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Holiday White Wines: Oregon Offers More Than Pinot Noir

Jennifer Cossey

Many who visit a wine shop for a bottle to bring to the Thanksgiving table will be guided to a Pinot Noir, usually something from Oregon. Or perhaps the wine steward will direct your attention to a Gamay Noir, sometimes called Beaujolais. These are both great choices, and make no mistake, these wines will be on my dinner table. But whites can also bring a spark of life to a table and an edge to a meal.

Traditional whites for the Thanksgiving holiday tend to be Rieslings and Gewürztraminers from Germany or France. But Oregon does a fine job with these classic holiday wines as well. Riesling isn’t widely known as a major player in Oregon vineyards, but in the 1980s it accounted for one-fourth of all the wine produced in the Willamette Valley. As the industry grew, other grapes came into fashion, and Riesling vineyards were torn out in favor of new trends. Today, Riesling is making a comeback. The grape itself is often misunderstood as being sweet, making a cloying wine. In some cases it is, but in Oregon it is often a balanced wine with a minimum, if any, amount of detectable alcohol, an acid profile to make it food friendly and a lower alcohol percentage than most other whites.

Matt Berson, owner and winemaker of Love & Squalor Wine, agrees. “I love the transparency and purity of Riesling and the stylistic variety,” he says, “and after bubbles, it is hands down the most versatile wine for pairing with food.” 

Berson started making Riesling after being inspired by some of the greats of Riesling production in the Willamette Valley: Tad Seestadt of Ransom Wines and Spirits and Jimi Brooks of Brooks Winery. Berson was also drawn to the grape after working in the German winegrowing region of the Mosel for esteemed producer Dr. Loosen. He made his first Riesling in 2006.

Another fantastic but less-talked-about white, especially for food, is Melon de Bourgogne. Mostly known as the grape that makes up Muscadet, a white from the Loire Valley in France, Melon makes a great pairing with oysters and would complement many of the foods likely to be on your Thanksgiving table. Oregon winemaker Chris Berg, of Roots Wines & Vineyard, makes a bright and refreshing Melon. Berg gets his fruit from a vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton wine region called Deux Vert Vineyard.

“We don’t have it planted here, but would like to sometime soon,” says Berg, whose love for Muscadet inspired him to give the grape a try and “do the grape justice in a manor I thought is the way the people in the Loire would do it.”

Dai Crisp of Lumos Wine Co. makes another not-to-be-missed Thanksgiving white: Gewürztraminer. The wine is usually very aromatic with notes of honey, rose petal and spice. It can stand up to a heavy meal unlike any other white I know.

Dai Crisp/Lumos Wine Co.

Crips says it’s all about the aromatics.

“I like to work with Gewürztraminer because it is the most delicious fruit to taste in the vineyard as it ripens,” Crisp says. “Also, it has a unique aroma and flavor profile that is spicy, floral and savory.”

None of these wines are huge productions. Instead, they are labors of love. Crisp makes around 165 cases of Gewürztraminer from vines that were planted in 1981 — “big old vines with personality, organically farmed,” he says. “Yes, it is a terrific wine to have with turkey. We will be having some with friends at Thanksgiving!”

Tasting Notes

  • 2012 Love & Squalor Riesling, Willamette Valley, $18
    White pear, grapefruit, yellow plum, green apple and white flower aromas. With lime pith, persimmon and citrus on the palate with bright acids and stony minerality in a persistent finish.
  • 2011 Roots Wine & Vineyard Melon de Bourgogne, Deux Vert Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, $18
    Yellow apple, green pear, lemon pith and notes of white flowers along with hints of almond and a slightly woodsy character. Bright and refreshing on the palate with a medium finish. 
  • 2012 Lumos Wine Co. Gewürztraminer, Temperance Hill Vineyard, $19
    Nectarine, passion fruit, guava, honey and ginger in the nose with lemon custard, yellow lily and baking spices on the palate. Pleasant and approachable acids balance out a rich texture.
  • 2012 Siltstone Wines Muller Thurgau, Blacktail Vineyard, $14
    Pear, lemon and dried pineapple fruits blend harmoniously with a touch of fresh verbena and thyme and floral notes of carnation and daisy along with hints of honeycomb.
  • Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling 1st Edition, $20
    Lemon, lime, pear and fruits come together along with yellow flowers and ginger. A touch of peach on the palate marries well with the playful bubbles, and a hint of sweetness is balanced out by refreshing and food-friendly acids.
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