Thursday, October 18, 2007

But We Heart Willamette More

"It's just so green!" We couldn't stop saying it. The Northern Willamette Valley just southwest of Portland is just so green. Unlike Washington's Columbia Valley, the Willamette Valley is a lush natural wine growing region and you can taste it. Almost every wine we tasted here was head and shoulders above the wines we tasted in WA. But the prices, both for bottles and tastings, reflected that. Our first stop was August and, although they didn't charge, it wasn't anything special. Our next stop was Rex Hill and we were blown away. It's a beautiful winery, surrounded by vineyards, bedecked with interesting sculpture. It took us a while to push our way into the bar for a tasting, but wine was worth it and the people pouring it were great. They even let you taste the new wine, before it's aged, just to get an idea of the process. Plus, they let us split a tasting (Many OR wineries will let you do this; they seem to understand that not everyone can spring for two $10 tastings.). After that, it was on to Argyle for some of their celebrated sparkling wine and chardonnay. Then we headed up into the vineyards in search of quality pinot noir. We found it at Lange but we certainly couldn't afford it. The view alone there, atop a hill, at the end of a gravel road, looking out over the valley, is priceless. Then we checked out Erath, it's owned by a big corporation now, but it still owns some of the oldest vines in the valley and their wines are delicious. We got the complimentary flight of 2006 pinot blanc, 2006 pinot gris, and 2005 pinot noir, all of which were very good. After doing a lot of tasting and somehow missing lunch, we decided to stop at just one more winery before heading to the hotel. We chose Stoller because we heard it was beautiful and new and making some very nice stuff. While we weren't all that impressed by their wines, the woman pouring was great. She was so enthusiastic about the AVA that she convinced us we had to pay to check out two more wineries. She sent us to Domaine Drouhaine to check out the high end and Winter's Hill to see a small family winery in action. Frankly, we preferred Winter's Hill. Domaine Drouhaine was pretty and the wine was great, but it was overrun by bus tours and blondes and with men twice their age. There's just something nicer about buying a bottle of Dundee Hills pinot noir from the winemaker's mother-in-law while trying not to wake the winemaker's baby nestled in grandma's arms.

After our big day of wine tasting, it was time to meet up with friends and get back to beer. We went to the Golden Valley Brewery and Pub in McMinnville. Although the organic, local, homemade concept behind the pub was great, the finished product was just ok. I had a burger and it was fine but not as meaty as I might have liked. Paul had the sturgeon special. The fish itself was very moist and flavorful but the accoutrements left something to be desired. The carroway spetzle was poorly executed and the vegetable of the day was an uninspired medley of no-longer-in season veggies. We have a feeling the steaks might be really good but they're also pretty spendy.

Despite the lackluster meal, our day in Oregon finished right with pints and brownie sundae at McMenamin's Hotel Oregon.

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