Globe and Mail Centre for a walkaround trade tasting, and then continued with a day-two masterclass at the beautiful Elora Mills Hotel & Spa with the exceptional hospitality provided by sommelier Kendra Ellsworth (soon to be covered in GFR’s Young Blood Sommelier series – Ed.).
Together, the events presented the exciting wines imported by Ontario agencies from the US Pacific Northwest, and reminded us that Oregon and Washington are truly world-class winegrowing regions. Thank you, Predhomme Strategic Marketing, for organizing these incredible experiences.
Given the broad array of wines available, Robert Geringer Jones and I have teamed up to cover the highlights from each region. You can read more about his Washington coverage next week. For Oregon insights, please read on.
Wines of Oregon is no longer only about Pinot
When I say ‘Oregon’, you say ‘Pinot’. Oregon Pinot! Oregon Pinot!
Well, this has started to change, for Oregon Chardonnay has entered the chat.
Oregon has been making great Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris for decades, and it was not until the turn of 2020 that journalists started referring to this region as ‘New Burgundy’.
In 2022, according to Wine Spectator’s global top 100, the highest ranked Oregon wine was a Chardonnay.
Today, Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are indissociable; they are two sides of the same coin. Considering Oregon Pinots have taken centre stage for far too many years, this year we are drawing attention to the array of Chardonnay offerings and a few other noteworthy non-Pinot bottlings for wine lovers to discover.
The typical Oregon Chardonnay is made with whole bunch pressing followed by some oak treatment during fermentation, maturation, or both. Malo is common, as is lees contact. Despite a generous use of oak, old oak is more common than new. Producers tend to gravitate towards a smoky, struck-match ‘reductive’ style of chardonnay, and to do so, lees stirring is often kept to the minimum. And indeed, after tasting through all the Chardonnays at the event, this textbook description of Oregon Chardonnay does hold true.
Most of the wines tasted are from the Willamette Valley, with some unique examples from further south, in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.
Willamette Valley AVA
An iconic region of Oregon, the Willamette Valley is the largest AVA in the state. Its diverse landscapes and soil types have led to the creation of seven sub-AVAs which house almost 600 wineries. Here, landownership can be quite fragmented, with many growers owning small plots of land, reflecting Burgundy to a certain extent. 60-80 percent of the plantings are made up of Pinot Noir, with the white variety led by Pinot Gris. This said, the popularity of Chardonnay has risen, with prominent Burgundy producers investing in viticulture and winemaking in this region. The exceptional examples of Chardonnay produced in this region speak for themselves.
2018 Centerstone Unoaked Chardonnay Willamette Valley
Don’t be fooled. Although the wine is unoaked, it has gone through partial malolactic fermentation, which results in a wine that is incredibly textural –– a core feature of this wine. This wine is led by its mineral bite, salty flair. Bright lime zest adds vibrancy to the ripe apricot and pear drops. Delicious through and through.
2015 Citation Chardonnay Oregon
Thank you, Robert Geringer Jones, for pointing me to the Citation booth. Broad, lush, with a great concentration of lemon flesh and freshly sliced pineapples. Barrel-fermentation provides complex, toasty notes of butterscotch and cloves. High-elevation fruit adds brightness and finesse. A gorgeous eight-year-old wine.
2021 Cristom Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Coming across this wine on the rooftop of Elora Mills was just a situation where all stars aligned. Leesy fresh cream served as a backbone to fresh yellow peach, meyer lemon, golden delicious, with a vibrant zesty touch. Broad, textural, and a little salty.
2019 Rex Hill Seven Soils Chardonnay Willamette Valley
Lush, creamy, and complex with layers of lemon peel, crunch golden apple, ginger, orange blossom, and marzipan. A balanced use of oak gives off undertones of creme brulee. A delicious liquid snack with a finish that lingers on, and on, and on.
2021 Sokol Blosser Estate Chardonnay Dundee Hills
50% concrete egg fermented, and the rest in French oak. A wine with intensity and nerve, shining bright in fresh Meyer lemon, orange zest, and ripe nectarine, with a mineral-driven, vibrant core that pierces through the wine.
2019 Abbott Claim Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills
The highlight of the day is this 2019 Abbott Claim Chardonnay that would steal the hearts (and palates) of the reductive-fanatics. Natively fermented and aged on its lees for twelve months in barrels, followed by six months in stainless-steel tanks, and bottled unfiltered, it expresses the strong character of their Eola-Amity fruit. Layers of ripe nectarine, creamy lemon curd, orange blossom, white pepper, and baking spice intensify with each sip. A broad and chewy texture embraces the palate, with a finish that almost lingers on forever.
2020 Sokol Blosser Bluebird Cuvée Brut Sparkling
Behold! A sparkling wine has appeared, and I could not resist. This blend sees five core varieties—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Muscat—made in traditional method. Ripe red deliciousness meets hints of lychee and sourdough. Creamy and delicious.
Rogue Valley AVA
There is more to Oregon than the Willamette Valley. Travelling further south within Oregon will find us in the warm and dry Rogue Valley AVA—a growing region that is the closest to the California border and benefits from cooling breezes funneling through the Rogue River Valley from the Pacific—as well as its sub-AVA, Applegate Valley. There are two wines from this region that I feel are worth mentioning.
2021 Foris Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay
100% estate fruit from three Dijon clones planted on Timmer Vineyards. Aromas of crunchy, Golden Delicious apple, orange water, honeysuckle, and a dusting of nutmeg and pie crust. Lifted acidity, a broad, leesy mouthfeel, and integrated use of oak. Long, lingering finish.
2021 Troon Vineyard Biodynamic ‘Druid’s Fluid’ White Blend
A seriously cool wine from the Applegate Valley AVA made of a blend of Marsanne (13%), Roussanne(22%),) and Vermentino (65%). This wine is made with minimal intervention –– with natural yeasts, no new oak, and no additives. The result is vibrant acidity and moderate alcohol levels, shining with lemon verbena, lime zest, and an earthy and savoury undertone.
(All wines are rated out of a possible five apples)