Oregon is a magical place.
I still have fond memories as a teenager of skiing there on a glacier in the summer.
In my twenties, I spent a wonderful week exploring the state with a good friend of mine.
Decades later, I still vividly remember the surprising landscapes, the fascinating people and the exceptional bookstores, restaurants and brasseries.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised a few years ago when a winemaker from France’s Burgundy region shared his family’s love affair with Oregon.
Standing in an old stone wine cellar in Beaune, France, Frédéric Drouhin recalled the time his father, Robert, stood on top of a hill in Oregon and saw the future. He realized that the landscape and climate there were as perfect as Burgundy. The Drouhin should know. The family runs Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s most respected wine estates.
Robert Drouhin had been to Oregon before, but something magical happened in 1987 when the Drouhins visited Oregon and looked at land for sale there. “We had to stop the car at the bottom of the hill because there was no road, nothing at all,” said Frédéric Drouhin. “So he (Robert) climbed with a winemaker through a field of wheat and when they reached the top of the hill, they saw the landscape. They felt it. Obviously, it’s as simple as that.
A year later, Robert Drouhin created Domaine Drouhin in Oregon in 1988.
Since then, the rest of the world has slowly caught up with the Drouhins and realized what an amazing place Oregon is, especially when it comes to wine.
Like France’s Burgundy region, Oregon excels in creating beautiful wines made from Burgundy’s signature grape varieties – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Much of this is likely due to the cool, foggy climate of western Oregon, where most of Oregon’s wine comes from. There, the humid air often lingers a little longer and the nights are often cooler and more humid. (Most of eastern Oregon is the exact opposite – warmer and much drier.)
That’s probably why I was thinking about Oregon wines last week. The calendar might say June, but here in New England it was more like a wet and cool April weekend.
But even when the weather warms up, believe me, you’ll love the three Oregon chardonnays recommended this week.
I realize I’ve been on a bit of a chardonnay lately. Last week for Father’s Day, I recommended five outstanding California Chardonnays.
Do not worry. I will not write all the time on Chardonnay.
But I also think it is important to highlight these exceptional wines from this unique wine region.
Many wine nuts probably already love Oregon chardonnays.
For the rest of you, you’re in for a treat.
Many of Oregon’s best chardonnays have character and depth.
They are complex, compelling, intense and subtle.
You can taste the fresh, moist and mysterious air with every sip.
And you can feel the sense of place in every glass.
When you taste an Oregon Chardonnay, the wine takes you on a journey.
And when you taste the best, it doesn’t matter where you end up. You are just thrilled to have such a wonderful ride.
Hope you enjoy.
RECOMMENDED WINES THIS WEEK
Yamhill-Carlton Gran Moraine Chardonnay 2018 (suggested retail price $45)
2019 Penner-Ash Chardonnay Willamette Valley ($45 MSRP)
WillaKenzie Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2019 ($35 MSRP)
OREGON WINE REGIONS
All three Oregon Chardonnays come this week from the Willamette Valley, including Yamhill-Carlton, which is one of 10 sub-regions located in the Willamette Valley. Oregon’s Willamette Valley runs north to south, just south of Portland, about 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. Many of Oregon’s best known and most respected wineries are located in the Willamette Valley. But it’s not the state’s only wine region. According to the Oregon Wine Board, other wine regions in Oregon include:
- Umpqua Valley
- valley of thieves
- Columbia Gorge
- Walla Walla Valley
2018 Gran Moraine Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton
Tasting Notes – The Gran Moraine winery is located at the western end of the Yamhill-Carlton sub-region in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. You may remember reading a few years ago about the sparkling wine from this winery. This Chardonnay is just as memorable. Its flavors range from lemon and sea salt to hints of melted butter. Allow the chilled wine to slowly warm in the glass and you’ll notice the lemon, sea salt and buttery flavors become brighter, livelier and even more refreshing. A superb wine from start to finish.
Penner-Ash Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2019
Tasting Notes – Penner-Ash is probably best known for its complex and powerful Pinot Noir wines. His Chardonnay is just as impressive. Layers of flavor range from hints of oak and toasted butter to a dash of sea salt and toasted lemon. Everything in this wine is more subtle and intense. You can clearly taste the haze that often lingers in many Willamette Valley vineyards, giving this wine an air of mystery. An exciting and energetic wine with a distinct personality.
Willakenzie Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2019
Tasting Notes – This latest Chardonnay brings together many of the flavors of the first two wines. Citrus flavors and aromas share the stage with hints of butter, sea salt, oak and lemon. And the other two wines, the flavors here are sweet and mellow. There is nothing above. Instead, the wine communicates its depth and complexity in a whisper.
That’s what’s so great about so many great chardonnays from Oregon. They don’t shout from the rooftops. They pull you into an intimate conversation and make you feel like the only two people in the room. And the best ones make you want to linger a little longer, fascinated by the secrets they will reveal to you with each sip.
(Wine press by Ken Ross Appears on Masslive.com every Monday and in the weekend section of the Republican every Thursday. Older “wine press” articles can be found here. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter and instagram and Facebook.)