Look out, California: Over the past two decades, wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley have skyrocketed in popularity, and it’s no mystery why. Known for its soaring altitudes and unique Jory (volcanic) soils, this Burgundy-reminiscent region is putting out some of the most bright and balanced wines from the West Coast today. For those who prefer their wines on the earthy and restrained side, this region will be a new favorite. However, as always, knowing a bit about its history, and which producers to buy from, is essential. This is what to know about this versatile region, plus seven delicious bottles to try.
Where Is the Willamette Valley, and Which Subregions Does It Contain?
The Willamette Valley is located in the northwestern part of Oregon. The valley spans 150 miles long and borders the Cascade Range, Oregon Coast Range, and Calapooya Mountains. It has nine smaller AVAs within its borders: Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton District.
How Is Willamette Valley Wine Made?
Willamette Valley wines are made in a variety of styles (both sparkling and still) and colors (red, white, and rosé). Most producers tend to harvest their fruit at an optimal ripening point without sacrificing acidity, and when oak is used, it’s generally neutral and restrained.
Which Grapes Are Used in Willamette Valley Wine?
Many grapes are cultivated in the Willamette Valley, although pinot noir is undeniably its claim to fame. Chardonnay and pinot gris are also making a name for themselves across the region. These three grapes account for more than 90% of the Valley’s plantings. Additionally, gamay and riesling are also on the rise.
What Does Willamette Valley Wine Taste Like?
The exact flavor profile of wines from the Willamette Valley differs according to the producer, although generally speaking, these wines are known for their bright acidity, soft tannins (in red wines), and fruit-driven approachability.
Which Foods Should I Pair with Willamette Valley Wine?
Due to their fruit-driven nature, brisk acidity, and approachable tannins, wines from the Willamette Valley are incredibly food-friendly and quite versatile on the table. Willamette Valley pinot noir paired with roasted veggies, grilled meats, or charcuterie boards is a match made in heaven, whereas chardonnay comes to life with poultry, seared fish, and lobster rolls. Willamette pinot gris is excellent with foie gras and salmon, and a bottle of Willamette bubbly promises to please alongside all things fried.
These are seven bottles to try.
For an age-worthy, mind-blowing pinot noir expression from Oregon’s Dundee Hills, look no further than Archery Summit’s cuvée. Winemaker Ian Burch crafts this wine with meticulous attention to detail, ensuring that the fruit from this unique corner of the world speaks through every sip. Expect flavors of crushed strawberries, raspberry jam, graphite, and a hint of smoke to lead to a long, baking-spice-tinged finish. This special bottle is great for drinking now, laying down in the cellar, or both—grab two (or more) if you can.
Brick House Wines is based in Ribbon Ridge AVA within Yamhill County. Its first block of vines received organic certification in 1990, and over the past three decades the winery has become a benchmark for producers looking to farm responsibly. Its Les Dijonnais cuvée offers floral and slightly spicy flavors on the palate, which jumps with notes of sour cherries, cranberries, tangerine rind, and dried herbs. Textured and fleshy, the wine finishes perfumed and bright. This bottle is drinking beautifully now, though it certainly could also withstand a few years in the cellar.
Riesling skeptics, worry not: This bone-dry expression promises to captivate your tastebuds upon first sip. Fruit for this wine comes from 20+-year-old vines and ferments with native yeasts in steel prior to six months of aging. The wine is fresh, floral, and laden with flavors of tart citrus, pear skin, lemon rind, and crushed sea shells.
Cooper Mountain is a family-run winery with a passion for organic and biodynamic farming, and its entry-level pinot noir is anything but basic. Fruit for this wine comes from three estate-owned plots and is vinified with native yeasts prior to aging for 10 months in oak. On the palate, the wine is savory and earthy, and it shows unbelievable structure. Flavors of raspberry, potting soil, and a hint of sweet spice lead to a soft, earthy finish. In terms of quality-to-price ratio, this is one of the best bottles coming out of the region today.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
After working in various regions across France—Burgundy, the Loire, Beaujolais, and the Northern Rhône, to be specific—Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe settled on the West Coast and founded Division Winemaking Co. in 2010. This Beaujolais-inspired gamay is vinified in true Bojo fashion using carbonic maceration, and it promises to please those who can’t get enough crunchy, chillable reds in their life. The wine is all things smoky and stemmy, and laden with flavors of fresh red fruits.
Maison Noir is the project of sommelier André Hueston Mack, and rosé might be our favorite bottle from his lineup. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, this thirst-quenching bottle oozes with flavors of strawberry, nectarine, watermelon rind, and a touch of honey. It’s perfect for lazy afternoons by the pool as well as picnics in the park, brunches with friends, and beyond.
Based in the Eola-Amity Hills, Walter Scott Wines is a small family winery that specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot blanc. Fruit for La Combe Verte comes from its youngest vines, and like all white wines at the estate, is whole-cluster pressed, fermented with native yeast, and aged in barrels for 11 months prior to finishing in steel. The wine is pleasantly reductive and smoky, marked by notes of green apple, lemon, sea salt, and grilled hazelnuts.