09/23/09 – the Oregon Trail

By Jesse on September 20, 2009

This week, we’re meeting for the first time at Vanessa and Andrea’s cozy Sherman Oaks abode, and we thought we’d honor our rookie hosts by drinking some wine originating in the places that they’re from. Vanessa, however, comes from Los Angeles, and there simply aren’t enough wineries in our fair city for it to justify its own tasting. On a much more positive note, Andrea hails from Portland, and the fair state of Oregon has no shortage of excellent wineries for us to choose from. (Andrea occasionally tries to point out to me that she actually comes from a “Portland-adjacent” city in the state of Washington, but I can never seem to remember that.)

Oregon is an exciting location in the world of domestic wines. It’s a difficult place to grow grapes; the state has cold weather, a rainy climate, and a name that no one can figure out how to pronounce (is it “or-a-GON” or “or-a-GINN?” No one knows for sure). Oregon’s most important wine region is the Willamette (definitely pronounced “will-AM-ette”) Valley, which also has various sub-regions within it. Other regions include Rogue Valley, Columbia Valley, and Umpqua Valley. Reds and whites are both fair game for this meeting — as are sparklers, if you can find one.

Whites: on the blanc side, Chardonnay was the most widely-planted white grape as of the 2001 publication of my copy of The Wine Bible. However, this website claims that Pinot Gris is now the leader on the white side, which makes sense, as it’s definitely become the most celebrated white grape in the state. Besides the Chardonnay and the Pinot Gris, both of which can be excellent, also look for Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer.

Reds: Pinot Noir is the grape that’s really put Oregon on the map. According to The Wine Bible, Pinot is the “soul of winemaking” in Oregon, particularly the bottles from the Willamette Valley. A French agricultural journal did a study in which they compared the climates of the Willamette Valley and France’s Burgundy region — the classic European home of great Pinot — and discovered that the two locations mirror each other almost identically in sunlight, temperature, and average rainfall. The hallmark of both regions is a cool climate combined with high amounts of precipitation, resulting in slow-ripening, well-balanced Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, the warmer vineyards in the eastern part of the state are the source of some nice Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We’ll be meeting at Vanessa and Andrea’s place in the Sh’oaks. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself an Oregonian bottle… or simply bring a $10 donation, if you prefer. See you on Wednesday night!