News & Politics

Want a Nice Chardonnay? Look to Oregon

French-style grape flourishes in the Willamette Valley.

October 1, 2005

A great wine can come only from the right grapes grown in the right place. When the Willamette Valley south of Portland began producing some of the best Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, growers planted Chardonnay as well. Because these two varieties grow side by side in France, logic suggested that both would perform well in Oregon. But while Oregon Pinot went on to earn plaudits, most Oregon Chardonnays remained just okay.

Virtually all the early Oregon Chardonnay vines had come from California. In cool, wet Oregon they yielded wines that tasted thin and tart.

Vintners began experimenting with new French Chardonnay vines known as Dijon clones. The early results are very promising.

Chehalem's 2004 "Inox" ($20) provides a delicious introduction. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, it tastes clean and fresh and is a good accompaniment to light seafood dishes or to sip as an aperitif. A little richer–because it is oak-aged–is Argyle "Nuthouse" 2001 ($30). It tastes bright and lively.

Also from 2001, Hamacher "Forêts Diverses" ($25) exemplifies a more full-bodied style of Chardonnay. Marked by pear and apple flavors, it has depth and length. Similarly styled, Ponzi Reserve 2002 ($30) offers more of a citrus character with a spicy, nutty undertone. Richer still, St. Innocent "Anden Vineyard" 2003 ($29) tastes lush.

No matter the style, all these wines have sufficient acidity for structure, plenty of ripe fruit, and intriguing secondary flavors.

The nonfruit elements contribute complexity. Try Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" 2003 ($25) or Chehalem "Ian's Reserve" 2002 ($27)–both display a whiff of slate or stone akin to the minerality characteristic of fine white Burgundy. Even more expressive, Domaine Serene "Côte Sud Vineyard" 2002 ($37) tastes seamless yet multilayered and intricate. Like all the wines recommended here, it suggests that Oregon is indeed the right place for Chardonnay after all