I’ve never met a Pinot Noir I didn’t like that came from an Oregon winery. It is the American home for this complex yet smooth, velvety, delicate varietal. I have talked to many wine aficionados who either have gone though this magnificent state or who will be making plans to go in the next year, to visit as many of the more than 500 wineries as they can.After California, which produces about 90 percent of all the wine in the U.S., Oregon is one of the top three U.S. producers of wine. The wineries are dotted along quiet, twisting roads with small family-run operations, most of them along the rugged coastline led by the Willamette Valley.
Pinot Noir is king and is compared to the grape’s origin in the Burgundy district of Northern France. Sunlight and heat are in short supply making for a fragile harvest, which seems to fit the Pinot profile. So is Oregon a “one trick pony” with just one star wine? I put that question to a couple of star owners of the leading wine and beer shop in Bend, Oregon, twin sisters Michele and Melanie Betti of the Wine Shop & Beer Tasting Bar. They agreed that “no, Pinot Noir has been the grape that winemakers have done very well with and they are known for that, but whites do well here, like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc in the Willamette Valley. In Southern Oregon, they make quality Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo.”
I asked them how business has progressed since they opened 7 years ago.
Melanie, who is the on-site manager, pointed out that “we opened only as a bottle shop, but found that our customers wanted the try and buy concept, so that we now have six different wine flights daily by the glass. We serve wine in the world-class Riedel Stemware, fitting the glass to the wine. We not only serve 30 plus wines, we now feature over 70 Belgian and other international beers with beer flights, plus ports, cider and sake. We give our customers a European style experience, taking time to pass along knowledge and get to know the customer.”
Oregon’s winemakers are shooting for the high-end, focusing on customers that are willing to pay $35 or more a bottle. If Oregon wines fit your taste, you virtually have to visit places like the Wine Shop and Beer Tasting Bar, winery web sites and plan a trip there. Most wineries make just 1,500 cases of their wines, so they pretty much are not available at SoCal wine retailers.
In 2011, the Travel Oregon tourist bureau reported 1.5 million visitors to the state.
The Bettis’ advise that Willamette Valley has six sub AVA’s, each one with its own exclusive taste characteristic. They point out that “each of these sub-regions will give you a different tasting experience. They are: Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville and Eola-Amity Hills.” Some wine names they recommend include: Archery Summit, Domaine Druhin, Sokol Blosser, Bergstrom, Ayres, Ken Wright, Dukes Family and Cristom.
Find out much more at oregonwine.org and thewineshopbend.com.
ISOLA Revealed – Little Italy’s New Pizza Favorite
Massimo Tenino is the owner of a recently opened Italian Restaurant in San Diego’s Little Italy where all menu items are baked in a wood-burning oven direct from Naples Italy. It’s a bright fire engine red cave that guarantees crunchy, smoky pizza, with one size, 12 inches, serving all.
From the bread dough to the wines, ISOLA is a family operation. “My Nonna’s name was ISOLA, a wonderful cook who inspired my passion for food and fresh, simple ingredients,” he said. “ISOLA is proud to serve the savory ingredients from the vine and tree to the table.”
Tenino has a family owned winery in Piemonte, offering native grapes like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo, plus many other Italian made fine wines. See isolapizzabar.com.
Bacchis Wine Market in the Gaslamp downtown San Diego has wines from France Jan. 12 from 2 to 8:30 p.m. For $30, taste seven wines from the major regions. RSVP at (619) 236-0005.
San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Rd. presents a Zinfandel Tasting Jan. 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Charge is $10. Details at (858) 586-WINE.
Il Fornaio at the Del Mar Plaza celebrates Italy’s Friuli-Venezia District now thru Jan. 20, with special dishes and native wines. Call (858) 755-8876.
Encinitas Meritage Wine Market opens Rhone Valley wines Jan. 18 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Check with the shop for pricing (760) 479-2500.
The biggest festival for Zinfandel in the world kicks off Jan. 31 and goes to Feb. 2, in San Francisco at the Concourse. Winemakers and executive chefs abound; grand tasting 2 to 5 p.m. Check out [email protected].