The Impressive Diversity of Southern Oregon – Rogue and Applegate Valleys
Last month, while on the Oregon Wine Harvest Tour, our group of wine writers visited the wine regions of Southern Oregon. Consisting of the Applegate, Rogue and Umpqua Valley (and the unofficial Illinois Valley) wine regions, the Southern Oregon American Viticulture Area (AVA) and it’s sub-regions are magnificently diverse in climate, allowing for both cool climate and warm climate varietals to thrive. The combination of the grandiose mountains, sweeping lush valleys, flourishing vineyards, multifarious wine styles, lively wines and differing climates create an impressively diverse region; therefore, making this region stand out from other regions around the world. When thinking of Southern Oregon, two words in particular come to mind: impressive diversity.
Included in our media group were five California-based wine writers and me – the only wine writer from Oregon. As writers of wine, it’s common to try to identify a wine region with a certain varietal; for example, the Willamette Valley is known for it’s world renowned Pinot Noirs. Napa Valley is home to some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the world, and Douro region of Portugal is known especially well for it’s Ports or Vinho do Portos. The question that kept coming up in Southern Oregon was, “What varietal is this region known for?” The answer is quite simple: there is no single variety that can be specifically identified with Southern Oregon because of the radically varied climates throughout the region – this impressive diversity is one of several reasons why I’m a huge fan of Southern Oregon wines.
We spent the first afternoon of our trip at Del Rio Vineyards, which is one of Southern Oregon’s largest vineyards located in the Rogue Valley. Del Rio Vineyards is just north of Gold Hill, Oregon, where the summers are dry and warm and winters are cold, yet mild. Ten different varietals under their own label and fourteen total varietals growing in their vineyards, Del Rio’s terroir is optimal for growing anything from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Franc. Although I was impressed with everything I sampled, of the ten Del Rio wines our group tasted, starting with a crisp, refreshing Pinot Gris and ending with a savory Syrah Port style dessert wine, there were two wines in particular that have had a lasting impression on me: the 2010 Claret and the 2008 Estate Reserve Petite Syrah.
- Del Rio Vineyards 2010 Claret is a blend of five Bordeaux varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Robust dark fruit aromas of blackberries and blueberries follow through, fruit-forward, on the palate. Big complex layers of fruit and spice finished with bold, yet approachable tannins. Wow, I absolutely loved this Claret.
- Del Rio Vineyards 2008 Estate Reserve Petite Syrah is big and bold just like the Claret, but white pepper and spice take the stand. Dark cherries and berries roll in layers on the palate and although the tannins are pretty intense, it’s mouthfeel is silky smooth with a long, gorgeous finish.
After visiting Del Rio, our group headed South to the town of Ashland. Ashland is an immaculately stylish town located in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges just about 15 miles north of the California border. Streets are lined with boutiques, cafe’s, art galleries and restaurants, but it’s most well-known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ashland is located in the Rogue Valley wine region, which borders the Applegate Valley wine region, so wineries dot the hills and valleys all around this city of about 20,000 people.
For dinner, we had reservations at a quaint and cozy restaurant located in downtown Ashland named Amuse, where we met up with some professionals from the local wine industry: Herb Quady – winemaker for Troon Vineyard as well as owner of Quady North Winery, Barbara Steele – owner of Cowhorn, and Michael Donovan – Director of National Sales and Marketing for RoxyAnn Winery. As soon as we walked into the elegantly styled private dining room with large picture windows looking out onto the street, we tried an abundance of wine in a premium line-up of Southern Oregon beauties, and I jotted down notes on the wines that paired incredibly well with our exceptional 5-course meal.
- Troon Vineyards Foundation ’72 2011 Vermentino was crisp, down-right refreshing, and an excellent wine to start the evening with. The Vermentino varietal is most commonly found in Sardinia, Italy, but with the long, warm summers in the Applegate Valley, this varietal flourishes – and Troon was the first vineyard in Oregon to grow Vermentino, where they grafted it to old vines that were planted in 1972, hence the name, “Founation ’72.” In addition to the lovely clove and citrus aromas, beautifully clean lemon and lime zest are what makes this wine rock, and when our Prawns with Romesco appetizer arrived, the two were pure bliss together. I love this Vermentino.
- Cowhorn 2011 Spiral 36 is a blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, and all wines are estate produced from estate grapes on the coolest site in the Appleagte Valley. The 36 stands for the hours of frost between harvests. Sweet aromas of peaches, pineapple and honeycrisp apple flow effortlessly on to the palate with a silky smooth texture ending in perfected balance. This is truly a pleasing, easy drinking wine with pure elegance. When our Truffled Celery Root Soup arrived, I asked for the bottle to be passed down my way. I simply had to refill my glass to enjoy the silky, smooth texture of the wine with the silky smooth texture of the flavor-packed soup – they were excellent together.
- Cowhorn 2011 Viognier – one of the most well balanced and most palatable Viogniers I’ve had to date. Pineapple and mango aromas are laced with hints of vanilla, but unlike many Viogniers, this one is very light and refreshing in the mouth. This time, when the next course arrived, a Chickory Salad with Figs and Proscuitto, I motioned for the Viognier to be sent my way, and some of the other writers and I all agreed that the Viognier was an ambrosial match to the salad.
- RoxyAnn Winery 2009 Viognier- Here’s the twist. I loved the Cowhorn Viognier for it’s refreshing and crisp approach, but I loved the RoxyAnn Viognier for it’s floral characteristics along with it’s rich, creamy, silky mouthfeel and long, elegant finish. I poured a little of the RoxyAnn Viognier in an extra glass I had, and tasted the Cowhorn and RoxyAnn back to back. Totally different in every way, yet equally delightful – even as a pairing with the salad. Delicious.
- RoxyAnn Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is all about the deep, dark, rich fruits and silky tannins. Juicy fruit forward dark berries seamlessly coexist with the lovely, silky tannins, and the finish goes on and on…and on. When our main course of Wood Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Aligote Potatoes and Coastal Chanterelles arrived, I couldn’t get enough of the RoxyAnn Cab. The rich flavors of the beef with the rich fruits of the cab were completely delectable together.
- Quady North 2009 Cabernet Franc – I love Cabernet Franc, and the Quady North Cab Franc is a stellar example of how an otherwise acidic and tannic varietal can be tamed and truly enjoyable and approachable. Full bodied, rich and well rounded, aromas of blueberries and fresh tobacco led to similar flavors with added vanilla on the front and pepper on the finish. Although I really enjoyed the RoxyAnn Cabernet Sauvignon with the Grilled Beef Tenderloin, the Cab Franc was an excellent pairing too – each enhancing the flavors in their own distinctive way.