With Oregon's varying geo-climates, it's possible to grow dozens
of grape varieties. Add to that the creative spirit of Oregon's
winemakers and you've got some delightfully obscure selections to
taste. Of the 72 grape varieties planted throughout the state, wine
makers have particularly focused on 15, which make up 96% of
Albariño Typically, wines made from
Albariño are very aromatic, often described as having scents of
almonds, apples, peaches, citrus, and flowers or grass. Albariño
wines are particularly suited to seafood due to their bracing
acidity (Jancis Robinson calls it "razor-sharp."). This grape's
inherent tartness should be embraced in youth, for wines made from
Albarino do not age well.
Arneis Arneis, which translates to
'little rascal', can be a difficult grape in the vineyard. The
variety is prone to low acidity when fully ripe. It produces
fragrant, white peach and pear scented white wines.
Auxerrois Wine made from Auxerrois tends
to be dry, with a musky aroma and some floral and citrus
Baco noir Baco noir produces rich, highly
pigmented red wines with pronounced acidity. Baco noir based wines
are capable of moderate to long term aging and, in many cases,
require some time in the cellar, in order to soften the wine's
aggressive acidity. Aromas of the wine are pleasantly rustic and
Cabernet franc Typically somewhat spicy in
aroma and often reminiscent of plums and especially violets,
Cabernet franc is more often used as a secondary or tertiary
element in varietally-blended red wines, instead of as a
stand-alone varietal bottling.
Cabernet Sauvignon The particularly thick
skin of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape results in wines that can be
high in tannin which provides both structure and ageability. This
varietal, while frequently aromatic and with an attractive finish,
also tends to lack mid-palate richness and so is often blended with
lower tannin, but "fleshy" tasting grapes, particularly Merlot and,
especially in Australia, Shiraz / Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon has a
Chardonnay On the nose, Chardonnay is
often redolent of apples, lemons, peaches or tropical fruits. Its
delicacy is such that even a small percentage of another variety
blended into a Chardonnay will often completely dominate its aroma
A number of vintners in Oregon's Willamette Valley have united
in their firm conviction that superior Chardonnays were attainable.
After years of scrutinizing their vines, viticulture and winemaking
practices, these friends have recognized their shared passion for
quality wine production at all levels by joining forces to form the
Chenin blanc Chenin blanc is arguably the
most versatile of all wine grape varieties. Crisp, dry table wines,
light sparkling wines, long-lived, unctuous, nectar-like dessert
wines, and even brandy are all produced in various areas of the
wine world, all of Chenin blanc.
Dolcetto Dolcetto produces
deeply-pigmented wines, thick with fruit character, high in natural
acidity and having only mild tannins. Dolcetto is best consumed
young, as its youthful fruit character fades quicker than its
Gewürztraminer The dark pink color of
Gewürztraminer grapes results in wines colored from light to dark
golden yellow with a copper tone, depending upon the fruit
ripeness. Gewürztraminer is quite full-bodied, more so than most
any other white wine type. There is a slight tendency to bitterness
that seems exacerbated by ripeness, so a light touch is needed at
the wine press. Many makers finish their Gewürztraminer with a
touch of residual sugar. Gewürztraminer can be made into an
excellent dessert wine, in fact.
Gamay noir Generally light in color with
hue that usually is more blue-purple than red, wines made from
Gamay noir can be very fragrant, full of fruit and fresh, floral
esters. Frequently tart in their youth, wines made from Gamay noir
tend nonetheless to be short lived. Like its distant cousins, Pinot
noir and Chardonnay, Gamay tends to easily lose its varietal aroma
and flavor identity when blended with another grape variety. Both
red wines and rosés are typically produced from unblended Gamay
Grenache On its own, Grenache makes
fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age
rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or
maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The
general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more
distinctive and identifiable than any particular aromas or
Grüner Veltliner Except for an occasional
dessert wine made from botrytis-affected grapes, Grüner Veltliner
is usually a full-bodied dry wine (up to 14% alcohol) with a firm
mineral backbone, giving it the strength of character to work well
with many cuisines.
