On our full day in Portland, my cousin Megan wanted to spend the day doing some wine tasting in the Willamette Valley. My mom volunteered to be our designated driver, so we made plans to visit a couple of wineries and spend the day socializing and trying some new wines. Being from Michigan, Megan had never tried tried Oregon wines before, so she was looking forward to experiencing something new. To be honest though, I was a little concerned because Michigan wineries tend to make much sweeter wines than the wineries on the West Coast. I wasn’t sure if Megan would like them!
After catching a bit of my nieces’ T-Ball game, we headed over to the Willamette Valley and made our first stop at Chehalem Winery. Chehalem is one of my absolute favorite wineries, and I was super-excited to be there because it was Best Barrel Day. Best Barrel Day is a special event that Chehalem puts on each year in May, the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. Jon and I are wine club members, one of the very few wine clubs that we belong to. The Best Barrels are available only to club members, and they are only available for tasting this particular weekend (they might taste them again the next weekend – Memorial Day – if there is still enough available).
Megan and I began our tasting with the commercially released whites. We began with Inox Chardonnay, which is a wonderful crisp stainless steel aged Chardonnay. This is a fantastic white wine, that is consistent year to year and always a crowd pleaser when we have guests over. The Corral Creek Riesling is a great Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, with just enough sweetness.
After tasting the whites, we went into the cellar to taste the barrels. Chehalem produces several single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a single vineyard Chardonnay each year, and every year, the winemaker selects one barrel from each wine that exemplifies what that particular wine is supposed to be – the best barrel. The best barrel is then aged and bottled by itself and sold in 6-packs to wine club members. The five wines were:
- 2012 Stoller Vineyards Chardonnay – this wine is aged on oak, so it is a bigger, bolder Chardonnay than the Inox, which is made from grapes from the same vineyard. It is wonderfully balanced between fruit and oak, with flavors of honey, pear and floral notes.
- 2012 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir – Corral Creek Vineyard is the Chehalem vineyard that produces the softest, most elegant Pinot Noirs. They are some of my favorites. This barrel is excellent, but this years Corral Creek grapes are more robust than typical, with a bit more earthy flavor than normal. It still has light tannins and the cranberry and cherry flavors that I enjoy so much.
- 2012 Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir – This wine is very big, with a much darker purple color that a typical Pinot Noir. It is very spicy with much heavier tannins than many Pinots. This was my least favorite barrel of the bunch. That said, as the wine is not finished aging, I have every expectation that this wine will transform into a beautiful Pinot – Chehalem’s wines always do.
- 2012 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir – This Ridgecrest Pinot Noir came from a block planted in 1983, and shows moderate tannins, some blackberry mixed into the cherry, and some light spice flavors (is it oregano or thyme?). This wine was my favorite from the five barrels.
- 2012 Wind Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir – Wind Ridge is a smaller section within the Ridgecrest vineyard, and has characteristics that are similar to the Ridgecrest barrel. There are the same flavors of blackberry and spice, but a bit more pepper and earth than the Ridgecrest vineyard barrel. It was hard to choose the favorite between this one and the Ridgecrest, but this one came in a close second for me.
It was always interesting to taste from the barrel – these young wines will change a lot before they are finally bottled and sold, but you can taste the beginnings of what they are going to become. After the barrel tasting, we headed back out to the event tent, where we got to taste the bottled versions of the Pinots that were recently released – 2011. The bottlings were the commercially released wines, so essentially, we were tasting the versions from all the barrels from the vineyards that were not selected as the best barrel.
Even though these aren’t the Best Barrels, these wines are certainly nothing to turn your nose up at! The 2011 Corral Creek, Stoller, and Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noirs are all excellent, and Megan and I enjoyed them immensely. They were served with some gourmet hors d’oeuvres, which paired nicely with the wines.
Even though we don’t often have the opportunity to visit Chehalem, their events are always second to none. They make you feel welcome and valued when you visit, and I always have a great time. Still at the top of my list for wineries!
Note: I apologize for the lack of photos on this post – I was enjoying myself so much that I neglected to take more pictures… I will try to do better next time.