Written by Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue, Great Northwest Wine

The drive along Interstate 5 from Portland to Ashland doesn’t offer the stark geologic and cultural differences that Interstate 90 showcases in Washington state, but the styles, diversity and quality of wine created in Southern Oregon are reminiscent of a trip through Eastern Washington. And while wines from the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area remain in the global shadow of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, there’s substantial history and acclaimed winemaking taking place in and around Ashland, the state’s southernmost city.

Visitors from Portland and Seattle will still find plenty of delicious Pinot Noir grown, made and bottled by Rogue Valley wineries. In fact, the prized red grape of Burgundy is the region’s No. 1 wine. Fruity and luscious Pinot Noir grapes from Southern Oregon routinely make their way into many of the state’s largest bottlings, particularly in cool vintages. About a third of the Rogue Valley’s 3,200 acres of vines are devoted to Pinot Noir.

One of the biggest early supporters of Rogue Valley fruit was Willamette Valley Vineyards near Salem. The Pinot Noir producer created its Griffin Creek brand 30 years ago so it could offer customers bigger reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah — grapes that do not perform as well in the cooler Willamette Valley but shine at Quail Run Vineyards.

There’s more remarkable history nearby. In the 1850s, Peter Britt launched Oregon’s first winery in the Applegate Valley town of Jacksonville and operated it as Valley View Winery for more than five decades. The Wisnovsky family revived the brand in the 1970s and continues to operate it.

Today, there are more than 150 vineyards in the Rogue Valley, which also is generating awards with the robust Spanish grape Tempranillo, Rhône Valley varieties such as Grenache and Viognier, and the ever-popular Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

The wine industry now drives tourism through the Rogue Valley. Winemakers with impressive international résumés moved in to make wine for themselves and clients. Multi-generation farmers such as the Naumes family have entered the wine scene. Pioneering growers Don and Traute Moore of Quail Run now operate their own brand: South Stage Cellars in downtown Jacksonville. Their wines are crafted by Napa-trained Linda Donovan as well as Joe Dobbes, who put Quail Run on the map while he was at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

Here is a selection of wines from Rogue Valley producers that were recently evaluated under blind conditions:

DANCIN Vineyards, 2013 Tribute Red Wine 
Southern Oregon, $35

Dan and Cindy Marca reap awards for their work with small lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown on their Jacksonville estate and throughout the state, but this blend of Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo also shows artistry and imagination. And it’s a tip of the hat to Dan’s forefathers who farmed vineyards in Italy. The intense nose of black cherry, pomegranate, dark chocolate and brown sugar turns into a bold drink of Montmorency cherry and fresh cranberry with chocolatey tannins and a great finish. Enjoy with the Italian-themed pizzas at their on-premise café. (170 cases, 13.5% alc.)

L. Donovan Wines, 2013 Reserve Chardonnay
Rogue Valley, $25

Linda Donovan trained at Napa Valley icons Beaulieu, Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg before arriving in the Rogue Valley in 2000. She makes wines for a variety of clients at her Pallet Wine Co., in Medford, but she carves out some time and space for her eponymous brand. This bottling from Hoyal Vineyard is what you might expect of a California-style Chardonnay, showing signs of 30 percent new French oak with 100 percent malolactic fermentation in barrel. Big aromas of toasted coconut, butter and apple lead to pleasing butterscotch richness on the palate. There’s more of the toasted coconut with notes of fresh mango, dried pineapple and spiciness on the finish. Suggested pairings include grilled salmon, sautéed mushrooms or pork, and these wines are sold at her quaint tasting room within Valley View Orchard in Ashland. (200 cases, 13% alc.)

Folin Cellars, 2013 Estate Grenache
Rogue Valley, $34

This red, ripe and juicy Rhône grape is enjoying a renaissance in the Northwest, and Rob Folin has planted an acre of it on his Gold Hill property north of Medford. He allows for a fanciful nose of raspberry, cherry and cranberry with clove and spearmint. On the palate, expect a delicious and elegant approach of more raspberry and Rainier cherry. There’s no need for a corkscrew to get at this because the 1,500-case winery uses the stylish and effective glass Vino-Seal cork. Folin, who also operates a seasonal tasting room in the Willamette Valley town of Carlton, enjoys pairing his Grenache with grilled ratatouille. (200 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Harry and David Vineyards, 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir
Rogue Valley, $30

This historic Oregon pear producer recently entered the wine industry and works with Linda Donovan and Pallet Wine Co., using quarter-century-old Pinot Noir vines. Last year, this merited a gold medal at two regional competitions because of its aromas of rhubarb, red cherry and a hint of moist earthiness, followed by elegant flavors of raspberry and pomegranate. (5,244 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Kriselle Cellars, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
Rogue Valley, $22

