When someone mentions “Oregon wine country,” most believe they are talking about the bucolic Willamette Valley, a region on the northern portion of the state that is famous worldwide for its pinot noir.
While the Willamette Valley garners most of the press and is home to a large number of wineries, as well as the International Pinot Noir Celebration, there’s a vast and diverse region that stretches from the California border to the southern edge of the Willamette Valley. Not surprisingly, it’s known as Southern Oregon, and it’s defined by several federally established American Viticultural Areas, including the Umpqua Valley, the Rogue Valley, Elkton Oregon and the Applegate Valley.
While pinot noir dominates the north, the drier and sunnier Southern Oregon region opens up opportunities for warmer-climate varieties, including syrah, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon.
Here are several good examples of wines from Southern Oregon. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
2Hawk Vineyard & Winery 2015 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, $31: Longtime Southern Oregon winemaker Kiley Evans flies high with this youthful estate tempranillo. The Medford producer used some new Minnesota and Missouri oak barrels to help craft a prominent wine with dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors, robust tannins and a juicy cherry finish.
Abacela Winery 2015 Estate Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $23: More than a third of Earl and Hilda Jones’ vineyard is planted to this Spanish red grape, and their success with tempranillo is the key to their entry-level Fiesta bottling. Thanks to winemaker Andrew Wenzl, there’s great balance of tart fruit and juicy ripeness, featuring ripe plums, tannins akin to plum skin, blackberry and a hint of mocha lingering in the background of a bold finish.
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2014 Ferris Wheel Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, Elkton Oregon, $25: Terry Brandborg and his eponymous winery are among Oregon’s best-kept secrets, but this wine from the 2014 vintage furthers efforts to change that. Using grapes from Ferris Wheel Vineyard, the estate he farms with his wife, Sue, near the tiny town of Elkton, he crafted an elegant wine with aromas of forest floor, cherries and a bare hint of spice, followed by flavors of red cherry and red currant, enchanting minerality and well-mannered tannins.
Plaisance Ranch 2015 Papa Joe’s Private Stash Mondeuse, Applegate Valley, $35: Mondeuse is a little-known French red wine grape grown in the Savoie region of France, where dairyman-turned-winemaker Joe Ginet’s family came from. The labor of love with this estate-grown wine comes from the Applegate Valley and is labeled “Papa Joe’s Private Stash.” In Europe, it’s a dark purple drink often blended with pinot noir and gamay. The ginet version has black cherry and black plum notes with a bit of spice. In the mouth, it’s grippy with layered dark plum and dark cherry skin flavors and tannins. A cassoulet is in order for this one.
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2016 Estate Cuvèe Riesling, Umpqua Valley, $34: The Umpqua Valley seems to be a place where almost every varietal can find a friendly microclimate. Grower-winemaker-owner Stephen Reustle delivers a riesling that opens with a hint of stone fruit and abundant lime and lemon aromas, then a juicy mouthful of lime, tart orange and white peach. It closes with crisp acidity and a bit of minerality.
Spangler Vineyards 2015 Carménère, Southern Oregon, $39: Wine Press Northwest magazine’s reigning Oregon Winery of the Year stays true to this fascinating and food-friendly red Bordeaux grape. Herbs, tobacco and red fruit aromatics lead into flavors of cherries, black currant, sage and clove. Its grippy tannins and ample acidity call for a grilled ribeye kept on the rare side.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com