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Give New Wines a Chance!



a cake with fruit on top of a wooden table

There are thousands of wine grapes and  wines in production around the world. Each one is different and in a skilled winemaker’s hands the same grape from the same plot of land can be different from the vintage before and after. The lesson? Try every wine you can find to taste and judge to your own unique palate. Just because you don’t like an oaky buttery Chardonnay from Napa doesn’t mean you won’t like an amphora or stainless steel or acacia aged (yes acacia is now used for wine barrels) Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley. The same is true in the other direction of course:, maybe you are a fan of this typical California white wine (one of the most popular in the world), so would benefit from trying a different version from another region.

Are Bold Reds the Best?

Maybe you are a fan of “bold reds”, a common refrain from many Willamette Valley first timers who have been raised on Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, in the high alcohol, full bodied style equated with high quality and high prices. I admit that over the years my palate has changed and I had shifted from sweet whites (White Zinfandel anyone?), to dry whites then sparkling wines and heavy reds. It was assumed as one’s tastes matured the obvious best option was a tannic Bordeaux-style red that took 10, 20, 30 years to age to perfection.

Do you have a temperature controlled wine cellar? If not, why buy a tannic red that needs cellar time before it is ready? I have been told by several sources that  95 % of wine is opened within 90 minutes of purchase! The percentage of wines which are properly aged and opened at the optimal time is exceedingly small. I suspect most aged wines are forgotten in the cellar past its “best by” date and disposed of by children whose parents collected wines and never enjoyed them.

Why limit yourself to these pricey wines in need of time before enjoying them just because wine critics tell you they’re the best? Branch out to wines which are great now. If you can take a wine tour and find wines you like at an affordable price now,, stock up on them and never regret opening a bottle on a Tuesday pizza night! Red or white or sparkling? Who cares.Trust whatever feels good to you and not some wine magazine which insists on red with meat and white with fish. Personally I like sparkling with almost everything from popcorn to sushi.

My Wine Journey

When I first became interested in wine, I didn’t think I needed to venture beyond California as they can grow anything there, right? Pretty much is the short answer. Why pay for shipping and tariffs from across the pond (Atlantic or Pacific) when we can buy American and drink any style we want? Well, my eyes were opened when I studied the Certified Specialist of Wine program. I learned about grapes and wine history, Old World vs New World (basically Europe vs the rest of the world), grape types, wine styles, weather vs climate, the 30-50 north and south latitude band (where wine grapes grow best). I became fascinated with the variation and wanted to taste any style and grape I could find to move beyond the Chardonnay/Cabernet Sauvignon rut into which many wine enthusiasts fall. 

History Lesson

Maybe those old Europeans knew a thing or two about wine: Bordeaux as a “secret” blend of 5 grapes? Burgundy where Pinot Noir is king? Riesling as the coveted German wine of the north? Champagne where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reign supreme? Rhone and Beaujolais fighting between Syrah and Gamay Noir? Let’s not forget the Italians and how they turn Sangiovese into a heavenly Chianti perfect for Italian cuisine, and how Primitivo made its way from Puglia to California and was remade into Zinfandel? I could go on with Spain and Rioja, Portugal and Port but you get the picture. To fully appreciate the New World Cabs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, sparkling wines it helps to taste what inspired them.

The Second Generation

The US wine industry was started by immigrants coming from France, Italy, Spain, Germany to CA, OR, NY to build their fortune from cuttings smuggled in suitcases and setting down roots (pun intended) where they thought their home grapes would thrive. So take a chance going back to the source of your favorite wines: Bold reds: Bordeaux, Pinot Noir: Burgundy, Syrah: Rhone, Zinfandel: Primitivo, Riesling: Germany. I would also recommend checking out wine from other New World areas where European immigrants also settled and grew wine grapes, such as  South America, South Africa and Australia/New Zealand. In many cases, the new immigrants improved on what the Old World has been doing for generations. See Shiraz from Australia, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, Malbec from Argentina.

The Case for Oregon Pinot Noir

Back to the “bold reds” refrain. I have no issue with a heavy, oaky red for a steak dinner. But you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) eat steak every night. Pinot Noir is the king of the Willamette Valley wine world and also originates in Burgundy from where the first cuttings were smuggled. Even the French don’t eat steak every night, and a lower alcohol, medium body red goes well with Coq Au Vin (Julia Child’s famous recipe), fish, vegetables, etc and won’t put you to sleep after the first glass! Are all Pinot Noirs amazing? Sadly, no. I have learned in my time in Oregon that the best Pinot Noirs don’t leave the state! The best is kept here, mostly from small boutique wineries with an avid following who buy up the good stuff so there is none left to distribute. Don’t judge Oregon Pinots based on what the local wine superstore stocks in New Jersey, Texas, Illinois They’re likely the leftovers.

The Takeaway

There are so many wines in the world, your new favorite may be just around the corner.

For example here are some recent new finds for me available at Oregon wineries:

  • Melon De Bourgogne (aka Muscadet) from Furioso Vineyard
  • Aligote from Domaine Divio
  • Seyval Blanc from BellsUp
  • Rose of Tempranillo from Compris (aka Vidon)
  • Viognier/Syrah inverse blend from Dominio IV
  • Dragon’s Blood blend with Marechal Foch from Stone Griffin
  • Cristo Irresisto Rose of Grenache and Syrah from J Christopher
  • Sparkling Dry Riesling from Monksgate
  • Amphorae Blanc white field blend of 9 grapes from Beckham

Trust your tastes, don’t be afraid to try new things and, of course: Come to Oregon and taste for yourself, you won’t be disappointed!