Oregon’s vineyards flourish in the rolling hills between the Cascades and the lower-lying Coast Mountain Range. Each of the primary wine grape-growing valleys has something special to offer wine lovers. We’ll take a quick look at them all. Then we’ll pair some top-rated recipes with the wines from each place.
Oregon wine country has become linked to a single grape in a way that is rare outside of Europe. Like the Burgundy region of France, Oregon’s most celebrated wine-growing region, the Willamette Valley, is Pinot Noir country. Climate and geography help explain why.
Unlike Washington State, where the vast majority of vineyards are located east of the rain-catching Cascade mountain range, the majority of Oregon’s vineyards flourish in the rolling hills between the Cascades and the lower-lying Coast Mountain Range, where the weather is cooler and more damp.
Of course, Oregon is no one-trick Pinot pony. South of Willamette Valley, in the warmer, dryer appellations of Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate Valleys, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are catching fire. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer also have a stake in Oregon’s wine future. Back in Willamette, meanwhile, another Pinot — Pinot Gris — is earning rave reviews in the white grape category.
Oregon is producing some of the best wines around in all categories. Here is a quick rundown of what you’ll find growing in Oregon’s appellations, along with a few recipe recommendations to pair with Oregon wines.
Oregon’s northernmost and largest appellation, the Willamette Valley is also the state’s production leader and the standard bearer for quality Pinot Noir in the United States. The vineyards stretch out on cool hillsides between the Coastal and Cascade Ranges luxuriating in volcanic soils and the slackwater deposits left behind by cataclysmic prehistoric floods. Here, where appellation awareness is at its peak, a number of sub-appellations have been broken out: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill Carlton.
The primary white grape in the Willamette Valley is Pinot Gris, which favors the hills of the coastal range. As a destination spot, the Willamette Valley is easily accessible from Portland, Salem (the state capitol), Corvalis (home of Oregon State University) and Eugene (home of the University of Oregon).
Pair with Pinot Noir:
- Cedar Planked Salmon
- Port And Mushroom Sauce Chicken
- Mushroom Chicken Dijon
- Veal Chop with Portabello Mushrooms
- Roasted Duck
Pair with Pinot Gris:
The Rogue Valley is Oregon’s southernmost appellation, situated just above the California border. Warmer than the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys, the Rogue Valley offers red wine drinkers more tasty alternatives to Pinot Noir. The appellation’s diversity of climates permits a regular rogue’s gallery of grape varietals that range from warm weather favoring Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which grow mostly on south-facing slopes in the dryer eastern portion of the appellation, to cool climate craving Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling, which grow in the cooler western reaches. The vineyards throughout the appellation grow on hillsides at elevations between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. The Rogue Valley AVA includes the charming town of Ashland, home of the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The Applegate Valley is a sub-appellation situated entirely within the Rogue Valley AVA, essentially splitting it in two. Applegate Valley starts above the California border, just south of Medford, Oregon, and east of Ashland, and reaches west to the Rogue River. Shielded from cooling Pacific Coast influences, the Applegate Valley is warm and dry, conditions that favor Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chardonnay is also grown here. The warm days and cool nights develop grapes that sport a healthy balance between ripe fruit and refreshing acidity.
Pair with Syrah:
- Shepherd’s Pie VI
- Sylvia’s Ribs
- Lemon and Thyme Lamb Chops
- Fuzzy’s Chipotle Flank Steak
- Grilled Sausage with Potatoes and Green Beans
Pair with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot:
- Moroccan Lamb Kabobs
- Minted Meatballs
- Flank Steak with Garlic Wine Sauce
- Simple Beef Pot Roast
- Blue Cheese Burgers
Grapes Know No Boundaries. Several of Washington State’s appellations actually slip stealthily across the border into northern Oregon: The Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley AVAs.