Lemberger Lemberger is known by many
names: Limberger in Germany, Blaufränkisch in Austria, Franconia in
Friuli and Kekfrankos in Hungary. By any name, this wine is
typically light, fruity and acidic. It is characterized by its deep
color and by an earthy fruitiness that has likened the grape to
both Gamay and Merlot.
Malbec A midseason ripener, Malbec can
bring very deep color, ample tannin, and a particular plum-like
flavor component to add complexity to Claret-style blends.
Marechal foch Marechal foch is often has
a vibrant, deep purple color, with a light-medium structure and
dark berry fruit characteristics. Some tasters find the
similarities to Pinot noir become more pronounced with age.
Melon Melon can produce light acidic white
wines, with tart acidity and a citrus fruit character. Many of the
wines are aged on the lees to take on extra weight and complexity.
Generally, white wines made from the Melon grape are excellent food
wines, pairing especially well with crustaceans and other briney
Merlot While its flavor profile is
similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot tends to be less distinctive
and slightly more herbaceous overall in both aroma and taste.
Ripeness seems critical; both under ripe and overripe grapes lean
away from fruit and towards herbaceousness. Merlot has
slightly lower natural acidity than Cabernet and generally less
astringency, therefore usually a lusher mouth-feel.
Müller-Thurgau Müller-Thurgau is a
variety of white grape, created by Hermann
Müller from the Swiss Canton of Thurgau in
1882. It is a crossing of Riesling with Madeleine
Royale. Müller-Thurgau grapes produce smooth, low-acid,
medium-sweet white wines with a hint of Muscat character.
Muscat Muscat produces, with subtle
variation, wines with the distinct, intense, aromatic, sweet, and
easily-recognized scent of Muscat and, unusual for most wine
varieties, that actually tastes like grapes.
Nebbiolo Wines made from Nebbiolo are
typically dark, tart, tannic and alcoholic. The best smell of
cherries, violets and black licorice or truffles and have rich,
chewy, deep and long-lasting flavors.
Pinot blanc Pinot blanc may not be as
widely available as other white wines,
like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot gris
or Gewurztraminer. But at its best, with grapes from
low-yielding vines, Pinot blanc can produce exciting values:
creamy, medium bodied wines, with honey-like aromas and flavors.
In Oregon, vinification techniques more closely follow the
model established in Alsace, with fermentation in stainless steel
or older oak leading to wines that are rich and smoky.
Pinot gris Pinot gris is usually
delicately fragrant and mildly floral with lightly lemon-citrus
flavors. Depending upon ripeness at harvest and vinification
technique, Pinot gris can be tangy and light, or quite rich, round
and full bodied. Made in a certain style, it is one dry white wine
that can even age well.
The Oregon Pinot Gris
Symposium was first held in 2011 at Oak Knoll Winery in the
Willamette Valley. Oregon is the original home of American Pinot
gris, which was planted more than 40 years ago. Oregon Pinot Gris
is unique and distinctive - a versatile, aromatic, textural white
wine, with bright fruit and exceptional balance.
Pinot noir Pinot noir is one of the most
complex of all varieties. These wines span the full spectrum
between red and black fruit, frequently accented by a pronounced
spiciness that suggests cinnamon, sassafras, or mint. Body can be
full and rich but not heavy, with substantial flavor despite its
delicacy. Oregon Pinots are usually fresher than their California
counterparts, with higher acidity, and often more intensity fruity
In late 1985, an informal group of Oregon wine-lovers,
winemakers, restaurateurs, and retailers envisioned a premier Pinot
noir specific event, to be held in the heart of Oregon wine
country. Each year since the first annual event was held in 1987,
the IPNC has
evolved and matured, with a commitment to staying fresh,
innovative, and relevant.
In addition, a group of Willamette Valley wineries cam together to
educate the trade about Oregon Pinot noir. Each year, fifty Oregon
wineries join together to bring the Oregon Pinot Camp adventure to invited members
of the wine trade.
