Ah, spring—a time when Portland's attention turns to wine. I'm talking specifically about light, crushable, thirst-quenching varieties perfect for the season when flowers begin to bloom and the sun starts to peek more regularly through the cloud bog.
Fortunately, the region's winemakers are well up to the task this year, with a clutch of killer new wines just released by a handful of buzzy labels you'll find below. And in the coming weeks—May is Oregon Wine Month—more spring and summer offerings will rush forth from many of Oregon's best vintners.
So far, this is shaping up to be an epic year for releases statewide. But for now, best to focus on the seasonals before us—just like the spring rain, they'll be gone before you know it.
Jean-Marc Espinasse/J. Christopher Wines, Newberg
Oregon is home to a host of beautifully light takes on the pinot noir, especially in late fall when the gamay grape Beaujolais nouveau is traditionally released. Happily here in spring we have French winemaker Jean-Marc Espinasse to thank for bottling the similarly fresh and quaffable Ephemera, which was made with Jay Somers of J. Christopher Wines. The collaboration checks all the natural-winemaking boxes: no filtration, indigenous yeasts and minimal added sulfur. Before bottling, the grapes went through a short and light maceration, resulting in an effortlessly fruit-forward expression of the state's classic pinot for spring. Think first-picked strawberries—sweet with a touch of tartness.
Swick Wines, Newberg
Another hit from cult indie winemaker Joe Swick, whose Oregon and Washington natural wines are hotly sought after at discerning wine bars and bottle shops across the country, Only Zuul is a 50-50 blend of pinot gris and gewürztraminer. Swick is known for hunting down obscure sites for grapes like a record collector digging through crates—the gris is a prime example, hailing from a quality patch of land within the vast Yakima Valley American Viticultural Area. The gewürz was grown a bit closer to home in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, just north of Salem. Fans of 1984's Ghostbusters will remember the wine's name comes from a line shouted by Sigourney Weaver, whose character is possessed by the Gatekeeper Zuul. But it drinks more like Beverly Hills Cop: not quite a white wine, not quite an orange, with big floral notes and a sweet berry presence—the perfect action-comedy hybrid.
Maloof Wines, Dundee
It wouldn't be springtime without some bubbles, and there's lots to love about the new 2018 L'eau Épicée from indie winemakers Ross and Bee Maloof. This is the first sparkling release from the couple, who produce wine together on the western edge of Dundee just off Highway 99W, and it's a corker (though the bottle is capped in the classic farmhouse fizz style, so there's no actual cork involved). Made from a blend of riesling and gewürztraminer from the dry-farmed, own-rooted BeckenRidge Vineyard about an hour away in Dallas, L'eau Épicée is golden peach in color, with notes of faraway spices and candied ginger. Mellow effervescence gives way to a lingering, honeyed tongue—the glass is gone the moment after you pour—which is the hallmark of really good sparkling natural wine. Buy two bottles when this drops in the next few days and stash one for a truly sticky summer day. This is a wine that says, "It's not hot yet, but it will be. It will be."
Libertine Wines, Willamette Valley
Acid Freak and Hopped Up on Goofballs
Ex-Teutonic Wine assistant winemaker Alex Neely is putting out some of Oregon's most interesting new bottles under his Libertine label. This spring he has two winners that demand attention. First, the 2018 Acid Freak rosé, an unrefined, unfiltered mélange of dolcetto and gewürztraminer, is a stunningly chuggable party wine perfect for warm afternoons. But don't miss Neely's Hopped Up on Goofballs, a dry-hopped white wine blend (yes—those kind of hops, like in beer) that lands somewhere between a white vermouth and an IPA aperitif. It's weird, but that's the point. Pour this for the beer nerd in your life to provoke a reaction, or use it to spark a debate about the hybrid during a backyard barbecue.
Fossil & Fawn, Rickreall
Oregon White and Oregon Rosé
I'm strongly digging two of the latest releases from Jim Fischer and Jenny Mosbacher at Fossil & Fawn in the Eola-Amity AVA just west of Salem. Their 2018 Oregon White is a zippy cocktail of riesling, pinot blanc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and muscat ottonel, an obscure variant of the muscat grape typically found in Central and Eastern Europe. This is a bright, flavorful white, with a broad range of acidity and depth. Meanwhile, the label's 2018 Oregon Rosé blends pinot noir and riesling for a mineral-forward, just off-dry take on pink wine. If the amorphous berry flavor of LaCroix were a wine, this would be it. Fischer and Mosbacher consistently put out a charming, idiosyncratic roster of memorable wines, but they're still relatively unhyped. That will change with time. These are winemakers to watch for the next 20 years.