I love visiting Portland and with family (and now friends!) living in Portland, we typically visit at least two to three times a year. Once I exit PDX airport, the first thing I do is take a deep breath of that fresh Oregon air.
Not only is there a lot of greenery and beautiful landscape, there’s a great food scene and wine country is less than an hour drive out of the city. In each of our last couple of trips to Portland, we had the chance to spend a day wine tasting in the Dundee Hills.
The Willamette Valley is known for its Pinot Noirs and, for the French, it’s always interesting to compare Oregon’s Pinot Noirs to those of Burgundy.
Burgundy’s wines are amongst the most refined and elegant in the world, and they are all made from Pinot Noir. Oregon wines (and Willamette Valley in particular) rose to prominence in the 1980’s, developing their own style of wines, halfway between the terroir of Burgundian wines and the fruit-forwardness of other West Coast Pinots (such as the Californians).
Our first stop was Sokol Blosser and to this day, it remains one of our favorites. The tasting room offers a fantastic view and is the perfect setting to sit down, relax and discover a range of excellent wines. They offer, like several other wineries, 2 tasting flight options: A Standard and a Reserve. We tried both to cover as much of the range as possible (now that’s dedication!).
Their whites (Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc) were very good but the reds definitely stole the show. Contrary to many California wines which tend to taste very similar from one vintage to the next, Oregon Pinots express more clearly the specificities of each year; the Frenchmen had a clear preference for the 2013 vintage (we tasted wines from 2013, 2014 and 2015 while we were there). Having been a rather cold and humid year, the profile of the wine was reminiscent of Burgundy… which is probably why they liked it so much!
I loved the wood paneling which infuses warmth in the modern decor and sleek lines of the building. Besides the wines (and the gorgeous winery and tasting room), Sokol Blosser uses sustainable and organic farming and and their beautiful winery is LEED certified.
Despite being the end of December, the weather was surprisingly mild. We enjoyed the light chill and the beautiful clouds rolling over the valley.
After each winery visit, we made sure to drink lots of water and brought some coconut water to make sure we stayed hydrated (#professionalwinetasters).
For lunch, we ate at the nearby Dundee Bistro and feasted on some delicious pasta dishes – the Pappardelle with rabbit ragu and the Bucatini Carbonara – along with a bottle of a local 2013 Pinot Noir. We originally wanted to visit two more wineries, but after such a long and leisurely lunch, we only had time for one more before the tasting rooms closed at 5pm.
Although it hadn’t originally been on our list, we made a last minute decision to go to Rex Hill Winery and we are so glad we did. The entire property is lovely. Although we didn’t get to enjoy their outdoor spaces because of the cold, we were excited to hear that they have great activities during the summertime with pizza nights where they’ll cook pizza in their outdoor stone oven.
We had received a recommendation to check out the Essence Table at Rex Hill. The Essence Table was set up with wine glasses containing different foods, spices and items that you can recognize in the nose or taste of wines. For example, there were fruits (like oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, and dried cranberries), spices (such as cinnamon and cloves) and even pencil shavings. This is a great tool to refine your sense of smell and recognize aromas when tasting wine.
We shared the Standard and Reserve tasting flights. The Reserve flight was a vertical tasting, which again, proved how much the Frenchman preferred the cold and humid years for Oregon pinots.
We ended our day next to the Rex Hill fireplace and stayed until the sun disappeared behind the trees.