Matters of Opinion

There are any number of tourist guides to the great Northwest, quite a few offering advice on restaurants and bed and breakfasts as well as notes on national parks and scenic byways. There are also several that deal with Northwest wines, some emphasizing the pictorial, others concentrating on the contents of the bottle. Now two books have appeared that try to cover all these aspects of the Northwest at once, and—surprise—do it pretty darn well. Washington Wine Country (Fodor's, $21.95) and Oregon Wine Country (Fodor's, $21) are both tastefully got up, filled with historic photos and modern color shots of vineyards and winemakers, maps of the various growing regions, brief appreciations of wineries (and some restaurants) of particular interest, and good, basic background material on the art and science of the grape. But the books wouldn't amount to much without the personality of the man who wrote them: Bellinham resident John Doerper has been writing about Northwest food and wine for more than 20 years and, in the course of his travels, has come to hold strong opinions. Those opinions are baldly on view in both new guides, and it is to the credit of Fodor's editors that they didn't try to get Doerper to tone down his judgments. (If they did try, it sure doesn't show.) This from the Washington book, for example: "The city of Seattle is home to several wineries that make wine from eastern Washington grapes. Unfortunately, most of the wineries are neither exciting nor consistent in their output. . . . " Or this on the tiny, artisanal Facelli winery in Woodinville: "just around the corner from . . . Columbia and Ste. Michelle, and it makes wine as good as either of them." But the unexpected slams and boosts in Doerper's Washington book pale beside the heretical stand he takes in his Oregon volume. Put simply, Doerper doesn't think that Oregon pinot noir—the state's princess grape, its claim to world-class vinous distinction—is all it's cracked up to be. In fact, he saves his highest praise for the wines of the Umpqua and Rogue valleys in the state's southwest, wines which perennially have suffered irritably in the shade of their high-bred cousins to the damper north. Is Doerper "right" where so many experts have been wrong? Not at all; his is one man's opinion, but it's an opinion cultivated through decades of traveling, sipping, and thinking. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with one or another of his judgment calls, you couldn't have a better companion on your wine exploration jaunts: one that fits snugly into the glove compartment, no less.

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