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Willamette Valley Wine Tasting

March 21, 2013

Somehow, the fact that our visit to Portland and Eugene would take us through the heart of Oregon wine country didn’t dawn on me until we were waiting to catch our plane in Denver. So I hopped on Yelp while waiting at the gate and found a few promising-sounding tasting rooms in downtown Portland.  Then I had another “duh” moment when the friend we were staying with for the weekend pointed out that we would be driving right through the Willamette Valley on our way to and from Eugene.  For any non-winos out there, the Willamette Valley is practically synonymous with good Oregon Pinot noir.

Willamette Vineyards

Fun fact: this fertile valley is also the grass seed, Christmas tree and hazelnut capital of the U.S.

We were a little more excited about the Pinot than the grass seed, and planned to stop and do some wine tasting on the way back to Portland from Eugene. 

White Rose Estate

It was the rainiest day we had on our trip, and we all agreed that it was the perfect weather to hang out inside drinking wine.  We exited I-5 about 30 minutes south of Portland and headed west to the Dundee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA), an area with more than 25 wineries, most specializing in Pinot noir.

Dundee Hills

Our first stop was White Rose Estate, chosen because one member of our group remembered drinking a bottle of their Pinot and loving it.  Perched up in the hills, we were able to look down over the valley.  I bet on a clear day the views are even more impressive.

White Rose Estate

White Rose is by far the coolest tasting room I’ve ever visited.  Located in a small wooden barn-like structure, the interior was dark and cozy.  The whole vibe had us primed to love their wine.

White Rose Tasting Room

White Rose Tasting Room

For $15 a person, they poured a flight of three of their Pinots.  Most wineries in the area charge a tasting fee but will credit that fee toward a wine purchase.  (A big change from the Colorado wine tasting  I’ve done where they rarely charge a fee) I wasn’t able to buy any bottles because I was flying back in a carry-on and didn’t think pouring a bottle of wine into 3.3 oz bottles sounded like a good idea – a bummer because there were several bottles I would have loved to take home.

White Rose Tasting

I found our tastings especially interesting because I’m not normally a Pinot drinker.  I usually prefer bigger reds like Cabernet and Zinfandel, so it was fun to focus on a varietal I’m less familiar with.  Plus, it was really interesting to see how different the Pinots could taste from one another, even though they were made from the same grape and in the same region.

I loved their 2010 Luciole Vineyard Pinot Noir and Dundee Hills AVA Pinot Noir (my favorite wine of the day). Both were very fruit forward and even had a little spice to them – a far cry from the watery Pinots I’ve disliked in the past.

White Rose Pinot

We all really enjoyed the wines we tasted at White Rose and and the whole vibe of the tasting room.  I also loved the pretty big-kid wine glasses they used for their tastings.  For some reason I find it so much more enjoyable to drink wine out of a big glass.

Group at White Rose

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at White Rose and even got a tip on the next winery we should visit while waiting in the bathroom line (seemed like a reliable source at the time).  She pointed right across the way and directed us to De Ponte Cellars, where she said the wine was good and prices were a little more affordable.

De Ponte is the brown building you can see in the

De Ponte is the brown building you can see in the center of this photo.

De Ponte Cellars didn’t have as dramatic a tasting room as White Rose, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting.  And pet friendly – there were a few people in there with their dogs, which I kind of loved.

Dogs at De Ponte Cellars

They poured us a flight of three Pinot noirs and Melon de Bourgogne, an unusual white I hadn’t tried before.  The white started off nicely but I thought the finish tasted like I had just burped or something (TMI?), but others in our group loved it so I might be the burpy weirdo.  Their Pinots were excellent though, particularly the 2010 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and 2010 Clay Hill Pinot Noir (the bargain of the bunch at $28).

De Ponte Cellars

We lingered for a while at De Ponte, enjoying our wine and chatting with the wine guy. And poking our heads into the barrel room.

De Ponte Cellars After De Ponte, we decided to try one more winery before we hit the road.  I could have vineyard-hopped all day, but we had our (awesome) designated driver to consider.  Also, we were starting to hit a point where all the wine just tasted like wine.  I wish my palette was as strong as my desire to taste wine all day!

We asked the man pouring our wine at De Ponte for a suggestion of one more winery to hit on our way back to the highway, and he recommended Argyle Winery for a little something different. In addition to more Pinot, Argyle is known for their high-quality sparkling wines.

Argyle Sparkling Wines

I didn’t partake in the bubbly (sparkling wines give me an almost-instant migraine headache), but there was still plenty there for me.  I ordered yet another Pinot noir flight and sampled four different wines produced in the area.  None of them stick out in my memory, but all four were drinkable and pretty good. 

Argyle had the widest variety of wines out of the wineries we visited and they were also the most generous.  Between our group, we ordered every flight they offered and were able to share sips amongst ourselves.  After we were done with those tastings, they were eager to pour us a few more wines that weren’t even on the tasting menu.

  Argyle Wine Tasting

My surprising favorites were the Nuthouse Chardonnay (the grapes are grown in what used to be a hazelnut farm, so there is a really nice smoothness and rich flavor to the wine) and their Riesling, which just won several awards.

Our Oregon wine tasting experience was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I actually think I came out of it with a new appreciation for Pinot noir.  We passed by dozens more wineries without being able to stop, so I can’t wait to return and try a few more.

We headed back to the city for some foodie adventures including delicious donuts and the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life (bold statement).  I can’t wait to relive it all on the blog over the next few days!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2014 5:36 pm

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