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  • Writer's pictureThe Unassuming Wine Bros

On the Oregon Trail...

One of our esteemed readers recently suggested we explore Oregon wines and recommended several vineyards with highly-rated, affordable offerings. Two hundred fourteen years after Lewis and Clark traversed the outer northwestern reaches of the Oregon Trail, this month, we explore a sampling of diverse and exceptional cool-climate Oregon wines to ring in 2021.

We are The Unassuming Wine Bros (UWB) – Patrick and Vigo - two regular guys who love everything about wine, including writing about it. Our goal is to explore the nuances of wine, share our adventures with you, and have a little fun along the way.

To properly understand the true Oregon wine vibe, we reached out to one of this months’ winemakers - Elk Cove Vineyards - one of the early trailblazing Willamette Valley wine pioneers that began its production a full decade before Oregon wines exploded onto the scene in the mid-1980s. We spoke with Anna Campbell - Elk Cove Vineyards’ Creative Director. Anna affably explained, “Cooler climate varietals are what we are all about, and both the Estate Pinot Gris and Estate Pinot Noir are our flagship wines”. After trying both of these offerings - and a few other representational Oregon selections, here are our thoughts:

2017 Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

92 – James Suckling; $28.99 Total Wine (Sarasota); 13.5% Alc. by Vol.

Vigo: The secret to great Pinot Noir is in the balance. The bad ones (and I have had many) are either limp and watery or tart with lemon and a stony fruit-forwardness. The 2017 Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir was neither. Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir was one the most balanced Pinot Noirs I have ever tried with a beautiful body and notes of cherry, plum, currants, and a hint of tobacco. My taste buds celebrated every sip. I pondered whether it was the soil, the grapes, or the stainless steel followed by oak fermentation? When I was finished, I realized it was all four, which makes this Pinot Noir a superstar. The 2017 Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir is my 2020 wine of the year. Vigo’s Rating (4.5 Humvees)

Patrick: I also really enjoyed this wine. This vineyard produces several more expensive Pinot Noirs, but we focused on this more affordable option. Priced at just under $30 per bottle, it is a bit pricer than our typical UWB selections. However, once we tasted it, I immediately knew it was as excellent as Anna described it. It opened with aromas of berry and cherry, was fresh and fruity with tasting notes of red cherry, strawberry, and plum, displayed plenty of tannins for a Pinot Noir, and exhibited a fresh, lingering, and satisfying finish. It drank much more like an elegant French Burgundy than a traditional Oregon Pinot Noir - likely due to the partial stainless steel process. At this price point, you would never find a French Burgundy that is this delicious. If you like a balanced, fruity red wine with tannins, this wine is for you. You would be delighted with a bottle or case of it. Patrick’s Rating: (4 Scales of Justice)

2019 Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris:

92 - Wine Enthusiast; #10 Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of 2020; $16.99 Total Wine (Sarasota); 13% Alc. By Vol.

Vigo: I have a bias against white wines, which makes me not take them very seriously. Red wines are typically served during an important meal; white wines are served at the pool. Red wines stand on their own; white wines are used in cocktails. Because of this bias, I tend to overlook interesting and well-made white wines. This bias was shattered while tasting the 2019 Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris. Once again, this vineyard’s offering was balanced to perfection with the bouquet of beautiful flowers coupled with its light body and lemon curd, peach, and honeydew melon taste. This wine was rated #10 in the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Wines of 2020 - which is rightly deserved - and helped change my perception of how delicious and interesting excellent white wines can be. Vigo's Rating: (4.5 Humvees)

Patrick: I thought this Willamette Valley Pinot Gris was superb and one of the best wines I have tried in 2020. It was complex with a lot going on it every sip - crisp, refreshing, and tart but with sweeter notes of apple, peach grapefruit, and pear infused into it. Its finish was long, mineral, and zesty. At this price, this was a fantastic wine. Overall, I was very impressed with both Elk Cove Vineyards selections! Definitely worth the drive to Total Wine in Sarasota for these great offerings. Patrick’s Rating: (4.5 Scales of Justice)

2019 Samuel Robert Winery Pinot Noir Rose:

91 - Wine Enthusiast; #31 Top 100 Best Buy 2020 Wine Enthusiast; $14.99 Total Wine (UTC); 13% Alc. By Vol.

Vigo: Although the 2019 Samuel Robert Winery Pinot Noir Rose is grown in the same area as the Elk Cove Vineyards offerings, it was very different. I thought the body was a bit thin compared with the Elk Cove Pinot Noir grape, but the bouquet was similar to it with aromas of flower and a hint of citrus. The taste profile was pleasantly different, with stone fruit and watermelon being very pronounced. Based on its rating and my tasting, this was an okay but, not great Pinot Noir Rose. Vigo's Rating: (3 Humvees)

Patrick: I thought this Pinot Noir Rose was solid and an excellent value at this price point. It was beautifully salmon in color, dry, medium-bodied, complex, sweet, refreshing, and mildly tangy - all at the same time. It’s exhibited tastes of watermelon, peach, pear, and stone fruit. It was crisp with a long mineral finish. This was a tasty Rose, and the Pinot Noir gave it more body than most other Roses. I would drink this enjoyable wine again without thinking twice. Patrick’s Rating: (3.5 Scales of Justice)

2018 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay:

90 - Wine Spectator; #40 Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2019; $13.99 Total Wine (UTC); 13% Alc. By Vol.

Vigo: Unlike Elk Cove Vineyards or Samuel Robert Winery that grow their grapes in a particular area, A to Z Wineworks gets its grapes from over 100 different vineyards across Oregon. And because of how it buys its grapes, this winery can produce a bottle of high-quality wine at a low price. What I loved about the 2018 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay is - unlike most New World Chardonnays - it is aged in stainless steel - not oak, which gives it a clean, crisp taste and finishes. The flavor profile was of creamy lemons and grapefruit, which came as a pleasant surprise for a Chardonnay. If you prefer crisp, fresh Chardonnays over buttery, oaky ones, the 2018 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay is for you. Vigo's Rating: (3 Humvees)

Patrick: I love Chardonnay aged in steel. They drink clean, crisp, and I tend to recognize the fruit more than an oakier, more buttery offering that overwhelms when not done well. The 2018 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay drank like a classic steel-aged Chardonnay. This creamy, medium-bodied wine was pale yellow with its citrus flavors predominating over its apple notes and showed a mildly spicy but satisfying finish. I was excited to drink this wine after researching it but felt it under-delivered compared to my overly-lofty expectations. I was hopeful for great but experienced only above-average - which at this price point, still means pretty good wine. The finish was excellent, but the flavor was not dynamic enough. We drank this wine without food. Next time I will try it with Mexican food to bring out its spicy finish. Patrick’s Rating: (3 Scales of Justice)

Mail Bag: James M. from Waterside wrote: “I love drinking wine, but the tannins upset my stomach. Can you recommend a wine with fewer tannins, or should I just stop drinking wine?”

UWB: It might not be the tannins - it could be the preservatives in the wine. We will write an upcoming article on organic wines. Help is on the way - but if you give up, I’ll be by your house to pick up any of your unopened wine!

Let us know whether you agree, disagree, or whether you prefer other wines or pairings more. We'd love to hear your input and suggestions and are always thrilled to receive your feedback, information, and opinions. We can be reached at

This article was originally published in "Around the Ranch" on January 20, 2020.

Rating System:

Vigo – Retired US Army Sgt. First Class (Humvees) / Patrick – practicing local attorney (Scales of Justice). Ratings are given on a 1-5 scale, with five being the highest.

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