Every February, I’m often asked, “What should I be drinking on Valentine’s Day?” It’s a day filled with marketing, and you’ll probably see abundant advertisements for Rosé and Champagne. But it’s a personal selection, one that not only tastes great but also stirs heartwarming emotions. For my wife and me, this means wines from Willamette Valley. My wife is from Portland, and I proposed to her in 2016 at Willamette Valley Vineyard. The nervousness I felt that day made the wine taste brighter than ever.
The Willamette Valley Vineyard staff was so kind as to help orchestrate a never-to-forget wedding proposal. In the Orville Room, I played a song on my clarinet – Gabriel’s Oboe from “The Mission” – which echoed through the winery’s beautiful caves. As I’m currently in my 20th year as a clarinet player with Army National Guard, my wife has long been familiar with my impromptu performances. But this performance was more special than most, because I got down on one knee in front of her parents and family, and I asked her to marry me. We spent the rest of the evening celebrating and enjoying a five-course meal – it was a night to remember! The Pinot Noir has held a special place in our hearts since that evening, and we continue to drink it every Valentine’s Day.
If you’re looking for a Willamette Valley recommendation this Valentine’s Day, try one of these:
Willamette Valley Vineyards, Estate, Pinot Noir
Our sentimental favorite, made from a mix of their estate vineyards throughout Willamette, spanning different temperatures and soil types. It expresses the terroir of the original planting in Salem Hills, Tualatin Estate up north, and Elton in Eola. Overall, it’s soft, delicate, and fruity without showy tannins. It pairs well with cranberry and filbert salad, butternut squash ravioli, and poached salmon.
Ponzi, Pinot Gris
I don’t drink Pinot Gris very much, from Oregon, Italy, to Alsace. However, there’s something about Ponzi Pinot Gris that sparks memories. The wine always tastes lively and bright. Ponzi is one of the pioneers of the Willamette Valley, and they planted every grape varietal to figure out which one worked best. Pinot Gris ended up thriving, and Ponzi still uses some of their original 1978 plantings in this wine. It is a great stand-alone wine, but also pairs well with poke and sashimi.
Rex Hill, Seven Soils, Chardonnay
I was hoping to bump into Coach Gregg Popovich while I was here, but no luck since it was the middle of the season. The Chardonnay here at Rex Hill caught my attention. I normally spit out on winery tours, but I gulped this Chardonnay down. I remember it being wonderfully smooth and light, the perfect way to start an important day. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay from select Willamette Valley vineyards chosen for complexity and fermented and aged in small French oak barrels for depth and longevity. We drank the wine standing in the Jacob-Hart Vineyard, which is the backbone to this wine, an interesting vineyard in Chahalem which has both volcanic and sedimentary soils depending on which section of the vineyard you are. Pair it with fettucine and browned butter or sous vide chicken breast.
About the Expert: Patrick Okubo, Master Sommelier
Patrick Okubo is a Master Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator for Young’s Market Company in Hawaii. Since 2011, Patrick has applied his advanced knowledge of fine wine to lead educational events across the Hawaiian Islands for Young’s fine wine division, The Estates Group. When he’s not pouring (or enjoying!) fine wine, you can find Patrick playing the clarinet for the Hawaii National Guard, where he’s served as a Team Leader since 1999. [Pictured] Patrick with two Albariño favorites: Licia and Don Olegario.