Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oregon - Willamette Valley - Chehalem Winery

Chehalem Winery
Willamette Valley

Oregon is Pinot country, which means that it’s one of the most weather sensitive wine regions in the world. Pinot noir benefits from warm days and cool nights. 2002 was hailed as one of the best wine years in Oregon history (about 30 years total), and many wine makers believe that 2006 will rival that. Chehalem Winery in Willamette Valley produces a few popular and well distributed wines that can be found in most wine stores. However, far superior wines can be found when visiting their winery. With tastings by appointment only, I highly recommend the intimate and delicious experience their tasting offers (plus, they’re free).

Chehalem considers France’s Alsace region their standard for quality, and accordingly allow the weather to determine the taste of their wines. Some producers would rather force their grapes into a particular taste during the production, but, as Jason explained during our tasting, Chehalem prefers to allow their wines to reflect each year’s unique weather. For example, 2007 brought early rains, two weeks early in fact, so that year’s wines will have a higher acidity. Allowing such characteristics to come through allows drinkers to taste the past and perhaps develop a closer relationship with the wine region itself.

I liked Chehalem’s whites, particularly their 2006, Pinot grigio Reserve, which has an impeccability delicate toastiness similar to restrained Californian chardonnay while retaining the light fruit of the Pinot grigio grape. I was even more blown away by their selection of Pinot noir. Chehalem has three vineyards dedicated to the grape, hence the name of their most commonly found Pinot noir, 3 Vineyards, which combines them. Their three high-end Pinot noirs showcase one of each vineyard, and the particular growing conditions can be clearly tasted. My favorite was the 2002 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir, grown in volcanic soil. This tasting is not one to miss.

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