Finding Friends, New Wines and Excellent Salmon at Passport to Oregon

Memphis native Don Crank, a winemaker with Willamette Valley Vineyards, pours a taste at the annual event Passport to Oregon.

I’ve never visited Oregon, and I’m a newbie to wine tastings, so I was happy to meet Jeane Mercer and Breen Bland last Thursday at Passport to Oregon, a festive and informative tasting at the University Club in Midtown organized by Joe’s Wines & Liquors.


The couple practice law in Memphis, but travel to Oregon regularly to enjoy the state’s wines and their property on the northwest coast.


We’ve visited many of these same wineries,” Mercer said, checking off her favorites on my tasting list. “If you like sparkling, try Argyle.” (I did, and the Blanc de Blancs 2008 was excellent.)


Bland added that he appreciates the feel of Oregon, and the energy the state’s winemakers bring to their craft.


It’s like the Sonoma Valley in the mid-‘80s, but the wines are much, much better,” he said.


Michael Hughes, general manager of Joe’s, agreed.


Oregon wines are vibrant and full of life,” he said. “And so are the winemakers.”


More than 250 people attended the sold-out event, which included a hearty spread of gourmet sausages, cheeses and expertly prepared salmon served with chopped hard-boiled egg, capers and diced red peppers. The food provided a nice respite from the wine tasting room, where participants sampled dozens of Pinot Noirs, Oregon’s signature wine, and soaked up as much information as they could remember.


I suspect those who spit out their wine after tasting instead of swallowing it learned a little more than me. I did learn, however, some distinctions between Prosecco and Champagne. While both wines are effervescent, champagne is fermented in the bottle and comes from the Champagne region of France. Prosecco, made in Italy, is fermented outside the bottle, which explains why its bubbles are so tiny.


The event showcased dozens of Oregon wines, so selecting a few bottles to purchase was a bit of a challenge, especially for a novice like me. Here are my selections, along with an average retail price. I seldom spend $25 to $30 for a bottle of wine, so I’m hoping my new appreciation of Oregon wines doesn't permanently dent my love of a good $12 bottle.

  • Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir ($34)
  • Domaine Droughin Cloudline Pinot Noir ($20)
  • Elk Cove Pinot Gris ($20)
  • Elk Cove Pinot Noir ($28)
  • Erath Estate Pinot Noir (and also Victoria's favorite!) ($40)
  • Firesteed Willamette Pinot Noir ($30)


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