This column is a happy opportunity for a not-so-snooty wino to share her thoughts on the wines of the Willamette Valley – tastes, smells, pairings, and events.
I love to give gifts. There is something wonderful about being out and about and finding just the perfect match of thing-to-person. Because so much of my time is spent checking out the amazing food and beverages in the Willamette Valley, this pairing (pun intended) quite often ends up being wine to friend or family member. I thought for this article I would share with you some of the wines I am gifting this year to the wonderful people in my life.
As I delve into my holiday gift list, I thought I would toss out a few tips for purchasing wine as gifts. First and foremost, I think it is best to determine the categories of wine enjoyed by the person for whom you are buying. Red or white, is the most basic of these delineations. After that it is good to know things like dry or sweet, bold or light, or if there is a particular kind of grape that someone likes best. Some people really do have a wine “type” that they stick to. These folks are definitely the easiest to buy for. When I am picking something for a “typed” wine drinker, I try to find a wine of that type from a unique or significant location, or one that is rare or has a beautiful label or interesting story. For example, I have one friend who drinks Pinot Noir exclusively (luckily he lives in the Willamette Valley). I chose for him a bottle of 2008 Lewisburg Pinot Noir from Spindrift in Philomath. This is a powerful Pinot with full fruity aromas, dark cherry flavors mixed with spice and wood. It is delightfully full-bodied for a Pinot Noir – something that will stand up well to the rich pasta sauces that my friend favors in his cooking.
Sometimes I purchase wine as a form of nostalgia. This is a great buying tip for anyone who likes all kinds of wine, and/or a way to get someone to try something new. My sister and I took a cross-country road trip in 2005 right after she graduated from college. At one point we stopped off at a winery for lunch, and to get something to drink while we camped that evening. This was early on in my time as an appreciator of wine, and when we got into the tasting room, we both encountered Gewürztraminer for the first time. We liked it so much it was one of the only kinds of wine we purchased for the rest of the trip. This year I am giving her the lovely 2011 Gewürztraminer from Tyee along with a photo from our excursion. I tried this fruity and floral wine while trekking south with friends. It has soft pear and honeysuckle on the nose, and is citrusy with a good acid balance. At this point I plan on boxing it up along with Oregon pear butter and hazelnuts.
Another way to go about purchasing wine is to think about what a person likes to eat. I have a friend who rarely lets a day go past where she does not eat at least one dessert. I think she would eat dessert after a sweet breakfast if she could! For her I decided to get a bottle of 2003 Late Harvest Scheurbe from High Pass. This dessert wine is sweet and dark with flavors of currant and honey. Sip it alone, or get crazy and drizzle it over some spiced or vanilla ice cream. I really enjoyed my visit at High Pass, and also would like to note another of their wines – the 2009 Huxelrebe Late Harvest. Only slightly sweet, this wine is citrusy on the nose, and has a clean mouth feel. It would be a wonderful wine for a turkey dinner, or to help balance out the richness of ham.
For friends who already have a significant wine collection (or perhaps no collection, but who seem to have tried it all), I recommend hitting up the tasting room at a smaller winery that might not be as broadly distributed. One such place I went to is Brigadoon in Junction City. While there I got to watch the tail end of their crushing process, and enjoyed some late-season sunshine in their beautiful and secluded location. I bought their 2010 Lylee Pinot Noir for a friend who ages wines. Currently it is ripe with red fruit and light spice – a classic and beautiful Willamette Valley Pinot – and I imagine as it ages it will deepen and darken into something unique and tasty.
My final tip for purchasing wine as a gift is to pick something for the season. In my case it means getting a bottle of the 2008 Argyle Brut as a hostess gift for a New Year’s Eve party. This is a fun sparkling wine with a light effervescence, and vanilla and pear on the nose and in the flavor. I am looking forward to opening it up at midnight and toasting in 2013.
Ok, I guess that was not my final tip. Know that when purchasing wine as a gift, the cost of the wine does not necessarily indicate the quality of the gift. The wines I have highlighted here range from $18-$40, and each one is excellent. The most important thing is to pick something thoughtfully, and to give it with love.
Happy Holidays all!
Clare Cady is an East coast transplant with the heart of an Oregonian. She is passionate about local food and beverages, and seeks to share with others what makes wine interesting, delicious, and accessible. Clare works at Oregon State University, where she serves students experiencing poverty and food insecurity. When she is not writing articles for Willamette Living Magazine, she is gardening, cycling, backpacking, surfing, or serving as a staff writer for WestToast.com.