Wine Review: Umpqua Innovations

Oregon’s Umpqua River Valley AVA, situated between the better-known Willamette Valley to the north and the Ashland-anchored Rogue Valley AVA to the south is rural, wild (as in surrounded by wilderness areas) and happily unconventional when it comes to winemaking.

Here are three unusual yet quite beautiful wines I came across on our recent visit.


paul obrien orsatonPaul O’Brien Winery Orsation Riesling   Umpqua Valley 2015

Straw with gold highlights, this is a skin-contact white wine in the Alsatian style, left on the skins for 14 hours, barrel fermented, lees stirred every week for 4 months, every trick in the book to bring out these toothsome textures.

Aromas of bold baked apple , pear and white flower highlights promise hedonistic vitality and the palate delivers. Intensely honeyed and viscous up front, it features a textured midpalate with layers of prickle on top of puckering, stony minerality with etched tannins providing subterranean heft. The finish is long, driven by clean fresh fruit and Riesling’s scintillating acidity. Off dry but not a dessert wine.

A very big wine, broad shouldered but full of sensuous charm like Karen Oh’s Maps

Score: 91

Price: $26

Alc: 12%


Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards Grüner Veltliner Winemaker’s Reserve Umpqua Valley 2014

reustleA varietal seldom grown in the U.S. but introduced by Reustle, I’ve never tasted a domestic Grüner this good. Showing white pepper, fruit salad, and quince paste, the nose is tranquil, pretty but restrained.  It’s sumptuous yet weightless in the mouth, off-dry, with rich honeydew and orange peel set off by burgeoning minerality closing the midpalate.  The textural evolution is lovely transitioning from lush to a more bracing experience with a granular weave to a finish like pure spring water but with chalk and incisive acidity providing heft.

The overall impression is of fresh vitality but the slow evolution brings thoughts of the past, wistful and reflective like Diana Krall’s Departure Bay

Score: 92

Price: $29

Alc: 12.8%


Hillcrest Vineyards “Arpad” Bull’s Blood Reserva Umpqua Valley 2009

bulls bloodBull’s blood, (aka Egri Bikavér) is a legendary Hungarian wine, earning it’s name in a 16th Century war with Turkish invaders. The local wine was alleged to be fortified with bull’s blood giving the troops the courage to hold off the siege. Typically a Kékfrankosbased blend, the Hungarian versions I’ve tasted are bold and rustic. This version from Oregon’s Hillcrest Vineyards carries on that old world tradition in the new world.

New leather, damp leaves, with a dried fig foundation, floral notes from the pinot, hints of vanilla with aeration—there’s a lot going on here as there should be when you put Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Tempranillo in the same bottle.

On the palate a rush of high acidity appears straight off, introducing a steely midpalate with coffee highlights  and then a tense, galvanic finish unfolding on finely knit tannins. Pretty with aromatic depth, but it’s not for the fainthearted. It has a tough, rustic charm with a distinctive personality and an odd relationship with oxygen. It is full and lush out of the bottle but 5-10 minutes in the glass finds the fruit power receding replaced by clerical severity.

What better music to pair with  Bull’s Blood than this traditional Hungarian folk song performed by an incredibly talented duo.

Score: 88

Price: $28

Alc: 13.5%


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