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Fall in love with Oregon chardonnays

Symposium, tasting bring out some of this wine's most noble characteristics

Not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars that I live in Oregon. We've got it all - fresh air, clean water, crashing waves on the beach, picturesque hiking trails and killer skiing on the mountain slopes. We can choose from a plethora of great music and live theater and enjoy watching ourselves on television shows like 'Grimm' and 'Portlandia.' And talk about great food! There is no shortage of wonderful restaurants from which to choose.

And did I mention the wine?

We have long boasted about our Oregon pinot noirs but friends have you tasted our chardonnays lately? They'll make you fall in love Oregon all over again.

I was invited to Red Ridge Farms to attend an Oregon Chardonnay symposium and tasting recently. Leading the session was Erica Landon, sommelier and wine director for Bruce Carey Restaurants (23 Hoyt, saucebox, Blue Hour, clarklewis and Via Tribunali) and the Heathman Restaurant and Bar. She is the proprietor for Walter Scott Wines, and is an instructor and department head for The International Sommelier Guild. She knows wine … very well.

Presenting information about Oregon chardonnays were expert winemakers Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge, Marcus Goodfellow of Matello Wine, Isabelle Meunier of Evening Land Vineyards, Jesse Lange of Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards and Dave Paige of Adelsheim Vineyards. They wanted to teach us about Oregon chardonnays and the specific techniques they use to create these stellar wines.

Landon began by giving us a history lesson on how chardonnay grapes came to America and how eventually the Ponzi family brought the first chardonnay vines to Oregon. She recounted David Adelsheim's trip to Burgundy, France, to research winemaking and how he convinced Oregon State University to create a quarantine for importing plant material, which led to eight clones from the University of Dijon in France becoming available to Oregon winemakers.

From their discussion it is apparent that, like all agriculture, growing grapes and making wine is hard work, requiring patience and an alertness to the changing characteristics of the fruit. Many factors must be considered when deciding which grapes to grow where. And once you have the fruit grown, even more care goes into its transformation into wine.

As we in the audience soaked up the winemakers' knowledge and absorbed their passion for what they do, we sipped the fruits of their labor. They talked of planting, harvesting, crushing, yeast selection and inoculation, fermentation, debated the benefits of battonage and waxed on about maturation. They talked of their work with a reverence that let you know these wines weren't created for mass distribution or to be guzzled as you sat in front of the television set in your sweats on a Saturday night. You will want to pay attention to these wines as you drink them so you don't miss any of the pleasurable taste and sensations. You can almost taste the love that goes into the creation of these Oregon chardonnays, friends. It is almost a holy experience … really.

This is what we sampled, along with excerpts from the tasting notes provided by the wineries:

Adelsheim Vineyard's Caitlin's Reserve Chardonnay

The techniques used to produce this wine are, unsurprisingly, quite similar to those employed by the finest vintners in Burgundy. The grapes were hand picked and pressed as whole clusters with a gentle bladder press. The wine was 100 percent barrel fermented in small French oak barrels. Aging for 10 months allowed the Chardonnay and oak flavors to meld and the tannins to elongate, thereby softening and rounding the wine.

Durant Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay Dundee Hills

The 2010 Chardonnay was made by Dean Fisher, who has been handcrafting exquisite wines in Oregon for many years and has sourced Durant fruit for some of his best wines. The 2010 Chardonnay is fruit forward, letting the delicious chardonnay fruit show through. A hit of oak can be found mid palate and on the finish. Full malolactic fermentation with weekly stirring of the lees adds to the development of mouthfeel and aromatics.

Evening Land Vineyards, 2008 La Source Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard/ Eola Amity Hills

Evening Land Vineyards is considered the 'hottest new kid in Oregon's blossoming wine scene.'

Farming and winemaking techniques in each of the Evening Land Vineyards are deployed to align the wines closely with each of the individual and unique terroirs. In Oregon, consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon leads winemaker Isabelle Meunier and her winery and vineyard team employing his unique vision springing from his 25 years as a winemaker at one of Burgundy's legendary Estates.

Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards, 2010 Three Hills Cuvee Chardonnay

Dubbed 'Lingerie Chardonnay' by Jesse Lange, this wine is fermented partially in stainless steel (naked) and neutral French oak (lightly cloaked), lending it richness while maintaining the crisp acidity for which Lange white wines are known. The high-toned nose displays hints of mandarin cream, ripe peach, and lemon-lime zest. The round, rich palate burst with dried mango, green pear, and cantaloupe with notes of citrus, almond and anise. The finish is long and lush with crisp acidity. This Chardonnay demands your attention from first sip to supple finish and is truly a wine not to be missed!

Matello Wine 2010 Chardonnay, Richard's Cuvee

There is an old French axiom that says, 'Tradition is an experiment that worked.' At Matello their goal is to try to think outside the box of modern winemaking by exploring the methods of tradition. Renewing focus on the most basic aspects of winemaking: Grapes, farming, fermentation and patience.

Tasting notes: Aromas of lemon cream, apricot, and star fruit with fresh wood, desert brush and pine. The palate has flavors of kumquat, mandarin and apricot with notes of mulled spices and a red currant finish. There is elegant weight and texture in the mouth. The wine is linear rather than round with juice acidity, some tannin and a long finish with a sense of rock dust.

If you are looking for a special bottle of wine for your Valentine, I suggest you pick up one of these. Rick Baldwin at World Class Wines on A Avenue in Lake Oswego said he has carried some of the list, but switches inventory all the time. He currently has several in the same class and quality such as the 09 Stoller Dundee Hills SV Estate chardonnay, Winderlea Willamette Valley Chardonnay, Del Rio Rouge Valley chardonnay and the 09 Chehalem Stoller Vineyard chardonnay.

Your Valentine might also enjoy sampling Oregon pinots and French burgundies when the Heathman's 2012 Wine Dinner Series begins on Feb. 21. Featured that evening will be the wines of Evening Land Vineyards and Domaine Dominique Lafon. Hosted by Landon and coupled with the cuisine of Culinary Director Philippe Boulot and Executive Chef Michael Stanton, the evening promises to be full of delicious food, elegant wine and engaging education. Cost is $175 per person, gratuity not included. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception with dinner following at 7 p.m. Call the Heathman at 503-790-7752 for more information.

Fall in love with Oregon all over again this Valentine's Day. Serve your sweetheart a delicious Oregon chardonnay, and, to seal the deal, try this exotic Moroccan Salmon Fillet. It is what I'll be making with love for Mark!

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Moroccan Salmon Fillet

Serves 4

1½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1¾ to 2 pounds salmon fillet

Preheat oven to 400ºF. In a mortar and pestle, combine cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Grind until coriander seed is just broken. Alternatively, seeds may be placed in a spice grinder and pulsed until coriander is just broken, do not over process. Spices may also be crushed using a heavy cast iron skillet. Transfer seeds to a small bowl, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Press spices into flesh of salmon, coating heavily.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet (cast iron works best) over medium heat. Place salmon, spice-side down, into the pan. Cook until spices are dry, golden and toasted, about 4 minutes. Immediately transfer pan to oven, and cook until salmon is cooked through, about 6 more minutes, depending on thickness of fillet. Transfer salmon, spice side up, to a serving platter. Serve warm.

Cook's note: the rule of thumb for cooking fish is 10 minutes per inch. Watch for signs of doneness: flesh turning opaque and from bright orange to pink. Do not overcook.

BR

In case you need something sweet ….

Almond Cherry Chocolate Bark

Rather than breaking this candy into the traditional bark pieces, cut it with a heart shaped cookie cutter.

3/4 cup whole skin-on almonds

12 ounces dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cocoa)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

toasted almonds

1/3 cup dried tart cherries

Heat oven to 350°F. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, toast 3/4 cup whole skin-on almonds until fragrant and light gold, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely; transfer to a bowl. Fill a medium saucepan with 1 inch water; bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Set a large heatproof bowl atop saucepan, making sure water doesn't touch bottom of bowl. Place 10 ounces dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cocoa) in bowl; melt, stirring, until smooth. Remove bowl from saucepan; add another 2 ounces dark chocolate and stir until smooth. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, toasted almonds and 1/3 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped. Pour onto baking sheet; spread into an even layer about 1/4 inch thick. Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour. Break into 24 pieces.

Bon Appetit, Dec. 2011

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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