Hit The Oregon Trail For Quality Chardonnay

Food & Drink

Once known only for its powerhouse Pinot Noir, the state’s Chardonnays are rising stars.

The Eola Amity Hills AVA boasts about 30 wineries and more than 100 vineyards, many of the focused on small production and sustainability. The AVA is defined by its marine-inflected breezes and so named after an Aeolian, or wind harp. Vinifera grapes were planted here in the Eola-Amity Hills in 1971— Amity Vineyards was the first commercial winery in the area to cultivate vines and in 1976 the first to become bonded. It was in the initial groups of six nested AVAs recognized, getting its AVA designation in 2006.

Argyle “Nuthouse” 2018, Eola-Amity. Round, fleshy apple and singed caramel, wood spice. The orchard fruit is upfront so you don’t have to search for it. Textured on the palate but still delivers a lean and clean profile.

Byrn Mawr Estate Chardonnay 2018, Eola-Amity Hills. Pale yellow in color, with the nose expressing clean pear and apple fruit, a bit of honeycomb and brioche—notes that are followed onto the palate, with some lees creamy notes, a little savory anise uplift.

Bryn Mawr Estate Grown Chardonnay 2018, Eola-Amity Hills. This is good Chablis imposter with a nice nose (smoke and flint), uplifted with clean green apple and mineral, lemon zest; crisp and refreshing. 325 cases made.

The Dundee Hills AVA is where most of the Willamette Valley’s first grapes were grown: the AVA’s mottos is “It started here for a reason.” It is the epicenter of Pinot Noir, but, as in other AVAs, Chardonnay is catching up with Burgundian expressions of the grape, and helping reinvent what American Chardonnay could be. The AVA is home to more than 50 vineyards and wineries, with some of the state’s early pioneers setting down roots here – Eyrie (David Lett), Erath, and Sokol Blosser in the 1960 and 70s, followed by the Burgundian Drouhin family in 1987. Friendly fact: There are more B-Corp-certified wineries in the Dundee Hills than any other AVA globally.

Domaine Serene “Evenstad Reserve” 2018, Dundee Hills. Made from Dijon clones in a premier vineyard. The nose is pleasing with lemon curd, herbal notes, and a hint of oak spice. Followed by a not-quite-full bodied structure in the mouth—slightly glycerol, round, textured and satisfying with ripe pear, yellow and green apple. Lovely integration of oak, acid and fruit. Mouthwatering, elegant, refined. **

Domaine Roy & Fils “Incline” Dundee Hills Estate Chardonnay 2019, Iron Filbert Vineyard. Super anise on the nose, followed through on the palate, with some tart green apple. A little astringent at first, but evened out on the second day. Good Tuesday night wine.

Lange Estate Chardonnay “Classique” 2018, Dundee Hills. A round Burgundian-style wine with silky textures, ripe yellow apple, some hazelnut, almond and caramel tones leading to a long, graceful finish. At $19, punches well about its weight.

Nicolas Jay “Affinites” 2018, Dundee Hills. Burgundian style, good lemon twist, creamy aspect, medium-plus but not quite full body, a little smoky. Good depths and lots of interest from entry to finish.

Roco Knudsen Vineyards, Dundee Hills 2017. This wine shows a real purity of apple and pear fruits, without the distraction of heavy-handed winemaking. Nice fresh acid kicks it up. Good companion to cheeses, green roasted vegetables, not super aromatic. Made with Dijon clone 95; only 55 cases made.

Stoller Chardonnay 2019 Dundee Hills. Clean purity of fruit up front: apple and white pear. Unmuddled by manipulation or oak. Not heavy in any way. An enjoyable wine from a heritage producer. Terrific with grilled sausage, pan-roasted Brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes. 100% estate grown.

The Ribbon Ridge AVA is the Willamette Valley’s smallest AVA—500 acres are currently planted on the ridge, 10 wineries cultivating 20 vineyards—established in 2005 and with the larger Chehalem AVA. It’s so named for ribbon-like twist of the top of the ridge. Formed by geological uplifts, the topography is composed of ridges and ravines that provide natural separations between the wine-growing area and the adjacent agriculture. It also helps create a more consistent microclimate for even and longer ripening seasons. Fog settling on the valley floor is a defining feature of this cool-climate AVA.

Adelsheim Ribbon Ridge Chardonnay 2018, Ribbon Ridge Vineyard. Savory herbal nose, fresh anise and fennel root. Clean direct pear, ripe and juicy but not over the top. Lovely balance of fruit and wood; judicious use of oak, sophisticated and elegant, interesting and layered, not a typical new world wine, but full of old world earthiness and nuance. **

Grochau Cellars “GC,” 2017 Brickhouse Vineyards, Ribbon Ridge, Amity. Generous orchard fruit anchored around ripe apple and pear. Medium bodied, round and pleasant, but with a good acidic tang. Cuts through fatty foods with aplomb and interest.

Utopia 2017, Ribbon Ridge AVA. Produced from Willamette’s smallest AVA, this has present orchard fruit, lip-smacking acidity layered with round caramel and hazel tones, giving this a creamy mouthfeel. A little deeper but stylistically Burgundian. Tart savory wild-herb finish.

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