Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Oregon Chardonnay: Chardonnay for the Haters

After several bad experiences with the more traditional types, I had taken to avoiding Chardonnays like those Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellies. As many of us believe here on the Anthem, I prefer to simply drink what I like and thus, Chardonnay made only a cameo on my developing palate.

It did irk me, however, to have the empty space, especially given that Chardonnay was almost all I knew of wine….. before I started actually drinking it of course. Sharrr – don – nay. Pre-wine-me loved how it rolled of the tongue. It sounded mature and elegant, like champagne. “I’ll have the shar – don – nay, please,” I’d practice. So when I was allowed the opportunity to attend the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium hosted by Red Ridge Farms, I jumped at the chance to learn more, taste more and hopefully salvage this classic for myself and fellow skeptics...

The symposium was led by Master Sommelier Erica Landon, who took us through the history of the grape varietal and factors leading to its successes here in Oregon. Erica was flanked by a cross-section of Willamette Valley winemakers comprised of Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards, Dave Paige of Adelsheim Vineyard, Jesse Lange of Lange Estate Winery, Marcus Goodfellow of Matello Wine, and Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land Vineyards. The panelists offered varied opinions on methodology, cooperage and the future of Chardonnay in Oregon, and supplied samplings of some of their best Chardonnays.

Until recently, Oregon Chardonnay has been somewhat overlooked – shadowed by the robust Pinot Noirs of the region. Given the success of Pinot Noir it’s no surprise that Chardonnay, with vines that flower and ripen simultaneously, has begun to flourish and turn out bright, bold, and equally enticing flavors.

Upon tasting I was pleased to discover that the heavy, buttery Chardonnay I expected has been crafted quite oppositely by our Oregon winemakers. In their own ways, each Chardonnay offered flavors on par with the fresh, crisp trends of our Northwest food preferences – imagine the pairings! Chardonnay beginners (or haters) should refer specifically to wines number one, two and four, for the clearest representation of what Oregon Chardonnay has to offer.

(1) 2009 Ponzi – Willamette Valley: Tropical fruit on the nose with a mid-palate of pineapple and papaya. A delicate burst sweetness with a quick puckery finish.
(2) 2010 Durant Vineyard, Lark Vineyard, Dundee Hills: Mild fruit on the nose and palate – crisp acidity and light minerality.
(3) 2010 Adelsheim, Caitlin’s Reserve, Willamette Valley: Citrus and acetone on the nose, overly bright and puckery upon first taste – at best when paired with food or allowed to sit open prior to drinking.
(4) 2010 Lange Estate, Three Hills Cuvee, Willamette Valley: Subtle tangy citrus and sweet peach on the nose. Mostly mild fruit and very crisp.
(5) 2010 Matello, Richard’s Cuvee, Ribbon Ridge: Buttery lobster on the nose, surprisingly bright and fruity on the palate.
(6) 2008 Evening Land, La Source, Seven Springs Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills: The Malbec of Chardonnays! I swear. Initially off-putting on the nose – a peppery pastrami, however, if allowed to sit out this wine evolves into a very unique, oaky, almost smokey version of Chardonnay.

Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land described being ‘shocked’ when she was first pouring in Oregon tasting rooms as she experienced many visitors denying a Chardonnay taste. If this is you (this was me), think again. If you’re in an Oregon tasting room, many of these Chardonnays will have you re-evaluating and pining for summer at first sip.

Red Ridge Farms in located in the Dundee Hills, amid several other vineyards and tasting rooms. Much of the year the farm is lush with olive trees, vines and lavender, and provides rustic accommodations for a wedding or weekend getaway. The quaint gift shop offers tastings of the latest Durant Vineyards selections, and Red Ridge Farms’ very own Olive Oil Tasting Bar, with varied and unique oil flavors created right on property! Be sure to check out the new Durant Vineyards tasting room, slated to open in late spring of this year.


Do not over look the Winderlea Chardonnay's. Each year they get better and better. Their 2008 is perhaps their best, but the 2009 is also a solid hit. They are making some wonderful wines right now. I also hear that Hamacher Winery makes an outstanding Chardonnay as well.

I wouldn't sleep on anything Winderlea does after having had their 2010 in barrel, Pinot not Chardonnay, my eyes are open to look for what they've got going on. Same is true of Hamacher, I've only had his Pinot but given the attention that was evident I'd love to see what he does with Chardonnay.

Wow, what an excellent experience. I'm really sorry to have missed out on that! Thanks for sharing your notes ... I love Oregon Chard—especially the Caitlan's Reserve you mention above.

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