An Exercise in the Surreal


Wine tasting in Oregon is an exercise in the surreal. After the wonders of a Lovejoy Deluxe for breakfast (it’s important to have a good breakfast before wine tasting), I left Portland Saturday morning under darkening winter skies and a light drizzle. But as I headed out into the country, the drizzle turned into passing squalls, and by the time I had found a place at Montinore’s tasting bar, those squalls had become a rainbow’s playground, a sign of the coming afternoon’s blue skies.

Aside from the anomalies of weather just a few miles from the city, other conundrums present themselves. For instance, it is possible to drive down absolutely deserted roads through forests so dark that one wonders about the possibility of flying monkeys, only to arrive at a winery whose parking is mostly occupied by not one, but two stretch (read: large capacity) SUV limousines. Likewise, it is surprising to experience the absolute rural homespun atmosphere of mile upon mile of farm fields and hazelnut trees, with those gorgeous red barns that transport you to a veritable Pleasantville, and then come upon a town such as Carlton, clearly eager to satisfy the needs of the growing numbers of wine tourists. Is this what Yountville looked like thirty years ago?

But if you can make it past the limousines and navigate your way through the back roads, there is some very good wine to be tasted in this still-young Oregon wine scene. I am finding it increasingly difficult to see past the decorum of some of my fellow tasters, but the view at a place like Domaine Drouhin more than makes up for any such company. And I often dream of making my way to Penner-Ash on one of these dark and rainy winter days to sit by their massive stone fireplace with a glass of brooding pinot noir, one small corner of the Willamette Valley spilling out before me through a set of tall windows – this would be the place to ride out the proverbial storm.

And sometimes, like today, you hit upon a real gem. A place full of clamoring groups and club members holding special passes as if they were coupons, but a place whose wine is so transcendent it might even be worth the California-level tasting fee. I have to say that despite its reputation, I wasn’t expecting too much from WillaKenzie. But the estate blend pinot noir held a promise that was born out in two single vineyard offerings, the 2010 Aliette and 2010 Pierre Léon, a pair of wines named for the winemaker’s parents and appropriately revealing the feminine and masculine sides of the grape. Here were wines whose Burgundian heritage was clear, wines that were immediately appealing, whose complexity invited continued sipping, and whose balance left the palate invigorated rather than tired. Ah, the siren pinot. Every time I think I’ve finally done with this grape, some beautiful incarnation brings me back. Is it so terrible to love the popular one?

The state of Oregon wine country is too fascinating not to share, so if you’re looking for inspiration for your next adventure, this blog will be a record of mine and the places that should not be missed. I write at the risk of knowing that my place in the tasting room may be harder to squeeze into, but this is the joy of wine I suppose. As soon as you find something great you want to share it, and then suddenly it’s gone. Time to explore another glass I guess, and cheers to the next adventure!

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