Unusual White Wines of the Willamette Valley (Part 1)
Last week I wrote about the king of Willamette Valley grapes: Pinot Noir. This week, we’re discussing some lesser known grapes a few pioneering vineyards have embraced: Müller Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner, Auxerrois. *Geek warning!* You may never run across these grapes in your wine journey if you’re not looking for them but for us explorers, the more obscure the better!
Müller Thurgau is a popular grape in Germany and ranks second in acreage after Riesling and ahead of Spatburgunder (AKA Pinot Noir).This grape is a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale created by Dr Müller of Thurgau Switzerland.1 A cool weather crop, which fits in well in the Willamette Valley, its history is as a blending grape. It also received a reputation as a cheap sweet wine after WWII, most commonly in the Leibfraumilch (Blue Nun anyone?) category. Lucky for us, as prevailing wine tastes changed from sweet to dry, vintners experimented with fermenting to dry (little residual sugar). This sort of fermentation enhanced the riesling-like floral/fruity aromas more clearly and improved the wine quality.
Here in the Willamette Valley several wineries are growing and selling Müller Thurgau as a stand alone varietal wine: Sokol Blosser, Anne Amie, Kramer, Chris James, Eola Hills, Day Wines and Montinore vineyards make still, dry to off-dry versions while Varnum Vintners makes it as a sparkling wine. Sokol Blosser was one of the first to plant it in the US. This grape produces a wine with tropical notes of guava, passionfruit, lychee, as well as pear and floral honeysuckle, gardenia, rose petal, key lime and mineral characteristics.
Grüner Veltliner hails from Austria where it is the leading white grape. It accounts for one third of all acreage under vine, followed by Welschriesling and Riesling. Similar to Müller Thurgau, this is a cool weather grape known to make a high acid wine with notes of white pepper, citrus, green apple and mineral. As an offspring of Traminer grapes 2 (Gewurztraminer is the most famous of three Traminer varieties), Grüner Veltliner is worth trying if you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan, as they share body, acid level and flavor profiles.
You can find this rarer strain at these Willamette Valley wineries: Failla, Ridgecrest, Chehalem, Raptor Ridge, Kramer, Chris James, Ricochet. Fun Fact: Two-thirds of Austria’s output is white wine. Austria’s leading red is another oddball, Zweigelt, known for its red cherry, peppery flavor.
Auxerrois is native to the Alsace region of France where it is used in excellent sparkling wines blended with Pinot Blanc. Labeled as Crémant D’Alsace this blend of Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc is made in the French Methode Champenoise style at a fraction of the price. Auxerrois can be labeled interchangeably as Pinot Blanc under French wine law. Its parentage is the same as Chardonnay as a cross of Pinot Noir and Gouias Blanc. It is also found in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and Northern Italy. 3 Known for its citrus and musky aromas, it is fermented dry and, when aged, can take on honey notes.
It can be found as a varietal at Helioterra, Raptor Ridge,and Bjornson. Raptor Ridge sources their Auxerrois from the cuttings planted in Eola Amity Hills brought over from France by David Adelsheim in the 1970’s along with the infamous Pinot Noir cuttings which started the wine industry in OR. 4
These 3 are not the end of the story, however. Feel free to investigate these other obscure (to Willamette Valley but not other regions of the world) grapes and maybe you will find a new favorite:
- Seyval Blanc-Bells Up
- Melon de Bourgogne-Grochau Cellars, Helioterra, DePonte, Day Wines
- Lagrein-Remy, Montinore
- Huxelrebe-Helioterra (blended with Riesling-labeled as Starthistle)
- Tocai Fruilano-Cooper Mountain, Furioso
Despite Willamette Valley’s reputation for Pinot Noir, this region of the country offers plenty for those who want to look beyond the classics. All you have to do is dig around. At Triangle Wine, it’s our job to stay up to date on the unique offerings so we will always be able to point out the hidden gems and rare grapes for our customers. If you want to
**Shout out to the first winner of my ongoing offer! @Bubblingmanatee on Instagram suggested this topic about interesting wines available in the Willamette Valley. In exchange, they received a $20 credit towards a wine tour. This reward is given to anyone suggesting a blog post topic that I choose to write! Offer is ongoing all year. Comment on a post, or contact us on our website for a chance to win!**