While the city of Portland has precious little space inside her borders for a vineyard, the lush Willamette Valley surrounding the city is prime for growing grapes, and there is ample industrial space for vinting. Having visited a plethora of good local wineries, as well as attending tastings at wine bars and keeping a mini “wine journal” for the hundred-plus wines available at Pinot in the City in the Pearl District last month, real wine gems have emerged. Truth be told, Portland may be famous for the microwbrew and coffee, but she also ages some fine wine.
Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery is proof of this. Growing traditional grapes from the Burgundy and Alsace regions of France, their selection of red and white wines is excellent and affordable, with most bottles priced in the $15-$25 range. Their 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris is balanced and low acidity, with fruity undertones, while the 2006 Reserve Pinot Gris is dry yet positively tropical tasting; a difficult feat for a white wine.
For a red with a beautiful bouquet that is smooth, yet bold enough to hold its acidity, look no further than Brick House Vineyards for their 2008 Gamay Noir. The Burgundy wine of Gamay was once considered the “poor man’s Pinot Noir”, though after tasting, you will see why the luxurious wine lost that reputation. Brick House conveniently has a Pinot Noir for you to decide for yourself, however. Extra kudos for Brick House for having certified organic vineyards since 1990.
Argyle Winery takes the cake for sparkling wine, and Wine Spectator agrees, naming Argyle “Oregon’s Best All-Around Winery Today” in 1999. The newly-released 2001 Extended Tirage Brut is sure to receive a 95 point Wine Spectator rating like its1997-2000 predecessor editions. While a bit pricey at $60/ bottle, it’s everything I dreamed of: Creamy, bubbly, fruity, clean, yet with an acidity that leaves you with a hint of licorice. For regular occasions, the 2008 Nuthouse Pinot Noir is a bold yet delicate choice that is also highly rated.
Look to Panther Creek to put a bottle in your cellar: The winery is known for their care and minimal-intervention style, so after barrel-aging, most wines are recommended to continue to age in the bottle. Most are great now too, however: The 2008 Winemaker’s Cuvee is said to be best after bottle-aging for 5-10 years, though tasting the Cuvee now, you will find a dry cherry-vanilla-flavored wine that is irresistible.
Straight from the Industrial area on Portland’s East Side, the Top Inner-City pick is clearly Hip Chicks Do Wine. From the 2007 Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon with a bold, full-bodied fruitiness to the dry, buttery finish Vin Nombril (“Belly Button Wine”), to the citrus-tasting goodness of the 2008 Pinot Gris, the chicks are showing irrefutable evidence that wine made in the city is both delectable and in-fashion. The Wine Bunny Blush and Wine Bunny Rouge with label art by local artist Suzanne Moulton also show how microbrew doesn’t have the monopoly on hipness.