Friday, November 6, 2009

Insight from a guest: Southern Oregon Grand Tasting

You may have noticed last week The Oregon Wine Blog offered two tickets to the Southern Oregon Grand Tasting in Portland, Oregon to the first reader that contacted us. We had some fun with the promotion and look to do some more promotions for you in the keep your eyes peeled.

Ryan Sharp was the lucky winner - and in payment for his prize we asked that he send a review of the event back for posting. Behold, the first guest blogger post on the blog. Ryan is a blogger out of the Portland area, who shares with us some great insight on this event. Thanks, Ryan!

Guest Post:

Last Sunday was the perfect day for tasting the wines of Southern Oregon. The rain let up for a bit, making the crossing of the river from SE to SW beautiful and clear. It's a wonderful thing to taste wine from southern Oregon...and even more wonderful when it's brought to my town.

We entered the Governor Hotel and quickly assessed that we were the only 2 people under age 40. Not that there's anything wrong with people 40 and over, but I am constantly amazed at the lack of under-40-ers that show up to these things. All my friends drink wine, and they're mostly in their 20s and 30s. Hmm.

We picked up the tasting guide, surveyed the room, and chose the wineries we'd taste from. It seemed that spending time with just a handful of the wineries present allowed us to actually hear a bit about the different winemaking decisions, vineyard practices, and visions for each bottle of wine poured.

It was enlightening. And discouraging. All at the same time.

Parts of southern Oregon seem quite suitable for Rhone varietals, so many folks had planted Syrah and Viognier. One winery had also planted Marsanne and Rousanne. There were the usual suspects as well...Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Tempranillo. And there were some slightly more obscure varietals like Petit Sirah (obscure for Oregon), Cab Franc, Albariño, and Dolcetto.

Misty Oaks '07 Cabernet Franc was a solid and inky. They were pouring it, but not selling it. D'oh!

Agate Ridge served up a nice, smoky '06 Syrah. It had a very sweet nose, perhaps from the barrel. Nice medium body and delicate finish. Their whites (Viognier and Marsanne/Rousanne) were reminiscent of the buttery Chardonnays that I don't particularly care for. It probably had a bit to do their barrel-fermentation and the grapes general lack of acid.

Folin Cellars poured out of bottles with glass stoppers. It was fun to get an earful about cork taint! Their '06 Estate Tempranillo was yummy. Nice structure, tons of tannis to stick to your teeth, not as acidic as many Tempranillos. I bet you could cellar this for a few years and find yourself with a gem of a wine!

The '04 Pinot Noir from Henry Estate Winery was dead-on cherry cola. A little vanilla and black pepper as well. Probably our favorite Pinot for the event. The years in the bottle had really allowed the wine to soften and settle. Quite a treat at $30!

Spangler Vineyard's Petit Sirah is always solid. The '06 (which they were out of) blew us away in the past. It was nice to get acquainted with their '07. Lots of white pepper and a surprising amount of fruit for this varietal.

The Dolcetto from Palotai Vineyard & Winery was light and spicy. I bet it'll be a hot commodity for Thanksgiving this year.

Pebblestone Cellars seemed to be the only winery represented using Viognier in their Syrah. The co-ferment the dark Syrah with about 3% Viognier to make the color even richer. The complexity of the color compounds increases when these ferment together. This is an old French secret.

But the big surprise was the Giradet Wine Cellars' Baco Noir. Never heard of it? Neither had we. Full of bacon fat (hold the grease) and blueberry jam, with a long, chocolaty finish, this was my wine of choice. Apparently they smuggled this hybrid grape in years back. And they seem to be the only vineyard growing it in Oregon.

All in all, it was a fun time. I'm excited to see how these wineries and vineyards continue to evolve and experiment. I remember one winemaker saying, "Yah, we tried this or that idea a few years back and then tweaked it the following year." I like hearing stuff like that. People who are still up for some risk-taking, even if it means creating something less-than for one vintage. It keeps things interesting!


  1. Just a couple notes - many wineries in Southern Oregon do in fact use viognier in their syrah. Check out my syrah, Spangler Vineyards 2006 Syrah, multiple gold medal winner, available at Made in Oregon stores, made with 5% Viognier. I even use it in my petite sirah.
    Baco Noir first came to both the US and Canada back in the 1950's from France, and was once quite common north of the border. While Girardet cleary makes a wonderful version (almost every year, I might add), they are not alone. There are multiple growers of this variety in the Umpqua Valley, with three wineries (that I know of) with it on the market currently, Girardet, Melrose, and Bradely. Why not make the trip down and try them all, not to mention the other great wines in the Umpqua?

  2. Nice post on Southern Oregon Wines, we were unable to make the tasting but have had a great Rogue Valley Syrah called "The Scenic Route" from Stage Left Cellars. Have you had that?


  3. And Baco Noir is not the only unusual grape growing in the amazing Umpqua Valley. One of our wineries here is the first ever to grow and make Gruner Veltliner. An absolutely excellent Austrian varietal which is touted to be the red wine lovers white wine. In blind tastings a huge percentage of tasters think the wine is a red wine! Being primarily a red wine drinker I would agree. This amazing wine has incredible body and is so layered. Goes as well with a rib eye steak as it does with artichokes and asparagus.

    If you are interested in learning more about the amazing Umpqua Valley and its wines check out my wine column The Girl on Grapes. You can find it in the Douglas County News and on our web site We moved here from Sonoma/ NApa area for the tremendous wine and started a tour biz to help other wine explorers discover this amazing area no one is talking about. We are part of the Southern Oregon AVA established 2004, but our Umpqua Valley AVA has been established for 25 years. There are 22 (soon to be 23) tasting rooms in the ava and in case you did not know, this is where the very first pinot was ever planted! It all started right here in the early 60's and a few years later David- Lett Papa Pinot planted in Willamette Valley. As a matter of fact the oldest winery after prohibition where it all started is still running strong making some of the best wines in the area and you can taste pinot of the original vines! And they do a Zin yes a Zin! It is to die for and I come from Dry Creek where the best zin in the world is made! Oh so much great wine going on here.


  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone! We're excited about Southern Oregon and are planning a trip down that way as well as a tasting feature in the upcoming months.