The Willamette Valley is best known for its exquisite Pinot noir. It is so well-suited to the varietal that it can be found on virtually every hillside. Yet the conditions that make the region perfect for Pinot noir also make it perfect for other varietals, many of which are quite rare. Take a road trip this weekend and visit three wineries that are producing the best wines you’ve never heard of.
This founding Oregon winery is renowned for benchmark-setting Pinot noir and Chardonnay, but it has a few lesser-known grapes up its sleeves. On a trip to the Vietti winery in Piedmont, Italy, the Ponzi Family discovered Arneis and Dolcetto. Arneis had once been nearly extinct, grown at only two vineyards in all of Italy. The Ponzi Family brought both varietals back to the Willamette Valley and planted them in the early 1990s and remain one of the few vineyards producing them. Dolcetto is a dry, big and bold red while Arneis is a fragrant white with a touch of honeyed sweetness. They are both available by the glass at their Sherwood tasting room and are well worth the visit.
750 W Lincoln Street, Carlton
One of the other few wineries producing Arneis is Cana’s Feast, though theirs is a different take on the varietal. This small, Tuscan-inspired winery produces a number of unusual varietals in small lots, such as a plush Counoise and a fruity Cinsaut. Cinsaut (also spelled Cinsault) production is declining globally, making the wine harder to find every year. It is often used for blending, but makes a pretty, fruit-forward wine on its own. Counoise is a spicy, deep-red wine, rare in its native France and grown in only a handful of places in Washington, California and Oregon.
9360 SE Eola Hills Road, Amity
The least-rare varietal on this list, Melon de Bourgogne (or just Melon) is still high on the “varietals you’ve never heard of” list. It is the most-produced wine in the Loire Valley of France, where it is known as Muscadet. In the US, federal prohibits calling wine made from Melon grapes by anything other than its grape varietal. When John Grochau returned from a stint racing bicycles in France, he brought his love for this grape with him and began producing it. This wine is bone-dry, with minerality and citrus notes that pair beautifully with food.