A Wine Pairing Dinner to Fall For
While our group of wine and food enthusiasts listened to David Vilalli tell the history of Silcox, it was hard to imagine that the cozy and inviting building, where we were about to indulge in some fantastic food and wine, was once considered decrepit. The stone floors and walls, along with the arched beam wooden ceilings and windows created a unique and warm ambiance, all of it tucked under feet of snow. Inside, one long table down the center of the room, with a kitchen on one end and a large fireplace on the other, was elegantly set for 24, and I was looking forward to a very exclusive Valentine's Day Dinner.
We started the evening with a glass of Willamette Valley Vineyards 2011 Dry Rosé, three delightful appetizers were offered as pairings: Sterling Caviar, Cold Smoked Salmon and Dungeness Crab Salad. The Dry Rosé is a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo sourced from Willamette Valley Vineyard's Tualatin Estate vineyard, which is one of the oldest in the state. With juicy watermelon and fresh strawberry aromas and flavors, a hint of honey and a shot of lemon zest on the finish creates a well-rounded, totally enjoyable wine. Although the Dungeness Crab Salad was my favorite of the three appetizers, the Sterling Caviar, which was atop Rosé Gelée and Freeze-Dried Strawberry, was an absolutely stellar pairing with the wine.
The first course was Scallops and Steelhead Roe with Lemon, Green Apple, Pine Nut Gazpacho and Radishes, paired with Willamette Valley Vineyards 2011 Pinot Gris. Instead of your basic stainless steel fermented Pinot Gris, this one is blended with a small amount of barrel-fermented Pinot Blanc, along with one percent of Early Muscat, which creates really vibrant aromatics. There's also a bit of lees stirring: winemaker Don Crank takes a stick and stirs the lees to make them (dead yeast cells on the bottom of the tank) come back into suspension, which gives a lean and acid-driven wine, like Pinot Gris, with excellent body and complexity. I loved the dominant honeysuckle aromas, which were enhanced by hints of apple and Key Lime Pie. On the palate, the aromas came to life along with a gorgeous creamy mouthfeel and a long lasting finish that was vibrant, bright and crisp. The texture and flavors of the wine truly paired well with the scallops and salty roe, but I absolutely loved the combination of flavors with the Green Apple, which had been compressed in a vacuum with lemon juice and parsley puree, giving it a bright green color and super concentrated flavors. (Wow.)
The second course was Alaskan Halibut with Passionfruit, Hazelnuts, Parsnip Chips, Freeze Dried Corn and Vanilla seasoned EVOO Powder. Yes, an Extra Virgin Olive Oil powder. The EVOO comes from the Dundee Hills in Oregon and is flavored with vanilla bean and turned into a powdered form. As soon as it hits the tongue, it turns back into its liquid state—very interesting, and quite tasteful. The Halibut was paired with two different Willamette Valley Vineyards Chardonnays: 2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Dijon Clone Chardonnay and 2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay. The 2010 Dijon Clone Chardonnay comes from two different vineyards, their estate site and a vineyard site located in Elkton, Oregon, named Elkton Vineyards.
“The Elton site was planted at the same time as our estate site by a wonderful couple, Dick and Betty O'Brien. They did everything for love, nothing for money," said Don Crank. "I love these guys. They're educators and they had no children. When they pass away, they're going to leave their entire property to OSU [Oregon State University] and Chemeketa [Chemeketa Community College and Viticulture Center] to teach future generations of winemakers and wine growers. They're just the coolest people, and I love their vineyard."
The 2011 Estate Chardonnay is also Dijon Clone, all from their estate property, and a little more new French oak is showcased in this one, versus the 2010 vintage. I loved both of the Chardonnays for similar reasons: each had great acidic backbones that rounded out wonderful tropical notes and beautiful, creamy textures. Because the 2010 vintage was slightly brighter than the 2011, I preferred it with the Halibut dish; however, both of my glasses were empty by the time I finished the second course.
The main course was Neuske's Bacon Wrapped Saddle of Rabbit with Pickled Mustard Seeds, Fennel Pollen Ricotta, Fingerlings, Roasted Beets and Beet Caramel. Two different Pinot Noirs were offered as pairings: 2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir and 2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Hannah Pinot Noir. A common characteristic that I've found in many 2009 vintage Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs is beet, or beet root, and cranberries, so I immediately knew why Chef Smith had included roasted beets and beet caramel in the dish to be paired with these Pinot Noirs. The Hannah Pinot Noir really displayed the typical '09 characteristics, and offered additional aromas and flavors of Bing cherries and fall spices. The Elton Pinot Noir had additional aromas and flavors of vanilla, mocha and earth, which I thought was the best pairing with the main dish. Again, both of my glasses of Pinot Noir were gone before the next course was served, and they were both distinctive and delectable.