Unusual Red Wines of the Willamette Valley (Part 2)
Last week, based on a reader suggestion, I started researching oddball grapes grown in the Willamette Valley. I found too many to include in one post so I concentrated on white grapes. This week I am finishing up with red grapes. Read and be amazed at the variety of red grapes that local vintners can grow and make into delicious wines! The tricky part is finding the right site for optimal ripening via sun exposure, elevation, temperature diurnals (the temperature swing day to night during the growing season), water access, soil type, etc.
First the not-so oddball reds that you still need to hunt for in the Willamette Valley:
This Spanish grape is well known in the Rioja region where it accounts for over 90% of red grape acreage. Enough Willamette Valley vineyards have successfully planted it here to justify its own festival called Raising the Temp! It was started by Vidon Vineyard in November 2021 with 10 participating wineries: Carlo and Julian Vineyard & Winery, Dion Vineyard, Dominio Wines, Grochau Cellars, Parra Wine Co., Raptor Ridge Winery, Stag Hollow Wines, Valcan Cellars, Varnum Vintners, and Vidon Vineyard. 1
Additional Tempranillo producers in WV include Stone Griffon, estate fruit from Carlton, and Bryn Mawr from vines planted in 1995 in Eola-Amity Hills.
This is the grape behind Italian Chianti in the Tuscany region and a personal favorite. This full-bodied wine shines when served with (surprise !) traditional Italian fare: cheese, cured meats, lasagna, pizza etc, etc. Not only am I biased towards my husband and chief transportation officer home-country’s wine and food but all that goes with it: art, history, scenery, people, cars, espresso lifestyle.
As a warm weather grape, Sangiovese is not easy here in cooler, wetter Oregon but Apolloni figured it out. They claim the only plantings in Willamette Valley, originating in 1995. Natalie’s Estates also offers Sangiovese from grapes sourced in the Columbia Valley.
The king of the Northern Rhone Valley, France, this warm weather grape also struggles to ripen in the Willamette Valley. Often planted and co-fermented with Viognier, it is a rare example of combining red and white grapes in a single bottle on purpose and without resulting in a lower quality wine. The French believe this combo is magical and each grape complements the other. Vidon has done this mixing with great success on their south-facing slopes and include it in their Syrah-based Saturn wine. It’s not available at the moment but be patient, it will be back soon!
True Willamette Valley Oddball Reds from Z to D
Zweigelt is the primary red grape of Austria (Grüner Veltliner is the primary grape overall, see last week’s post on oddball white grapes for more info). No surprise that Zweigelt can grow here, given the similar chilly climate between Austria and Willamette Valley. Bryn Mawr makes an off-dry sparkling with Zweigelt and I’m dying to try it! They purchase the grapes from Fenders Rest Vineyard in the recently (2018) awarded new AVA: Van Duzer Corridor at the south end of the Willamette Valley. Fun Fact: they are also growing Tinta Cao, a grape common in Portugal.2
Pinot Meunier is one of the few grapes allowed in French Champagne along with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and to a lesser extent: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane. Argyle makes a still Petit Meunier from their 12 acres out of the total of 16 acres planted in Oregon.
Nebbiolo joins Sangiovese as an Italian grape that Apolloni has learned to grow in Oregon. Nebbiolo is the grape responsible for Piedmont’s star wines: Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the most revered wines of the world, and is rarely grown outside of Piedmont. A food wine with “grippy tannins”, it pairs well with hearty Italian favorites. 3
Marechal Foch wins my vote for oddest of these oddballs. I first learned of this grape from Terry McIntyre at Stone Griffon just last week!. This hybrid grape was bred in France in the 1910s by Eugene Kuhlmann, who crossed Goldriesling (a vitis vinifera grape) and a native American grape of the vitis riparia-rupestris variety. Named for Marshall (Marechal in French) Ferdinand Foch of World War I fame, it is a deep blood-red wine. 4
Due to the cross with a North American variety, this grape is very hardy under winter conditions and can be found in wines from Canada, NY’s Finger Lakes, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, where almost all grapes would surely perish after the first snow storm.
Stone Griffon offers 2 versions: a standalone Marechal Foch (very unusual flavor) and a Dragon’s Blood blend with Pinot Noir and Tempranillo. I am in love with Dragon’s Blood. It pulls the best of each grape in a perfect combo to tone down and amplify the best flavor, aroma, body of each grape. The definition of juicy red, it’s not for the faint of heart!
Lagrein (improperly placed in the white wine post last week) is an Italian grape from the northeast region of Trentino-Alto Adige. It has been compared to Cabernet Sauvignon for its full body, dense color and plum and cherry notes. Montinore and Remy are two producers in Willamette Valley worth seeking out for those looking to expand their repertoire of full bodied food-friendly red wines (and impress your friends with your wine knowledge!). 5
Dolchetto, another Italian grape “little sweet one” is offered in the Willamette Valley by Bryn Mawr. Fun Fact: there are over 3000 indigenous grape varieties in Italy, the most of any country. 350 varieties are planted commercially today. Also a food wine, this cousin of Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region is low in acid, so despite typical fermenting to dry, it can taste sweet due to the lower acid content. It is not known to be super ageable, so enjoy young. In Italy it is permitted to offer it as a Novello wine, in the same vein as Beaujolais Nouveau, which improves cash flow while the Barolo and Barbaresco Nebbiolo wines are taking up precious winery space as they cellar age.6
The Take Away
Don’t get stuck in a Pinot, Cabernet, Chardonnay rut! There are so many wines and so little time, so try every wine a winery offers in case you find a new favorite! Or seek out these wineries and support their experimentation with new wines so they continue to push the envelope!
Did I miss some odd balls? Likely! Feel free to comment in my social media posts with additional entries/corrections and I will post an update at a later date.
And remember I am offering a $20 credit towards a future wine tour if you suggest a topic (via a comment on social media or email via our website “contact us” page) that I choose for a future blog post. We had a winner last week which resulted in this blog topic!