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Wine Review: Willamette Valley serves as prime winemaking region

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Let us take a look at a can of peas.

When you pick up a can of peas at the supermarket, do you look at the label to see where the peas were grown, the farm where they came from, whether they’re foreign or domestic, what section of the country they’re from, what year were they grown or even the name of the variety of peas that are in that tiny little can? Of course you don't.

With wine, each and every one of those questions must, by law, appear on the label, be easy to read and could result in whether you buy the wine. Another fact that must be considered is that the grapes grown in one part of a country can be totally different from the same variety of grapes grown in other places in the same country.

But it gets worse. There can be major differences between grapes from one vineyard to another. I often have used the fact that two of the finest vineyards in Burgundy, France, that make wines that sell for the equivalent of a king's ransom, are separated by a vineyard growing the same pinot noir grape variety but whose grapes make a lesser wine. That’s proof positive of the well-used adage: location, location, location.

This dissertation on location is to bring to the reader's attention a fine winemaking district, right here in the USA, that has been producing excellent wines for many years. In my opinion, the wines of the Willamette Valley in the state of Oregon have never received the accolades and publicity that they most positively deserve.

Popular Burgundian grape varieties pinot noir and chardonnay have found a very friendly home in the Willamette Valley that rewards farmers, winemakers and wine lovers with wines that can easily compete in style and quality with the best of the same varieties from anywhere in the world.

I was privileged to have an opportunity to sample some of Oregon’s wines and I offer my experience with them to you. I must admit to being a pinot noir curmudgeon who has in recent years tasted many that just weren't there. Yes, they were supposed to be pinot noir or chardonnay, and some even had popular brand labels and impressive price tags, but the unique beauty that separates these wines from the rest was not to be found. The Oregonian versions of this variety that I recently sampled, however, were all fine examples of what these varieties could and should be like.

Planet Oregon 2022 Pinot Noir ($24)
I must say that this wine is a fine example of a well-made, yet affordable, pinot noir. Good grapes make good wines no matter where they come from or what they cost. This wine accents all of the flavors and aromas that make for a good pinot noir, including cherries and rose petals in the aroma and cherries and vanilla in the flavor. It is a bright and open wine with a soft fruit flavor and an interesting aftertaste. While this wine has not been made to be an imitation or rival to the great and super expensive Burgundian pinot noirs of France, it is most certainly a fine example of a well-made domestic pinot noir that offers everything that has made the variety so popular.

Soter Estates 2021 Pinot Noir ($60)
Where most winemakers struggle with this grape, Soter Estates has made it a star. The traditional aromas of cherries and rose petals that are the signature of wines made from this grape are prominent and are joined by the aromas of cranberries. The cranberry aroma carries over to the flavor where it mingles with cherry and plum. The background of this wine proves to be just as interesting, displaying cinnamon, clove, dark chocolate, oak and vanilla. This carries over to the finish, where they slowly trail off and end in a smoky sensation that’s about as enjoyable as they come.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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