One of the most beautiful places on the West Coast -- perhaps anywhere -- to taste wine is Oregon's Willamette Valley.
The region stretches from the Columbia River in the north and follows the Willamette River and its tributaries as far as Eugene in the south. The major area if you plan to take a weekend visit to the region is the northern Willamette Valley, which focuses on Yamhill County.
In the northern Willamette, evergreen trees intermingle with bucolic farms and vineyards to create an atmosphere unlike any other. Except for big event weekends (Memorial Day and Thanksgiving), the roads of the northern Willamette Valley are light on traffic, and getting lost can become a serendipitous opportunity.
About two dozen bed and breakfasts and small inns dot the Yamhill County countryside, and they are often near or within vineyards. The region also has attracted a number of superb chefs, most of whom rely on regional produce for their inspired cuisine.
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Autumn is a perfect time to visit the Willamette Valley for a weekend of wine touring. Here are a few wines from the region we've tasted recently. Ask for them from your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Amity Vineyards 2009 Sunnyside Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $35: Aromas of dried strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb compote and black cherries give way to more flavors of black cherry on the entry and almost no tannin to get in the way of the strawberry/rhubarb jam and twist of orange peel.
Luminous Hills 2010 Lux Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $35: This is a bright wine with aromas of mint, ripe raspberries, cherries and a hint of coffee, followed by flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and black cherries, all backed with moderate tannins.
Raptor Ridge Winery 2010 Olenik Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $38: Hedonistic aromas of black currant jam, dark strawberry, Cherries Garcia ice cream and Hermiston watermelon include a pinch of black pepper. There's no disappointment, as those flavors are presented with a seamless, albeit lighter, approach that's accented by lingering acidity of sweetened pie cherries.
Redman Wines 2010 Redman Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $45: This promising wine leads with blackberry, blueberry, Junior Mints and coffee aromas, backed by juicy flavors of more blueberry, cranberry, plum skin and leather. A blend of 777, 667 and Pommard clones, it is set to be released in September.
Seven of Hearts 2010 Lia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $35: The grapes for this wine come from an older vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains near Newberg. It opens with aromas of mint tea, exotic sandalwood, cinnamon powder, orange zest and red currants. On the palate, it's a compelling wine with flavors of blood oranges, cocoa powder, raspberries and cherries, all backed with restrained tannins.
Sokol Blosser NV Evolution 15th Edition, Oregon, $17: This blend of nine white grapes has been a mainstay for this pioneer Dundee Hills winery for years. This version opens with aromas of sweet herbs, citrus and ripe Asian pears. A clean, bright entry leads to flavors of pears, apples and oranges. It is off-dry at 1.23 percent residual sugar, and this should pair nicely with everything from grilled halibut topped with a fruit salsa to spicy Asian cuisine.
Stoller Vineyards 2009 JV Estate Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $25: Aromas of fresh cranberry, cassis, raspberry, vanilla bean, rose hips and forest floor. It's not a drink of fruit punch, but rather a glass of delicious finesse that finishes with Van cherry, sweet milk chocolate and cigar box tobacco.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.