MY ROOMMATE/DEAR FRIEND works in the wine industry, and typically serves as my personal sommelier and guide to all things oenophilic. When I texted him—on a 20-plus-hour harvest workday—to tell him I was doing a roundup of the best Oregon value wines, and soliciting expert opinions, I got back, "Ha ha... we were just making fun of that question today."
What a snobby dick, right? But I guess I can sympathize. Winemakers, especially this time of year, do painstaking work, obsessing over their craft. And, apparently, the most common reaction is: "Wow... we appreciate your labor and passion and commitment to excellence, but what can I buy on the cheap?"
Still, we can't always afford to drop $100 on a bottle, no matter how good it is. And we're lucky that Oregon winemakers do provide us myriad excellent options for a price that won't break the bank.
A few of Portland's best palates were kind enough to humor me, and offer up their favorite local wines that you can pick up for less than $30 (in fact, no one broke $25). The list—appropriately for the Willamette Valley, I suppose—is fairly pinot heavy, but it's a great starting place for those of you who need a night off from the microbrews.
Katherine Cole, Oregonian and MIX wine columnist, author of Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers
I recently was signing books at a tasting at Great Wine Buys, my cozy neighborhood wine shop on NE Broadway, where owner John Kennedy poured an impressive array of Willamette Valley biodynamic pinots. I asked some friends which was their favorite; most preferred the juicy, ripe-blackberry character of the least-expensive pour, which was the 2009 Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This is a wine with refreshing honesty and purity; it's a wine that has no agenda. You can find it for $22.50 at bottle shops in the Portland area. P.S. The 2010 vintage is just starting to hit store shelves at right around the same price. It's a more delicate, floral rendition, with snappy, food-friendly acidity.
Todd Steele, proprietor and wine director of Metrovino
One of my favorite bottles of local wine is the 2010 Brick House Gamay Noir [suggested retail: $24.50]. It is a truly excellent wine. One of the great aspects of Gamay noir is that it can be very full and rich, but light on its feet and about as food friendly as wine gets. The Brick House Gamay has these qualities in spades along with excellent floral aromatics, rich but bright red fruits, and a deep earthiness at its core. I find it to be a particularly great wine for Thanksgiving dinner as there are also some spice notes that play really nicely with many of the traditional Turkey Day menu items, up to and including the turkey itself.
Scott Frank, owner and winemaker of Bow & Arrow Wines
Oregon underdogs Barnaby and Olga Tuttle produce fantastic wines outside the grip of the pinot noir/pinot gris cartel. They use Germany, rather than Burgundy, as their template and are producing some of the most exciting wines in the state. Their pinot meunier (known as Schwarzriesling in German) is from a you-pick vineyard near Monroe [Teutonic Wine Company 2010 Pinot Meunier, suggested retail: $20]. It's assertive and well defined but most importantly reminds me of smoked pork and cranberries. It tastes like fall.
Jack Hott, sommelier at Castagna Restaurant
Ayres is good, clean pinot noir [2010 Ayres Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, suggested retail: $24]. While I like a wine I can ponder over, I'm usually more interested in getting dinner ready, talking with friends, and relaxing. This is a wine with fruit, earth, and acidity that's just fun to drink. It pairs well with pork chops or anything cooked in an iron skillet. But it's also great for just hanging out in the kitchen with someone cuter than me.
Bruce Bauer, owner/enabler of VINO
First things first: best Oregon label design out there [2009 Love & Squalor Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, suggested retail: $24]. No family members, no animals, no friend's bad watercolor. Just great style. What's inside is what's important, though. Elegance, purity, classic Oregon pinot flavors: strawberry and spice with intensity and a velvety finish. Totally over-delivers for your money. Sublime with dinner this holiday season, but this will only kick more delicious wine ass in the years ahead!