Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, and it’s time for the Memorial Day trek down to Portland. Jon and I have made this an annual pilgrimage for the last couple of years, since I got Jon into wine tasting. Honestly, we go more than just Memorial Day weekend, but you know what I mean. When we first met, Jon and I both enjoyed wine, and I had been wine tasting in various locations during my travels, including in the Willamette Valley. It wasn’t that I was an experienced wine taster, but I had experience with more than a few wineries. Jon, on the other hand, hadn’t been wine tasting at all, despite living in California less than an hour and a half from Napa Valley. Go figure. At any rate, we’ve been to the Willamette Valley at about a dozen times now, and each time makes us want to continue coming back for more.
Admittedly, Pinot Noir is priced higher than a lot of other varietals, but only to a degree. Those of you who have tasted in the Napa Valley know that prices for wines there are high. Pinot Noir is an extremely picky grape to grow, demanding a lot of time and attention in the vineyard. This translates into a higher sticker price. The Willamette Valley has a perfect climate for it, with the warm days and cool nights that produce a spectacular wine. Pinot Noir is also grown in California, but you will find the California Pinots to be much different that the Oregon Pinots – they are much more robust, without the silky, cherry taste that I love about Oregon Pinot. Oregon Pinot has that softness that so few wines from Washington or California have. I know that part of that is the wineries catering to consumers’ palates – wine drinkers lately want a heavily oaked, tannic red. I just don’t.
So, back to Willamette Valley. Jon and I have made a commitment to try new wineries every time we go – to expand our horizons so to speak. This is harder than it sounds, because we already have a short list of loves, and a long list of likes when it comes to Willamette Valley wines. In order to try new ones, you have to not visit some of the tried and trues. I know you will agree that it is truly a problem. It would be much easier if we lived closer, but at least for now, we have to make do with what we have.
A few months ago, I bought the Wine Trails of Oregon book. The author’s goal was to visit every winery in Oregon with regular tasting room hours. A steep challenge by any stretch of the imagination, since the Willamette Valley alone has over 200 wineries. I’m sure that there are new wineries, even since the book was published! He has it set up with closely situated wineries together, so you can hit several in the same area in a day. It is a pretty handy guide. I’ve been using it to plan our trip, thinking that we will head to a new area – one we haven’t been to. Although the author intends to not give a review of the winery or the wine, sometimes he’ll say what he thinks is an amazing wine. He also calls out extraordinary friendliness and service when he experiences that, which is nice. Going to a winery with a snobbish tasting room staff is never a good experience.
I’m leaning toward the Gaston area, but we have also talked about going down closer to Salem as well. Jon and I will need to sort that out this weekend.
One thing that is already decided is the fact that we are going to La Rambla on Saturday night! La Rambla is a tapas bar in McMinnville… and it has paella. I’m always on the lookout for paella, since it isn’t offered often enough. I stumbled upon it several years ago, before I met Jon. I went on Memorial Day, and they were fresh out of seafood paella due to the busy holiday weekend. I kept it in mind, and Jon and I went back one weekend in November when we were there. It was amazing! The tapas is wonderful, the paella is great, and they have a comprehensive wine list. I think we’ll probably bring our own bottle and pay the corkage fee though (restaurant prices are so high, especially considering we’ll have several bottles in the car). We tried to get reservations last year with the family last year on Memorial Day weekend and it was booked solid. So this year, we called a couple of weeks ago, and we scored! We haven’t been there since November of 2009 and we still have fond memories. You can be sure I’ll tell you all about it.