10 BEST PACIFIC NORTHWEST WINES
(BUT DON’T OPEN THEM YET)
Our wine critic, Condé Cox, tastes more than 1,500 wines from all over the world every year. But his penchant for swirling and sipping goes beyond mere hobby. Cox, who lives in Southern Oregon, maintains his own wine-centric website (www.placeintheglass.com) and is the only active Oregon candidate for a Masters of Wine designation, an exclusive qualification that has been bestowed on a mere 264 people in the world. So it was with little hesitation that we asked him to choose the top 10 wines in Oregon and Washington. The caveat? They had to be so superb, we’d be better off not opening them right away. (Cox hasn’t provided specific vintages, in order to encourage readers to buy wines from multiple years; prices are for the most recent bottled vintage.) With this list in hand, then, go forth and stock those cellars. And if you decide to open these bottles now? We’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
ABACELA ESTATE RESERVE TEMPRANILLO
$70 (Umpqua Valley, Oregon)
Abacela’s tempranillo exhibits the typical tea-leaf scents, soft acidity and full tannins found in classic Spanish tempranillo. The winery’s 2000 vintage Southeast Block Reserve tempranillo is evidence that cellar-worthy wines can indeed be made in the Umpqua Valley.
BETZ FAMILY SYRAH LA CÔTE ROUSSE
$50 (Red Mountain, Washington)
Bob Betz, winemaker and owner, uses grapes primarily sourced from the Red Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley. His intensely concentrated La Côte Rousse syrah exhibits scents of bacon fat, fall herbs and smoked wild game, just like the great syrahs from the Northern Rhône region in France.
BRICK HOUSE PINOT NOIR, LES DIJONNAIS
$46 (Ribbon Ridge, Oregon)
Organic and biodynamic grape-growing defines the wines of Doug Tunnell, the owner and winemaker of Brick House, whose Dijonnais bottling is perfectly balanced and boasts a lingering flavor that’s rare in Oregon pinot noir. In fact, this wine represents the Ribbon Ridge AVA’s most complete expression.
CRISTOM PINOT NOIR, EILEEN VINEYARD
$50 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)
Grapes from the steep, east-facing, densely planted Eileen vineyard are expertly vinified by Cristom’s Steve Doerner. Finely textured, this pinot has a crisp acidity and woody tannins, partially the result of Doerner’s iconoclastic use of whole-grape clusters during fermentation.
DOMAINE DROUHIN PINOT NOIR LAURÈNE
$65 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
Vinified by Veronique Drouhin, the Laurène bottling is a barrel-selection of the best from each vintage and is named after Veronique’s eldest daughter. This wine is perhaps the purest, cleanest and most feminine of Domaine Drouhin’s pinot noir.
EYRIE VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR RESERVE
$50 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
Eyrie’s reserve bottlings, which are far better than the other Eyrie wines, are often almost transparent in color. Delightfully acidic when young, these pinots become ethereal with age, and are produced from fruit grown in an un-irrigated vineyard—which results in wines that vary considerably in style from one vintage to the next, but are always very good.
LONG SHADOWS PIROUETTE RED BLEND
$55 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Made by a consortium of several winemakers from around the world who produce, under one label, a range of high-quality Washington Columbia Basin wines, the Pirouette blend consists of about one-half cabernet and one-quarter merlot. It represents a well-balanced, fruit-forward version of a traditional Bordelaise blend, but with far softer tannins.
ST INNOCENT PINOT NOIR, WHITE ROSE
Vineyard $45 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
St Innocent’s wines are made mostly from grapes grown in the Eola-Amity Hills and the Dundee Hills AVAs, and they always improve with at least five years in the bottle. Carnation scents and well-integrated acidity mark this delicate wine made by Mark Vlossak, St Innocent’s winemaker and president.
STE MICHELLE/DR. LOOSEN EROICA SINGLE BERRY SELECT RIESLING
$200 for .375 liter (Horse Heaven Hills, Washington)
Reminiscent of a fine German trockenbeerenauslese—a sweet and very expensive dessert wine made from riesling grapes—this toothsome wine is remarkably concentrated and rich. Made from riesling that’s been harvested one berry at a time, literally, the wine’s residual sugar, at 40 percent, is screamingly high, but its acidity provides impressive balance.
WOODWARD CANYON OLD VINES CABERNET SAUVIGNON
$75 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Woodward Canyon makes mostly Bordelaise varietals, but it’s the Old Vines cabernet sauvignon that shines. Sourced mainly from the 25-year-old Champoux vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills near Pasco, it boasts deep textures and rich flavors. With age, it develops a complex floral bouquet.