Fall has had me in a choke hold and I don't want it to let go. Hues of brown, copper, and gold leaves dancing in the wind while I'm wrapped in coziest of cardigans is a complete vibe I wish to linger in forever. Not just that, but I get a huge hankering for the wines of the Pacific Northwest. For those not super savvy when it comes to geography, I'm specifically referring to Washington & Oregon. Both regions do excellent work with varietals that are incredibly fitting for autumn. Washington produces balanced red blends where the criminally underrated Merlot is a leading star. On the other hand, Oregon's terroir allows it to rip a page right out of Burgundy's playbook with its stunning Pinot Noirs.
Washington happens to be the second largest producer in the US, second only to California at 43,800 planted acres. Most of the vineyards are located to the east of the Cascades despite the Puget Sound (located in the west) being the origin of Washington's wine industry. A rain shadow effect causes the eastern side to experience a more desert like climate.
The eastern side of the cascades is home to a continental climate that brings cold winters, making frost a very real danger to the vines. Long days in midsummer make up for that and grant the area more sunshine hours than California----color me surprised! Considering how rainy my time in Seattle was, I would have never have guessed that Washington would outrank the sunshine state on that statistic.
Now Washington toes a line between being both Rhone Valley & Bordeaux inspired when it comes to the varietals winemakers are working with. CMS blends (Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Syrah) are incredibly prevalent here. My absolute favorite Merlots are produced in this part of the country. Merlot is a bit of an underdog in the wine world. This is mostly due to that hilarious movie Sideways, which I won't spoil for you here but definitely recommend giving it a watch! It has such a quintessential cranberry & soft blue fruit character that I adore during the holiday season, and highly recommend you add to your dinner table this Thanksgiving.
Wine Suggestion #1: Columbia Winery Merlot or L'Ecole Syrah
Oregon has such a HUGE following of devoted wine drinkers who swear by the wines from this region. The region's claim to fame is tied directly to its striking resemblance of terroir to that of Burgundy, France. So similar in fact, Maison Josephu Drouhin (prolific Burgundy Negociant) felt it was fitting enough to establish Domaine Drouhin in the Willamette Valley in 1988.
A large portion of Oregon's wine regions are significantly cooler (temperature wise, not aesthetically) than that of many other New World vineyards. As a result, cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling perform really well in Oregon. Then the soil type of the region (clay & limestone rich) adds further ability to interpret those varietals in a way that is familiar and new all at the same time.
The region's work with Pinot Noir & Chardonnay is where the Burgundy influence is more apparent. We wine professionals often refer to it as "Pinot Country" due to its clear taming of Pinot Noir aka the Heartbreak grape. Pinot Noir's finnicky nature makes it incredibly challenging to work with----from it mutating randomly into other varietals to its incredibly small yields, Pinot Noir is not for a winemaker who isn't up for a challenge. Pinot Noir takes on earthy, savory tones (think a forest floor in the height of Autumn) while retaining all these delicate red fruit characters that we seek in this grape here in Oregon. The white wines of the area are all wonderfully acid-driven & full of minerality. They also produce some downright, dare I say, Champagne-esque sparkling wines that are absolutely killer. I've got a trip to Oregon planned early next year, so I'm excited to jump headfirst into all that this wine region has to offer.
Wine Suggestion #2: Elk Cove Pinot Blanc & Maison Noir O.P.P Pinot Noir