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Willamette Valley

Plat du Jour Friday February 1, 2013: Taste of the NFL, What is Confit?, Sri Lankan Cuisine on Staten Island, A Few Oregon Pinot Noir Notes, and Super Bowl Reservations

It’s the eve of Super Bowl Eve in New Orleans. Do you think a few people just might be strolling down Bourbon Street right now? Care to take a guess how long the wait at the bar for a cocktail is presently at Cure? My guess is a good hour to 90 minutes.

The dinner hour is presently ending in New Orleans, unless you’re planning on beignets at Café du Monde for a late dinner/ early breakfast, or whatever a 2 am meal is considered.

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Looking ahead to prime dinner time Saturday night February 2nd, good reservations can still be found on OpenTable for parties of 2. A Mano, Coquette, Lüke (a CBD John Besh spin-off), Ralph’s on the Park, and MiLa all are excellent choices with availability. But, hurry fast. The list is impressive and extensive for those fully booked: Bayona, Cochon, Emeril’s, Herbsaint, Lilette, Pascal’s Manale, August, R’evolution, Sylvain, and Stella!. Not that that is surprising in the least. You can always gamble and try to walk into Galatoire’s…

Then again Sunday night during the Super Bowl, there is even less availability, with nearly all of these restaurants being somewhat formal and not having televisions. Are people not watching the game or are all the chefs closing so they can watch at home or attend the game? I don’t blame them.

If you’re not spending Saturday night February 2nd at Cochon or Bouligny Tavern, then certainly consider attending one of Super Bowl Week’s always special annual events: The Taste of the NFL. (more…)


Wines of the Week: Soter Vineyards, 2011 North Valley Chardonnay and 2007 Napa Valley Proprietary Red, Carlton, Oregon

Hold the glass for a moment. A wine of the week, or actually, two wines of the week, both from Oregon, and neither is a Pinot Noir? How say you?

That’s no slight on one of the Willamette Valley’s finest wineries, Soter Vineyards. I’d gladly rave about and will rave about Tony Soter’s very handsome flight of Pinot Noir.

This is a fascinating tale, however, about how a former California winemaker, turned Oregon winemaker, can teach his old state’s wine architects a thing or two about the direction California’s signature varietals should be heading.

Soter made wines as a consultant for several of the marquee names in the Napa Valley: Niebaum Coppola, Shafer, and Spottswoode to name a few, as well as the wines for his own label founded in 1982, Etude.

Tony and his wife Michelle are both Oregon natives and returned to the Pacific Northwest a decade ago, escaping the constant pressure of the Napa Valley wine culture. The Soters searched for the heart of New World Burgundy terroir, planting Pinot Noir vines on the Mineral Springs Ranch property in 2002, at the edge of Carlton in the Yamhill-Calrton AVA of the Willamette Valley. Mineral Springs is a very mellifluous,  gently sloped, free-flowing landscape, rich with healthy Keasey soil and clay that are perfect with the near constant regional precipitation. At around 400 feet elevation, high winds and severe weather are not a problem, and the vineyard is inland enough to be welcoming to non-coastal grapes, such as Chardonnay.

If the 2010 single-vineyard flagship Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir is any indication, this certainly is the right terroir for exceptional Pinot Noir. (more…)


Wine of the Week: 2008 Stoller Family Estate, Helen’s Estate Pinot Noir, Dayton, Oregon

One by one, Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir, you start getting a bit tired after a few days in Oregon of tasting the state’s famed grape at restaurants and Willamette Valley tasting rooms. Notes of earth, hints of sage brush, deep fruit flavors, rich jammy qualities, all come to mind, yet start blurring out the palate over time.

Don’t start discarding Pinot Noir at this point. There is a reason Pinot Noir is the varietal that often brings poets to tears and can lead to life-changing epiphanies, such as the commonly cited cinematic example from the Santa Barbara region- based film “Sideways.”

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It’s history and soul might be in Burgundy. But today in 2012, the heart of Pinot Noir’s brilliant expressions is in the gently rolling green hills of the Willamette Valley. Here, nearly every tasting room boasts world class Pinot Noir it seems that soon terrific Pinot Noir starts tasting like satisfactory Pinot Noir.

Fortunately, looking past palate fatigue, you comprehend the power of these wines. (more…)


Wine of the Week: Utopia 2009 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

2009 Utopia Estate Pinot Noir

It’s hard to pick among the world class Pinot noir at winery after winery when visiting the Willamette Valley. Then you stumble upon a royal, rich Pinot noir that also boasts the youthful excitement of a recent graduate. 2009 can be young for Pinot noir, but this Utopia Estate version is bursting with a vibrant candor, ready to be paired now with duck confit.

Utopia’s tasting room along Ribbon Ridge Road outside Newberg is only open on weekends. This is after all a tiny winery from Pinot noir genius Daniel Warnshuis that only produces a couple hundred cases a year. You can fortunately almost always find their Pinot noir at the Carlton Wine Studio a few miles away, as we did. Utopia’s Pinot noir was the stand out, a pitch perfect mix of nutmeg spice, pepper, and huckleberry jam. After a few sips you’ll be licking your lips in the same way you clean your fingers of barbeque sauce after having those outstanding Memorial Day baby back ribs.

I’m not the biggest fan of vague winery names like Utopia. After a sip of this Pinot noir though, the name is appropriate for the state of mind you’ll be in.


Tasting Notes From The Willamette Valley

Penner-Ash Winery

It was a spectacular Mother’s Day Sunday in the Willamette Valley, the Pinot noir heartland and all around world class destination wine region about an hour’s drive southwest of Portland. Yes, Pinot noir is the beloved grape of the region, as symbolic here as malbec is to Mendoza, Argentina or shiraz to Southeast Australia. Tasting around the region for an afternoon, you’ll find a few chardonnays and rieslings here and there, but seriously, it’s about the Pinot. You’ll have lots of good Pinot, some great Pinot, perhaps one taste of a Pinot that has the watery, faint style of the lackluster Pinot Noir that constitutes most of this country’s Pinot noir sales, and then you’ll find the jackpot of a thick, rich, jammy, plush taste such as the 2009 Pas de Nom or 2010 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir, both at the beautiful tasting room of Penner-Ash near Newberg, staring down Mt. Hood in the far eastern horizon.

The trip was a bit of an impromptu one, with wineries chosen on the go as we sped through the country roads in the Mini Cooper of our host and guide. The sprawling, green as Ireland scenery seemed downright rural at times, a far cry from the congestion of Napa and other wine regions. You could’ve sworn that a herd of sheep might just stroll across the road at any turn. (more…)