May was Oregon Wine Month which reminded me how much I love Oregon white wines and how perfect they are for a Florida summer. Most pair well with fresh seafood from scallop ceviche to grilled swordfish. The fruitier varietals can also pair well with spicy Asian dishes, or a Spanish Paella, and even a Cajun gumbo. So many of these fresh and fruity white wines have Stelvin enclosures, or screw caps, which make them the ideal for outdoor occasions.
The white wine that really put Oregon on the map is Pinot Gris. Unlike Italian Pinot Grigio, which tends to be harvested a little younger and greener, these Pinot Gris grapes get plenty of time on the vine with longer summer days and often a shift in temperatures by 30• from day to night. The conditions here are more similar to either Burgundy or Alsace, and different producers nod to one or the other in style. The Alsatian style has a little more residual sugar without being sweet; think floral and bright acid, but with a softer finish and enough fruit to border on sweetness without crossing over. The Burgundy style will be a little more tart and mineral-laden, with a drier finish and a fuller palate.
I recently tasted an array of Oregon wines during a visit from Oregon winemakers Athena Pappas and Stewart Boedecker. They produce wines under both names with the Pappas line focusing on their whites and softer Pinot Noir. Pappas Pinot Gris tips its hat to Alsace with pronounced floral notes and a very ripe and fruity palate. The Pappas Pinot Blanc and Boedecker Chardonnay are more Burgundian in character, with minimal oak (mostly neutral). Here we get more minerality with bracing acidity, though the Pinot Blanc is just a little softer and pairs perfectly with grilled lobster or scallops that can be overwhelmed by an oaky Chardonnay. Boedecker’s Purity Chardonnay nods a little to Burgundian Chablis with some real zesty acidity lightening the rounder mouthfeel of the typical Chardonnay. This is one I could pair with fish, but it also pairs perfectly with creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert or even a classic roasted chicken over new potatoes.
I also tasted the current vintages of A to Z Winery’s Oregon whites from their very popular Pinot Gris to a truly unoaked Chardonnay, and finally a lovely Riesling. Perhaps slightly drier than the Pappas Pinot Gris, there is still plenty of floral aromas and ripe fruit up front in the A to Z version, with just a hint more minerality on the palate. The surprise for me was the unoaked Chardonnay, which balanced Burgundian acidity with New World fruitiness, yet had none of the unctuous barrel fatness on the palate. Crisp and refreshing, this is a Chardonnay to go with heavier seafood, or round enough to drink alone, yet still maintains its distinctive Oregon character. The A to Z Riesling was sweet, but not overly sweet. It had that German-style briskness with lemony undertones and a foundation of slate and limestone. If you like your Asian fare very spicy then I would pair this wine with it–that extra hint of residual sugar will create a perfect balance with spicy food.
So as the temperatures keep rising in sunny Florida, consider some cool climate whites from Oregon. All of these whites are under $20, great values but still deliver big in flavor. As you plan your weekend excursion to the beach, think of the other West Coast wine state, Oregon, then stop by your local ABC and pick up a few of these great wines. You’ll be glad you did.
Dan Eddy, Wine & Spirits Supervisor
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