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Oregon whites make strides

NEWBERG, Ore.

If things had happened slightly differently, Oregon would today be widely known as a terrific region for its white wines.

And slowly in the last year or so, some savvy wine lovers see Oregon as a latent white wine mecca, which sort of flies in the face of the state's far more visible vinous image: home to some terrific pinot noirs.

The high esteem in which Oregon pinot is held worldwide is due mostly to the early press it received. Not that it wasn't warranted: Pinot Noir from Oregon has received plaudits from many writers.

When I first visited here in late June 1976, I interviewed the two major pioneers, David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) and Dick Erath (Erath Vineyards). It was a time so early in Oregon wine industry terms that neither had yet opened a tasting room.

The story I wrote of that visit, for The Associated Press, appeared July 2, 1976, in the Oregonian, Portland's daily. It was the first wine column I ever wrote and it spawned a career.

In the years that followed, Oregon Pinot Noir captured all the headlines. People said it rivaled red Burgundy. Prices for it rose. The best were in high demand.

So I was a bit out of step last week when I revisited the Willamette Valley and tasted through a number of white wines. And what a revelation: They are at least as good as are the reds, and deserve equal accolades.

But they won't get it, and the reasons are complicated and arcane. However, tasting a lot of Oregon white wines from the cool vintages of 2010 and 2011 is rewarding, and convincing.

The Willamette is generally pretty cool, and the last two vintages were colder than usual. The result is an array of white wines with a vibrancy rarely seen across so many grape varieties.


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