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Issue Date: September 2005 Issue


Put a Cork in It

Taking the Willamette tiger by the tail


Ed Tompkins

I was struck by a lot of things on our recent trip to the epicenter of Oregon’s wine industry, the Willamette Valley. For starters, I’d never been as cold in the month of June as I was there (quite a statement from a Clevelander!), although our good hosts at Cherry Hill Winery in the valley’s Eola Hills region kept telling me it had been 90 degrees the week before. I also felt that the Willamette Valley and its hillsides had more than a passing resemblance to Italy’s wonderful Piedmont region.

What you may have read or heard about Oregon, and in particular about Pinot Noir, is true. The state really has the tiger by the tail. With this varietal’s emerging popularity, the timing could not be better. But not only was I struck by the current quality of the region’s wines; its potential was just as impressive. And it’s not just about the reds.

Realizing that far too many wine drinkers remain unaware of what Pinot Gris is even supposed to taste like, one can learn a lot from Oregon. A great Pinot Gris, such as the one I tasted at Cherry Hill Winery, drinks more like a red wine than a white. White cherries (see what I mean?) came to mind. It’s clear to me that the Willamette has a bit of a “whiteout” thing going on as well.

Please visit our stores for your own review of Oregon wines. We’ve brought back some truly outstanding examples. And should you have these wines before you get out there on your own trip, (because we know you’ll go), just consider yourself ahead of the game.

2003 Cherry Hill Winery - Pinot Noir $32.99

This wine not only epitomizes a simply great Pinot Noir, but it also shows the promise of the Willamette Valley. Produced from the Pommard Clone, the vibrant and flavorful wine is not just delicious on its own, but it is also an incredibly versatile partner with salmon, roast poultry and red-sauced pastas. And how’s this review for a debut vintage? “Relatively firm, with lively, emphatic raspberry and plum flavors that sail through the finish, lingering seamlessly. 91/100 points.”

— Wine Spectator, May 31, 2005.

2004 Cherry Hill Winery – Poverty Road Pinot Gris $14.99

This juice is, hands down, the best American Pinot Gris that I have ever tasted. There are bright and alluring aromas and flavors that remind me of white cherries. What’s most impressive about this wine, however, is its weight on the palate. It is rich and dense, with extraordinary balance and flavor. I’d be willing to bet that there are not many foods this one doesn’t go great with. My personal tip for this one is to serve it with the chicken at your clambake. Kick up the bird with a spicy sauce or rub, and you will understand Pinot Gris as it should be.


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