Varietal Listing

Oregon Varietals

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 Oregon's acreage.


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 character. 

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 smoky. 

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 well-defined aroma.

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 and flavor.

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 Oregon Chardonnay Alliance (ORCA).

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 acidity.

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 noir.

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 flavors.

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 seafood.

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 than Burgundies. 

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 Riesling.

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 melon.

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 aromatic delicacy.

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 than fruity. 

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 Sauvignon. 

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 vintage.


Grape variety data reprinted with permission from:

Appellation America
Professional Friends of Wine
Wine Access 

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