On the Road with the Grape Guy

Oregon and Washington State Wine Expedition

13 May 2022

(September 2021) ... First out of the gate for mass wine tastings in the city of Toronto is the Washington / Oregon event ... So all eyes were on how they had positioned themselves to handle the pandemic measures.

There were three tastings of an hour and a half, each ... Tables were individual and spaced apart. Six glasses per table, plus a water glass and a large spit cup. They sent servers around to ask for your order. This proved to be inefficient for a fast taster like myself. What proved to be more efficient was the agents and principles who decided to walk around with their wares, pour and talk about them directly.

I opted for the a.m. tasting session so I would have to believe this more efficient way of doing things caught on by the late morning and afternoon tastings.

As for the wine's poured, I could not get to them all, nor all the ones I had tagged to try, but I did get a fair amount tasted and here are my favorites ... These wines are broken down by state. I did taste more Oregon than Washington as I had recently visited Washington and those notes can be found here, here and here.


The major grape, by a wide margin, in Oregon is Pinot Noir with a 59% stranglehold. Followed by Pinot Gris at 14%, Chardonnay at 7%, Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon at 4% and rounding out the top five is Merlot at 2%. In total there are approximately 35,970 acres planted, the majority of which are in the Willamette valley (68%) and Southern Okanogan (25%). Interesting to note that Oregon makes up a mere 1% of the "fine wine produced in the United States”. 75% of Oregon wineries produce less than 5,000 cases annually; but it is interesting to note that 7% of Wine Spectators 90+ domestic wine scores in 2020 came from Oregon.

The Oregon Wines ...
(only wines scoring four or above et a tasting note)

Adelsheim 2019 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Adelsheim 2019 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Brittan Vineyards 2015 Basalt Block Pinot Noir
Brittan was started by a Californian wine maker who decided he needed to move to Oregon and make great Pinot Noir ... Good choice on his part: a silky opening with rich black fruit and smoky notes, plus white pepper and earthy characteristics ... Almost comes across as un-Oregon in nature, but still really good if not atypical of the region.  (****)

Brittan Vineyards 2016 Cygnus Block Pinot Noir
See above for the origins of this winery, and once again we have an atypical wine, but with lots going for it, so that can easily be overlooked: dark fruited with earthy and smoky nuances plus black cherry and mocha on the finish.  (****)

Citation 2017 Centerstone Willamette Valley Unoak Chardonnay ... (*** ½+)

Cristom Vineyards 2019 Mount Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Cristom Vineyards 2018 "Eileen" Vineyard Pinot Noir
Good acidity with sour cherry, smoked-red currants and cranberry. Lovely mouthfeel and tasty as hell (so to speak).  (****)

Lemelson Vineyards 2018 Tikka's Run Pinot Gris ... (*** ½+)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Thea's Selection Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir
Smoked-cranberry, earthy-strawberry, dried cherry and pretty violet notes all converge, while tannins drop in on the finish just to prove a point: they exist and belong in this Pinot.  (****)

Lemelson Vineyards 2017 Reserve Chardonnay
Butter and butterscotch show up, but with friends like baked-peach and baked-apple also appearing along with a pretty appealing mid-palate to finish, this is one tasty Chardonnay.  (****)

Pearce Prudhomme 2020, Pinot Gris, Yawhill- Newberg Willamette Valley(*** ½+)

Pearce Prudhomme Pinot Noir Stag's Hollow Creek, Willamette Valley
Typical earthy and smoky notes, but it's the fruit that screams Oregon, a mix of both red and black.  (****)

Ste Michelle 2019 Oregon Pinot Noir Rose ... (*** ½)

Ste Michelle 2019 Erath Resplendent Pinot Noir ... (*** ½+)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Druids Fluid White ... (*** ½+)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Vermentino
Lovely pear notes that sing on the palate with a little citrus pith on the finish ... Really interesting and a good representation of Vermentino in this part of the world.  (****)


Washington ...
(only wines scoring four or above et a tasting note)

Due to the rain shadow effect, Washington State wine country has some of the largest day and night temperature fluctuations of any wine region, known as diurnal temperatures. The dual mountain ranges of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, which soak up most of the weather systems, help create the perfect growing conditions for grapes on the other side of the mountains.

Today in Washington there are over 1,050 wineries, 90% of which are small independent producers making under 5,000 cases.

There are 400 plus growers and 60,000+ acres of grapes. Top varieties in the state are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, and Syrah.

As stated earlier, because of limited time, I tasted less Washington wine than I did Oregon wine, but of the ones I did taste, here were my top selections.

The Washington Wines ...

Aquilini 2018 Be Human Cabernet Sauvignon ... (*** ½+)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Syrah ... (*** ½+)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
From one of the oldest family-owned wineries in Washington State, started in 1993, which means there’s plenty of experience with this grape. Cabernet is not often delicate, but this wines proves otherwise - more red fruited than black, more latte than coffee bean, yet all of these do make an appearance. Subtly smoky on the finish. A real winning version of Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State; and my top wine of the day.  (**** ½)

Barnard Griffin 2018 Merlot
Merlot sourced from three vineyards in Washington: Black Rock, Vinagium, and Lonesome Spring Ranch - two from Yakima and one from Red Mountain ... All age 17 months in a mix of new and neutral European oak barrels. This is pure Washington Merlot pleasure at its finest as notes of violet meets black fruit to drive the wine forward - there's a smooth delicacy across the palate with subtle smoky notes ... But when all is said and done this is a drinkable, almost crushable, bottle of Merlot that's both balanced and has enough complexity to please oenophiles and newbies alike.  (****+)

Betz Family Winery 2018 Untold Story Cabernet Blend
Syrah, Merlot and Grenache join Cabernet in here for this smooth and silky blend with lush black fruit and hints of mocha on the finish.  (****)

Betz Family Winery 2017 Sunu Willamette Valley ... (*** ½+)

Betz Family Winery 2018 Domaine de Pierres, Syrah, Ancient Stones Vineyard, The Rocks District
This long name is the way Betz describes this second vintage release of their 100% Syrah, planted in a dry riverbed. Surprisingly smoky, subtle and earthy with a big mineral hit, plus plenty of raspberry fruit and a peppery finish.  (****+)

Reynvaan Family Vineyards 2018 Stonessence
100% Syrah that hits all the right notes. From the raspberry fruit to the delicate pepperiness, plus hints of smoke and even some subtle earthy characteristics.  (****)


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