Posted by: David Stewart | September 16, 2011

How to learn a huge amount about Oregon wine at a cost

Pinot in the cityI talk to a number of people (both runners and non-runners, by the way) who think they might like to learn more about wine. Why?

  • There is a reputed health benefit from antioxidants and phytochemicals found in red wine. (Runners in particular seem drawn to this.)
  • But there are so many different brands and types of wine at a huge variety of price points that it’s confusing. If I spend more than a few dollars on a bottle of wine, will I get anything like my money’s worth?
  • If you taste Pinot in the City, 9th and Marshall in Portlandsomething you really like, how do you recreate this experience? Wine is not at all like Starbucks coffee or McDonalds hamburgers. And something you don’t like today might be something you really like later on.
  • And frankly, most people I know don’t like to sound like idiots, and there are plenty of really snobby wine geeks out there trying to impress you with their mastery of the grape.

It’s something I really hear a lot and can relate to personally. So when the Willamette Valley Wineries Association announced a massive two day Portland wine tasting event called "Pinot in the City," I decided to see if such a spectacle would lead to better understanding of Oregon wines and winemakers.

And massive it was: there were about 100 wineries on display, each with two or three of their wines to taste. This was combined with tastes from local food purveyors and restaurants.

So many wineries! To make it manageable, they split them up between the two days. So if you wanted to taste the whole spectrum, you needed to be there both days.

  Fun device for a wine tastingMy intent in going was to learn as much as I could about wine growing regions in the state, wines that they make, and to connect with some of the winemakers and farmers themselves. I got all of these things and more, but there were a few downsides as well:

  • The venue was a vacant lot near the railroad station in Northwest. Unfortunately, it was held on one of the hottest days of the year, with both vintners and tasters complaining of the temperatures.
  • The heat was also a problem with the temperature of the wine. Pinot Noir tastes best a cellar temperature. If it is too hot, it gets heavy and soupy, too cold and the aromas die off. Most vineyards were shoving their bottles in and out of ice baths to try to manage the increasingly irksome heat. Fortunately, many wineries trotted out there refreshing white wines to beat the heat.

But I learned a lot, discovered a number of new regions and wineries to check out, and enjoyed meeting some of the icons of the local industry and talking with several folks I have met in the past.

There were no wine sales from this event, at least not officially. I did notice that some cases were sold on the down-low at the end of the event. So long as this was not done too obviously, people looked the other way.

I’m also pleased that the event took recycling seriously. Lots of glass and cardboard ended up in recycling.

 The Bitter End of a wine tasting event

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