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Do they make good wine in Washington and Oregon? Indeed!

“The Judgement of Sweden”; what is the verdict on Northwest wines?

In the northwest corner of the United States you find two exciting wine regions: Washington (State) and Oregon. The climate is more northern than in California. Therefore, you will find grape varieties that thrive in cooler climates, such as pinot noir and riesling. But it is not often you have the opportunity to taste a wide range of these fairly unknown wines. So when these wine-producing states come to Sweden to showcase their wines, it is an exciting opportunity to taste wines from two quality districts in the US. BKWine’s Anette Zellen Soderstrom took part in the “jury” and her judgement falls positive. Here are her best wines.

“The Judgement of Sweden”. So rang the invitation from Oregon Wine and Washington State Wines’ organizations. The title of the invitation is of course inspired by the 1976 “contest” The Judgement of Paris, where wines from the United States “won ” over the French in a blind tasting and got the whole world to gasp.

Oregon wines

Pinot noir, Fixin, Cote de Nuits

Pinot noir, copyright BKWine Photography

Willamette Valley in Oregon is on the same latitude as Burgundy and also has a similar climate. Grapes such as the fussy pinot noir thrive just fine, but also riesling and pinot gris. Chardonnay can also get a cooler tone here than in other parts of the “New World”.

The vineyards in Oregon are new. The oldest vines were planted in the early 60s by Richard Sommer. He planted, among other grapes, riesling. After his successful establishment in Hillcrest other families started to dare to grow grapes there.

A little further north in the Willamette Valley David Lett planted his first pinot vines in 1965. Families like the Adelsheims, Ponzis, Campbells, and Sokol Blossers soon followed. They are all here at the tasting and what follows is a selection of what I tasted.

Of course, Oregon has also “competed” against France in wine. David Lett won attention with his pinot in 1979 in Gault-Millau. With that Oregon had made its mark as a wine district in the world.

In just 50 years, Oregon has developed into a world-class wine growing region with 849 wineries and 17 approved appellations. The wineries have a passion for the craft and they rather focus on quality than quantity.

Grown grapes in percent:

  • Pinot 62%
  • Pinot gris 13%
  • Chardonnay 5 %
  • Riesling 3%
  • Cabernet sauvignon 3%

Washington wines

Washington State is the second largest wine producing region in the USA. The vineyards are located east of the mountains in rain shadow. The climate can be extremely hot and dry and the grapes are “saved” by the cold desert nights. Temperatures that can go up to 50 degrees Centigrade in summer makes the grapes ripen well. The cold nights of around 10 degrees Centigrades that allows the acidity to be preserved. The fruit is concentrated with a good acidity. They make more white than red.

  • Riesling 21%
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 20 %
  • Chardonnay 18%
  • Merlot 18%
  • Syrah 7%

Washington State has 13 appellations and over 750 different wineries.

Riesling grapes in the vineyard

Riesling grapes in the vineyard, copyright BKWine Photography

Good wines

A few tasting comment among what was presented in Stockholm:

Adelsheim Vineyard

For over 40 years, David and Ginny Adelsheim have done everything possible to grow grapes in a sustainable and high-quality way. They are innovative leaders in Oregon’s wine industry, and have focused on complex wines with richness and elegance. David was the initiator of bringing in clones from Burgundy. Today Adelsheim has grown to include a total of 11 vineyard locations in the Willamette Valley.

Caitlin’s reserve Chardonnay, Willamette Valley 2012

These grapes are from Dijon clone. (Ed.: see footnote 1)

The wine tastes is fresh of citrus, flowers and apples, well balanced acidity.

Elizabeth’s reserve pinot noir, Willamette Valley 2011

A blend from the best vineyard locations and several different clones. The wine is named after their daughter.

A nose of strawberry and forest and the taste just as lovely of strawberry, violets and herbs. Good acidity and tannins. It could be a good idea to keep this wine for some time, although it is already amazing.

Ribbion Springs, pinot noir 2011

From a single vineyard, clones of pommard, wädensvil and Dijon.

Concentrated and elegant wine with aromas and flavours of dark berries and spices. Long aftertaste of caramel. Not cheap, not even in the U.S., but for a special occasion… (~ 65 euro)

Evening Land Vineyards

The vineyard has been named one of the 10 best wineries in the United States by e.g. Food and Wine Magazine.

Here I have chosen one of several amazing wines, the one that is available here locally.

Seven Springs La Source Pinot Noir 2011

The vines are planted on stony and shallow soils. A mixture of new and old vines farmed organically and biodynamically. Natural, cool fermentation in open vats have made this wine packed with berries. I smell cherry and herbs and the taste is long with dark fruit and a spicy finish. Elegant tannins and no doubt possible to keep in the cellar for some time. (~60 euro)

Ponzi Vineyards

Dick Ponzi and his wife Nancy began to grow a few vines in the garden for home use. A dream eventually began to sprout and they moved with their three children to the Willamette Valley. In  they planted the first vines there and today the family farm counts as one of the best in Oregon.

Nancy was deeply involved in the dissemination of knowledge about wine and Oregon in particular. She lectured and wrote about food and wine. The rest of the family is also interested in developing the vineyards and with dedication and ambition the second generation continues to run the winery.

Riesling 2011

Flowery, fruity, good acidity and a long finish. Could as well be a riesling from the Rheingau. I will go out and buy this now. Very affordable. (~20 euro)

Ponzi Pinot Noir 2011

Nose with spice / pepper and dark berries, flavours of black currant and chocolate. Very good. Good value. (~30 euro)

Ponzi 40th anniversary reserve pinot noir 2010

Today’s top wine! 30 years old vines, vines in Oregon do not come much older than that. This wine is extremely concentrated and elegant with spicy, berry tones. Good tannins and enveloped acidity. (~50 euro)

Oregon may be a fairly new wine region, but the winemakers there have succeeded beyond expectations. All the wines I tasted today, whites as well as reds, were very elegant. They are also often quite high priced. Two shopping suggestions: the riesling and the pinot noir from the Ponzi. Lovely wines at good prices.

More on Washington wines on BKWine Magazine: Six wineries and 21 wines from Washington.

Footnote 1:

Especially in some wine regions in the U.S., and in particular in the two north-western states, it has often become customary to note the clone that they use of a specific grape variety (a clone is a variant of a grape variety with slightly different characteristics). It is especially common for pinot noir that is a grape variety that easily mutates, in other words, has many clones. In other parts of the world this is rare. (Ed.)

Anette Zellén Soderstrom writes on BKWine Magazine mostly about wine and wine tastings in Stockholm. She is an avid wine taster with a long tasting experience and is currently studying to become a sommelier.

This post is also available in: Swedish

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