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Originally published May 26, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Page modified May 27, 2012 at 8:39 AM

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A welcome Rainstorm in the NW wine market

Rainstorm not only celebrates the uniqueness of Oregon but also smartly pinpoints the state's success to its most distinctive wines, pinot gris and pinot noir.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Wine By Joe 2009 Pinot Noir; $15

THE STANDOUT in the Wine By Joe lineup, this is a clean, medium-bodied, elegant wine. Cherry and plum fruit is accented with light herb and cola, and the finish lingers nicely with decent concentration. (Distributed by Young's Market)

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FOR MORE than two decades, both Washington and Oregon have been most fortunate when out-of-state wine companies have decided to invest in the region. With rare exceptions, these investments have been well-managed, quality-driven and long-term. Last year, when the Mariani family (the American owners of Italy's Banfi Vintners) purchased Pacific Rim from Randall Grahm, it was my sincere hope that they wouldn't meddle with what had already become a very successful riesling-oriented winery.

They have done far more. With the recent, rather quiet launch of VinMotion — a self-proclaimed "different and dynamic kind of wine company" — the Marianis are expanding their Northwest business to embrace the entire region.

Rainstorm, whose first two wines were recently released, is designed to be their calling-card brand for Oregon pinot gris and pinot noir. Along with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (owners of the Erath winery), Precept Wine and King Estate, VinMotion has the global reach and marketing muscle to effectively promote the state, not just the wines.

The colorful Rainstorm labels depict Portland icons: salmon, sneakers, bicycles, coffee, guitars, clouds and plenty of wine grapes. "We may get a lot of rain in Oregon, but we're hardly washed up. We're weird. We're wired. And we're always inspired," notes the website (www.pinotpassion.com). Rainstorm not only celebrates the uniqueness of Oregon but also smartly pinpoints the state's success to its most distinctive wines, pinot gris and pinot noir. Better still, they are made in the modern mode, which is to say, low alcohol (12.5 percent), food-friendly and affordable.

The 2011 Rainstorm Pinot Gris ($12) is bone dry, immaculately fresh and lees-aged, with lovely depth and finesse. Flavors of melon and cucumber dominate, and the crisp acidity offers bracing minerality rather than simple sourness.

The 2009 Rainstorm Pinot Noir ($16) belongs with Oregon's best pinot noir values. Complex and substantial, it has pretty berry fruit at the core, wrapped in palate-pleasing accents of cola, chocolate and nougat.

As a category, Oregon pinot gris has enjoyed a fair amount of success, partly by keeping prices between $12 and $17 a bottle. Despite the cheap ticket, quality has consistently improved. These days, most are fruit-driven wines that are much less oaky than in the past, hence more flexible at mealtime. Some to look for:

Oak Knoll 2009 Pinot Gris ($14). Delicate, with flower and fruit nicely integrated. Meyer lemon, tangerine, pear and even a hint of candied papaya mingle beautifully, set in a fine-tuned frame of acid and mineral.

Cristom 2009 Pinot Gris ($17). A tart and beautifully defined mix of apple and pear fruit, with a steely spine and dappled baking spices. Excellent balance and mouthfeel, with a finishing mineral note.

Carabella 2010 Estate Pinot Gris ($17). An elegant and detailed pinot gris with fresh floral accents and spicy, toasty, well-mixed fruit. Pear and orange fruit flavors carry a slight hint of honey.

Excellent Oregon pinot noirs are abundant but pricier. Most of the good ones start at $25 and go straight up from there. In the under-$20 category, along with this new Rainstorm pinot, here are a couple of others to try:

Red Door 2010 Pinot Noir ($18). Light scents of pure pinot fruit lead into a palate of light, brambly strawberry flavors. Tart and showing a hint of rhubarb, this is a clean, fruit-driven, no-frills style.

Hedgeline 2010 Pinot Noir ($19). A gentle, stylish wine, ready for near-term enjoyment. The pretty plum fruit is lightly dusted with cocoa, softening the tannins and adding spice to the finish.

Paul Gregutt's blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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