The Dry and Sweet of It
It would take a beach-sized umbrella to encompass all the variations this month’s two categories. Although Oregon sparkling wines are most often white and dry, they also can be pink and sweet.
Traditionally, the grapes used here to make the best sparklers are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But almost any grape will produce a suitably made sparkling wine. For example, Muscat, which has gained renown because of the Italian Asti Spumante, is regularly made into semi-sparkling and sparkling wine in Oregon. Riesling also finds its way into the bubbly mix.
However, the differences in quality among offerings can be light-years apart owing to the character of the base wine, the method employed to introduce effervescence and the time spent aging in bottle before disgorgement and release for sale.
The range in style and substance is even greater for dessert wine. Riesling may be the go-to grape for late harvest white, but it is by no means the only variety benefiting from high natural sugar levels and the favorable effects of botrytis, i.e. noble rot.
Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Semillon are also used with excellent results. They can range from delicately light and slightly sweet to seductive syrup.
Fortified wines are definitely an after-dinner delight. Made by adding distilled spirits to halt fermentation and increase alcohol, their production follows traditional Old World methods mimicked here in the New World.
But only Port-style reds have gained any real traction in the marketplace with, once again, the occasional Muscat tagging along behind.
Interestingly, no one in Oregon appears to have shown any interest in making Sherry. That could be because to do it right requires some demanding disciplines for a category that has a relatively small following.
A lucky 13 wines made the sparkling and dessert cut. They represent a range of styles and types that exemplify the diversity in the Beaver State.
N.V. Capitello Oregon Brut Sparkling Wine • $28 (450 cases)
A blend of 72 percent Pinot Noir and 28 percent Chardonnay, this fine, dry sparkler is made by méthode Champenoise and it shows. The effervescence just keeps on coming with tiny bubbles that seem to melt in your mouth. Soft, delicate fruit marries with yeastiness to complete the classic taste experience.
2012 Silvan Ridge Semi-Sparkling Muscat • $14.99 (3,600 cases)
Surprisingly dry and engagingly Muscat with pretty notes of peach and hints of butter complemented by a soft yet lively sparkle. Good acidity adds backbone to the palate impression. Though it doesn’t say it on the label, with a 61 percent Oregon and 39 percent Washington blend, this could be appropriately termed an American wine.
N.V. Bridgeview Blue Moon Semi-Sparking Oregon Riesling • $11.95 (3,000 cases)
Here’s a wine that sneaks up on you and is happily invited to hang around, since all the proper elements are understatedly in place. Just enough spritz, a touch of sweetness, a hint of citrus, clean, fresh acidity. It’s all pleasant from first sip to final swallow.
N.V. Silver Falls Vineyards Cheers Oregon Sparking Wine • $25 (250 cases)
Poof. Poof. And more poof. Simply letting this snappy sparkler become mist in your mouth is so much fun, you almost forget it’s for drinking. When the liquid that didn’t magically turn to fairy dust slips down your throat, however, it delivers tart, earthy and grapefruit flavors that meet with favor.
2009 Mt. Defiance Vin de Glace Columbia Gorge Pinot Gris • $24 (500 cases)
Dessert wine with a difference could describe this Columbia Gorge Gris that puts a mineral-laden sense of place in the center of the picture layered with caramel, toffee, candied pineapple and tropical fruit. Though the sweet, ripe flavors can’t be denied, enough acidity complements them to make them a pleasure.
2011 Capitello Winery Dolcino Gewürztraminer • $20 (380 cases)
Capitello’s owner/winemaker Ray Walsh has a way of bringing beautiful harmony to blends. This one is the same grape but from two very different places — Airlie Vineyard near Monmouth in the central Willamette Valley and Anindor Vineyard near Elkton northwest of Roseburg. The result is a concentrated, Sauternes-like version of Gewürz, thick and golden, exuding the honey-ginger aroma associated with botrytis (noble rot) along with baked apple and honeysuckle. A truly sweet treat.
2010 Laurel Ridge Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Dessert Riesling • $18 (100 cases)
Loads of green apple and pear give this lighter style Riesling a suppleness that belies its dry profile. A varietally expressive rendition of the noble German grape that is finding its own voice in Oregon.
2011 Left Coast Willamette Valley Late Harvest Chardonnay • $24 (76 cases)
An enticing floral aroma invites the taster to experience a soft, citrus-tinged palate featuring hints of Key lime and cinnamon. Although a honeyed sweetness envelops the scene, it is balanced by good acidity and a lively overall impression throughout.
2012 Silver Falls Willamette Valley Estate Sublime Semi-Sweet Wine $18 (100 cases)
This is an East Willamette Valley wine that is indeed sublime. A blend of several whites have been used to best advantage in creating a nicely executed balance between sweetness and acidity. Honey and peach pie play off citrus for a delicate, satisfying taste experience.
2011 Troon Vineyard Applegate Valley Insomnia Dessert Wine • $24 (330 cases)
Troon takes Port very seriously. Winemaker Herb Quady has big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of his father, Andrew Quady, who lifted Port making to a new level in Callfornia. Tempranillo is the foundation on which the younger Quady builds Insomnia, his fortified specialty. Happily to report, he has not made it too dry, too extracted, too fruity or too sweet, but found an elegantly appealing balance that others would do well to emulate.
2011 Angel Vine Stonetree Vineyard Columbia Valley The Sweet One • $25 (100 cases)
Angel Vine owner Ed Fus has built a reputation focused on vinification of Washington Zinfandel in Oregon. For his “Sweet One,” however, he has departed from the standard 100 percent Zin formula to make it just 25 percent of the blend complementing 75 percent Petite Sirah. The seldom seen Rhône grape has brought this 17.2 percent alcohol Port-style wine intriguing hints of sweet cherry, clove and marzipan on a frame of firm yet affirming tannins.
2011 Silvan Ridge Rogue Valley Portage Syrah Dessert Wine • $19.99 (250 cases)
The bigness that Syrah can be acts in a supporting role to the lead of jammy berry fruit and briary tang all enrobed in an ethereal dustiness. The dry and sweet interplay makes this a Port type in the true Oporto tradition, and a fascinatingly appealing taste temptation.
N.V. Anne Amie Vineyards Cuvée A Rubies Dessert Wine • $25 (152 cases)
When people say Ruby Port, plum may be the next thing out of their mouths. Cuvée A “Rubies” is plum and more. Rich dark fruits, blackberry, cherry and spice come forward lending description to a delightful sweetness that is made all the more so by a velvety texture and excellent balance throughout. Aged 27 months in French oak.
The Oregon Wine Press tasting panel has selected the following wines based on overall quality and value within their respective categories. To the best of our knowledge, they are currently available in the marketplace. Wine must be: 1) produced by an Oregon winery; 2) priced (retail) $30 or less for reds, $30 or less for Chardonnay, $30 or less for dessert and sparkling wines, and $25 or less for remaining varietals; and 3) currently available to consumers. Recommended wines were selected using a double-blind method and a 20-point ranking system for appearance, aroma, taste, balance and finish.