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Northwest Wines: Explore beyond Pinot Noir in Southern Oregon

Oregon winemaker Linda Donovan transformed the historic Cooley-Neff Building, a former lumber and dry-goods warehouse in downtown Medford, into Pallet Wine Co., starting in 2009.
Oregon winemaker Linda Donovan transformed the historic Cooley-Neff Building, a former lumber and dry-goods warehouse in downtown Medford, into Pallet Wine Co., starting in 2009. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

While it is true that the vast majority of the Oregon wine industry is in the Willamette Valley, a growing and fascinating wine region is developing in Southern Oregon.

Regions such as the Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate valleys stretch from just south of Eugene to the California border near Ashland. In these stretches of land, the climate tends to be warmer and more conducive to a wider variety of grapes than the Pinot Noir-centric Willamette Valley to the north.

While much of Southern Oregon has seen growth in the past 15 years, it is in fact one of the older wine regions, with a history that stretches back more than century.

Tempranillo is one of the stars in Southern Oregon, but you'll also find such varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec, along with a diverse array of white wines.

Want to try something completely different in Oregon wine country? Explore the southern end of the state.

Here are a few Southern Oregon wines we've tried in recent weeks. Contact the wineries directly to purchase.

Plaisance Ranch 2013 Carménère, Applegate Valley, $30: The dark and intense nose of molasses, blackberry, plum and sweet cherry comes with sweet herbs and spices. There’s a pleasing texture to the plush tannins and great balance to the drink of luscious cherries and currants. There's a lingering finish of mocha and chai spices.

Red Lily Vineyards 2012 Red Blanket Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, $22: The nose expresses Bing cherry, red currant and dark plum, backed by wild rose, pepper and pleasing oak spice.There’s a nice approach of dark red fruit joined by mouthfilling but managed tannins akin to blueberry skins. That pleasing texture is capped by notes of loganberry and cherry.

DANCIN Vineyards 2013 Tribute Red Wine, Southern Oregon, $35: This blend of Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo opens with deep aromas of black cherry, pomegranate, dark chocolate and brown sugar lead to a vibrant drink of cherry and fresh cranberry with chocolaty tannins and sterling acidity.

Folin Cellars 2013 Estate Grenache, Rogue Valley, $34: Here's a classic Northwest example, starting with aromas of cranberry, cherry and raspberry with fresh mint and a pinch of clove. The drink flows with delicious flavors of Rainier cherry and raspberry, backed with juicy acidity.

L. Donovan Wines 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Rogue Valley, $25: This Chardonnay is unfined, unfiltered and offers rich aromas of butter, Lady Alice apple and toasted coconut. There’s delicious butterscotch on the entry with toasted coconut that leads to flavors of mango and pineapple.

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2012 Barbera, Umpqua Valley, $26: Rich and penetrating aromas of dark black fruit, toast, smoked ham and fresh shoe leather lead to flavors of blackberry and black currant. Pomegranate acidity, leather and strawberry combine for a sensual finish.

Weisinger Family Winery 2012 Malbec, Rogue Valley, $28: Remarkable aromas of cracked black pepper, dusty blueberry, Bing cherry and allspice give way to flavors of plum and cherry as rounded tannins and acidity frame the fruit and transition to a finish of blueberry/pomegranate juice and spice.

South Stage Cellars 2014 Pinot Blanc, Rogue Valley, $24: The lovely nose bring to mind tropical fruit, lemon meringue pie and pear with astounding florals of gardenia and magnolia. Orchard fruit flavors of pear, lemon and lime come together with an elegant texture as pear skin and nuttiness are brushed aside by a deliciously food-friendly finish.

Quady North 2012 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley, $29: This brings aromas of Ovaltine powder and toast with black cherry, caramel and chocolate, followed by dark tones of black cherry and plum. The bold structure finishes with flavors of pomegranate and elderberry.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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