Pinot Meunier Pinot Meunier has a slightly
higher natural acidity than Pinot noir and gives some brightness
and fruitiness to Champagne blends. It is, on the other hand, lower
in color and tannin than Pinot noir and wines that use Meunier in
their blend are not as long-lived. This also keeps it from being a
candidate for wide use as a varietal red wine, although some is
used in some areas of the world for rosé.
Riesling Riesling has a powerful and
distinctive floral and apple-like aroma that frequently mixes in
mineral elements from its vineyard source and is often described as
"racy." Its high natural level of tartaric acid enables it to
balance even high levels of residual sugar. Other frequently
encountered (but not exclusive) flavor elements found in
Riesling-based wines include peach, apple and pear.
The Oregon Riesling
Alliance comprises 38 Riesling producers who have banded
together to evangelize Riesling and create a support system to
enhance the quality of wines produced from the grape. Oregon's
uniquely cool climate, naturally low yields, and ancient volcanic
and marine sedimentary soils give unique character to the wines
that its small, family winemakers craft. It is this combination
that makes Oregon one of America's best places to grow world-class
Sangiovese The aroma is generally not as
assertive and easily identifiable as Cabernet Sauvignon, for
example, but can have a strawberry, blueberry, faintly floral,
violet or plummy character. The flavor profile of Sangiovese is
fruity, with moderate to high natural acidity and generally a
medium-body. Stylistically, it can range from firm and elegant to
assertive and robust.
Sauvignon blanc Sauvignon blanc is
usually quite distinctive and one of the easier varietal wines to
recognize by its often sharp, aggressive smell. The most common
aroma and/or flavor elements found in sauvignon blanc-based wines
include: grass, weeds, green olive, vanilla, cream, flint and
Semillon Wines dominated by Semillon may
lack much youthful aroma, but have fairly full body and tend to be
low in acidity. This is the flavor profile of a supporting role
grape, rather than a star, and most Semillon is blended. Semillon
is the soft, subtle, rich Yin to balance the Yang of Sauvignon
blanc, which can be aromatically aggressive and acidic. Semillon
even works well when blended with that notoriously standoffish
loner, Chardonnay, providing weight and richness without diverting
Seyval blanc Reliably productive and an
early ripener, Seyval blanc is made into crisp white wines, or
sometimes into off-dry versions where the tart nature of the
variety is balanced with residual sugar. Some producers have
employed such enhancing techniques as barrel fermentation and/or
aging, and malolactic fermentation to improve the quality of its
sometimes neutral character.
Syrah Syrah forms intense wines, with
deep violet, nearly black color, chewy texture and richness, and
often alcoholic strength, with aromas that tend to be more spicy
Tempranillo While its varietal character
is somewhat vague, Tempranillo's aromas and flavors often combine
elements of berryish fruit, herbaceousness, and an earthy-leathery
minerality. Rarely bottled as a stand-alone varietal, its most
frequent blendmates are Grenache, (aka Garnacha in Spain), Garignan
(aka Mazuelo in Spain) and, more recently, Cabernet
Tocai Friulano Pale straw-yellow, Tocai
Friulano carries an enticing nuance of wildflowers and pears. It is
broadly flavored and can offer notes of herbs and citrus. Very
nicely balanced acidity heightens the flavors and contributes to a
long, clean finish.
Viognier Probably the main attraction of
Viognier is its potentially powerful, rich, and complex aroma that
often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or
acacia. With as distinctive and sweet an aroma-flavor profile as
Gewürztraminer, Viognier is nevertheless usually made in a dry
style and seems to appeal more to the typical Chardonnay drinker.
The distinctive Viognier perfume holds up even when blended with a
large portion of other varieties. The fruit usually has very deep
color, but is somewhat low in acidity.
Zinfandel At its best, Zinfandel
(vinified as a red wine) has a very fruity, raspberry-like aroma
and flavor and a "jammy" quality. The most common descriptors used
with Zinfandel are raspberry, blackberry, briar, black pepper,
smoke, and cigar box. Zinfandel is one red variety that is probably
best enjoyed in its youth, within three to five years of the
Grape variety data reprinted with permission from:
Friends of Wine