Bay Area civil engineer Scott Steingraber worked in Washington state before deciding in 2003 to transition into a full-time winemaker and grower near the Rogue River in White City with his wife, Krisell. Their Sauvignon Blanc is a serious one that’s snappy and grassy with a racy theme of gooseberry, Granny Smith apple, quince and kumquat. Its bone-dry finish makes this a great oyster wine. (556 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Pebblestone Cellars, 2014 Ellis Vineyard Viognier
Rogue Valley, $20

A decade ago, Richard and Pat Ellis chose Southern Oregon over the Bay Area, purchasing this decade-old Ashland vineyard in 2003. The first vines they added were two acres of Geneva and clone 01 Viognier at this 1,600-foot-elevation site, and those blocks have helped put Pebblestone Cellars on the map. Bryan Wilson crafts the wines for the family, and he uses oak on this floral white Rhône grape, which allows for a full expression of orange Creamsicle, white peach and Spanish almond. Tangerine acidity keeps it crisp and makes it friendly with a plate of artisan cheese and charcuterie, shellfish in cream sauces or Asian fare. Earlier this year, Pebblestone made headlines by winning best of class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition — the nation’s largest wine judging — with this Viognier. And that was no fluke. The 2013 vintage grabbed gold at the Chronicle in 2015. Look for this in Southern Oregon at the Jacksonville Inn, Market of Choice in Ashland or Harry and David’s Country Store in Medford. (300 cases produced, 14.3% alc.)

Plaisance Ranch, 2013 Mondeusé
Applegate Valley, $30

Are you in one of those “century clubs” where membership comes after having tasted 100 wine grape varieties? Here’s a fun entry. Joe Ginet’s farming and ranching heritage starts in the France region of Savoie — home to Mondeusé Noire — so he arranged for cuttings in a relative’s vineyard to go through quarantine at Missouri State University. He now grows these grapes, a product of the nursery operation and vineyard near his organically farmed ranch. The wine offers sweet aromas of blueberry and black currant with vanilla bean, black pepper and clove. On the pour, there’s a bold entry of blue fruit with raspberry acidity that leads to a fascinating finish of sandy tannins and milk chocolate. (100 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Quady North, 2014 Pistoleta
Rogue Valley, $19

His family is famous in California for its dessert wine program, but Herb Quady continues to make his own mark throughout the Northwest, especially for his work with Rhône varieties. He and his mother farm much of the fruit for this blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. It opens with aromas of pear, pineapple, baked apple, fruit-cake, candy and minerality with flavors to match. Bright acidity and that ripe golden fruit profile make for a harmonious midpalate and a delicious finish that bodes well with Asian fare and fish tacos. Look for his wines at Fred Meyer, New Seasons and Zupan markets around Portland. (983 cases, 12.5% alc.)

Red Lily Vineyards, 2013 Night School
Southern Oregon, $32

Rachael Martin shines with grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula, especially with her award-winning Tempranillo bottlings from her Jacksonville estate. Understandably, she focuses her fortified red dessert wine program on traditional Port varieties Tinta Cão (60%), Touriga Naçional (31%) and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). The proprietary name hints at the night-time winemaking often required to find the exact time to add the fermentation-finishing brandy, and she hit the sweet spot with the profile of dark cherry, dried plum, huckleberry, golden raisin and baking spice. Closing notes of milk chocolate and almond make for a plush and balanced finish. (150 cases, 18.6% alc.)

Schultz Wines
2012 Freedom Fir Crest Vineyard Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, $29

The Schultz family operates a vineyard and farm in Grants Pass, and partner with Linda Donovan in Medford on their wine program, but they source this Pinot Noir from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Affable aromas of raspberry, black cherry and blueberry are framed by lightly toasted wood and rich spices. The pour brings a rush of blueberry and Bing cherry flavors, backed by chocolate-covered pomegranate. Its length and intensity will marry nicely with duck confit or prime rib. (70 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Weisinger Family Winery, 2012 Malbec
Rogue Valley, $28

Second-generation vigneron Eric Weisinger made wine throughout the New World before returning home and taking the reins on the winery his father founded in Ashland in 1979. He relies on Gold Vineyard for this red Bordeaux variety, and it produces remarkable aromas of cracked black pepper, dusty blueberry, Bing cherry and allspice. There’s nice elegance to the structure behind the flavors of plum and cherry as rounded tannins and acidity frame the fruit and transition to a finish of blueberry/pomegranate juice and spice. The Weisingers, among the first in Oregon to provide a guest cottage among Pinot Noir vines, pair this Malbec with their recipe for Chicken Drumsticks and Asian Barbecue Sauce.(124 cases, 13.9% alc.)