CELLAR SELECTS

In Quest of a Queen

Oregon Chardonnay aspires for nobility

By Karl Klooser

Oregon Chardonnay producers are on an expedition. Given that Pinot Noir has done very well in Oregon, logic dictates that Chardonnay should also have the potential to thrive, which they are out to prove.

This reasoning is based on the Burgundian model. In France’s famed Burgundy region, from the Chablis to the Chalonnaise, Chardonnay flourishes, so much so that the finest examples are considered, in their own way, to be just as exalted as their Pinot Noir counterparts.

Montrachet standing side by side with Musigny. Chablis Grand Cru equivalent to Chambertin. Corton Charlemagne the white counterpoint to Le Corton. Arguably the world’s most revered red and white table wines all arise from a tiny slice of global real estate. Even less rarified appellations like the Mâconnais district’s Pouilly-Fuissé and St. Veran, or Rully and Montagny from the Côte Chalonnaise, yield consistently fine Chardonnay wine.

So why not Oregon? Why not particular segments of the Willamette Valley? It’s a fair question, and several dozen wineries are in pursuit of an answer and many are succeeding.

This month’s Value Picks represent flavorful results from efforts currently underway. Ranging in style from ripe and viscous to light, bright and unoaked, these wines show that Chardonnay is on its way to certain nobility.

2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay

An enticing nose emits hints of campfire smoke, chewy caramel and tangy tobacco. A viscous mouthfeel evokes golden delicious apple, lemon zest, pear and fresh-mown grass. The most full-bodied, flavor-packed wine in the bunch. $30; 552 cases

2011 Wine by Joe (Dobbes) Oregon Chardonnay

This bright white belies complex layering of grapefruit, banana and lime dancing on a framework of fresh, green acidity. Lively tartness complements subtle but fascinating fruit components. $14; 2,410 cases

2012 Chehalem INOX Estate Willamette Valley Chardonnay 

Talk about consistency. Year after year, INOX rises to the top in comparative tastings. Melon, fruit cobbler, chamomile tea and herbaceous botanicals play across the palate. Bright acidity pulls together the tasty package. $19; 5,050 cases

2013 Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Estate Chardonnay  

This clean, fresh drinker offers a zesty array of intertwining flavors: grapefruit, peach, citrus and apple with elements of grassiness and minerality. Delightfully light and well balanced. $20; 2,100 cases

2013 Tyee Wine Cellars Estate Willamette Valley Chardonnay 

A soft, round palate entices the taster with hints of spice, citrus and pineapple. Drink this one now for maximum enjoyment. $18; 175 cases

2013 Monte Ferro Wines Dion Vineyards Chehalem Mountains Chardonnay 

Closed in at first, the reward of letting this one breathe is worth the short wait. Green apple and stone fruit to start, building up to a rich, sweet crescendo. As with most Chardonnays, serve close to room temperature for maximum benefit. $17.50; 175 cases

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.

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.

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