Wines That Surprise


“The only thing that should surprise me here is that some things still surprise me.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Okay, so who doesn’t like a good surprise? There are few things in life more delicious than a pleasantly unexpected experience or one that exceeds your expectations. When I drink a glass of wine and discover it exists in this happy place that lies somewhere between my predictions, assumptions and reality—I realize how much I love surprises.

To be honest, not many wines surprise me these days. But when they do, it’s not something I keep to myself. The following wines are non-Pinot noir jaw-droppers that I must confess recently left me marveling at the wonder and brilliance of Oregon wine.

Abacela 2012 Albariño: Absolutely ambrosial. Walking a very thin line between creaminess, crisp acidity and rich minerality, this wine will not only dazzle you with the color of sunshine but also with the flavors of Asian pear, apricot and Razzles. Yes, Razzles. Remember the jingle? “First it’s a candy, then it’s a gum, little round Razzles are so much fun.” This Spanish-style white wine would be simply sublime with pan-seared calamari, but if you’re looking for a surprising pairing, try it with traditional Spanish tapas, such as Red Pepper Coca.

Adelsheim 2012 Auxerrois: Adelsheim is one of just two producers in the United States growing this nearly forgotten French wine. Typically blended with Pinot blanc to create cremants d’alsace, Adelsheim preserves the distinctive characteristics and bottles its estate grown auxerrois as a single-varietal wine. This is definitely a food wine, the steely minerality screams to be served alongside briny oysters.

Dobbes Family Estate 2011 Grenache Blanc: Wanting to do something different, Joe Dobbes was the first Oregon winemaker to produce a 100% grenache blanc in 2009. Lucky for us, he’s still at it. Like lemon custard, this wine is simultaneously tart and buttery rich, and sip after lingering sip left me wanting more. The flavors of lemon, kefir lime and tangerine play well together with a texture and mouthfeel that provides an impressive alternative to chardonnay or Pinot gris. Charming all on its own, this wine would be divine alongside an order of crab cakes.

Helioterra 2012 Mouvedre: This bombshell of a wine is every bit as complex as it is approachable. Blackberries and rhubarb leap from the glass, but the perfect balance of earth, fruit and peppery spice will linger on your lips long into the night.  Mouvedre is traditionally a blending wine from the Rhone region of France, but winemaker Anne Hubatch lets it stand alone, showing off mouvedre star-quality potential. This wine ain’t a backup singer. It commands center stage with black fruit flavors (cherry, plum and blackberries), a gorgeous ruby hue and hints of tobacco. Hubatch successfully combines an old world rustic style with new world fruit-forwardness to produce a wine full of both flavor and character—one you’ll want to get to know again and again. The Helioterra mouvedre will delight you on its own, but try it with rack of lamb or a savory beef stew and you’ll be wondering where it’s been all your life.

Remy Wines 2010 Lagrein: An extremely uncommon wine in the Willamette Valley, and one that’s sure to win you over. In fact, Remy is the only Oregon producer of Lagrein that I know of, produced with fruit from Illahe vineyard. The grape is a descendant of teroldego (check out Purple Cow’s Teroldego) and a relative of syrah, Pinot noir and dureza. Inky in color, dark and dense without being heavy, this wine is sexy, yet unassuming—kind of like the girl next door. Don’t expect syrah or Pinot noir, but do expect a drink that’s sweet, savory, delicious, rustic, chewy and refined. One sip and you’ll find yourself completely mesmerized by aromas of black cherries, black plums, and luscious pie spices such as nutmeg and vanilla. The twenty-nine months this wine spends in barrel gives it enough backbone to stand up to heavy meat dishes (think prime rib), but don’t be afraid to try it with a mushroom risotto.

Teutonic 2012 Pinot Meunier: This wine is low in alcohol and high in acid; brilliant and food friendly, just the way I like ‘em. Think Red Vines cherry licorice. Juicy, tart pomegranate and sweet ripe raspberry seems plucked right off the bush. Made in the German mosel style, it’s practically bursting with red fruit. The wine is fermented in neutral oak with wild yeast, and the fruit flavors come through loud and clear. Consider this wine for your holiday table—a more perfect pairing for wild game birds might not be possible.

These wines aren’t hard to come by, if you know what you’re looking for, but they may require more than a grocery store drive-by. Visit the wineries or visit their websites. Either way, seek them out, drink them down and let them astound you. Surprises like these don’t happen every day.

TamaraBelgard-headshotSM Tamara Belgard moved to Oregon more than a decade ago in search of professional, cultural and recreational opportunities but discovered an even greater passion for Oregon wine. When not exploring Oregon’s wine country and culinary scene, she enjoys skiing, swimming, biking, hiking, live music, soaking up rare bits of sunshine, cooking for her friends and family and spending quality time with her two sons. Tamara is a marketing communications professional by day, wine writer by night, and takes immense pleasure in sharing Oregon’s best kept wine secrets with her readers. You can learn more about her Oregon wine journey on her blog Sip With Me.

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