Sunday, March 29, 2009

Homemade Italian Sausage and Pasta

There's something very satisfying (for me at least) about being able to do or make something from basic parts or ingredients. Maybe it's the whole American self-sufficiency thing, or maybe it's just a deep-seated worry that I couldn't fix the warp engines if something happened to Scotty. Regardless of the psychoanalysis behind it, that's probably the reason that I built electronic kits as a kid, and why I love to make beer and wine and to cook.

This weekend, we decided to make a family favorite, spaghetti and Italian sausages, but to do it (mostly) from scratch. A couple of years ago I bought a meat grinder attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer, and used it to make breakfast sausage. I had also intended at the time to try Italian sausage, but never got around to it. Well, yesterday was the day. We followed Alton Brown's basic recipe ( with a few changes. We added 4 or 5 cloves of minced garlic and about 1 heaping tablespoon of crushed red peppers (we like it a little spicy). Then, rather than grind all the fennel seed, we took about 1/2 of it, along with 2 t of whole black peppercorns and ground them up in the spice grinder, adding it along with the remaining whole fennel seeds. After refrigerating the mixture for an hour, we ran it through the grinder and then let it sit for another 3 hours in the fridge.

Rather than stuffing it into casings as I had done with the breakfast sausage, we decided to make sausage meatballs. We used a 2 oz. ice cream scoop and made 18 perfect little meatballs. These were baked on a wire rack inserted into a sheet pan (Good Eats fans know all about this) at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. They were delicious!

In addition to the meat grinder, I had also bought the pasta extrusion attachment for the mixer and we thought this would be a great time to try it. We used the basic egg noodle recipe that came with the attachment, but didn't sift the flour as called for in the recipe. This resulted in dough that was way too dry. It pretty much stalled the poor mixer during the extrusion, so we decided to start over. Sifting the flour gave us a much better dough, and the extrusion went more smoothly. However, the dough heats up during the extrusion process and we had a terrible time separating out the individual strands of spaghetti. In desperation, we gave up and got out our tried and true hand-cranked pasta machine. It worked like a champ (once we remembered to flour the dough just before cutting it) and we had great thin spaghetti.

Now, you'd expect that we'd also make a wonderful homemade sauce for all of this, but I must admit that we all really like good old Ragu chunky sauce from a jar. I always doctor it up a little (olive oil, crushed garlic, basil, oregano, and anchovy paste), but it's still basically sauce from a jar. We let our sausage meatballs simmer in the sauce for a while, then served it over the pasta. Some bread from Grand Central Bakery and a bottle of Mazzocco Maple Vineyard Zinfandel made the meal complete.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

South end wine tasting and dinner at Nick's

Most of our day trips for wine tasting center around the northern end of the Willamette Valley. That's where we live, after all, plus there's an amazing concentration of really good wine. Yesterday, though, we decided to head south of McMinnville to explore some of the southern end of the valley in and around the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.

We planned to start our outing with Lunch at the Golden Valley Pub in McMinnville, but on the drive down we realized that we'd be in Carlton right about noon, so we stopped at Solena Cellars first. We'd first tasted at Solena about 2 years ago when we were first getting into wine, and I remember being somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of wines they had for tasting. Solena is owned by winemaker Laurent Montalieu and his wife Danielle Andrus Montalieu, and it seems that Laurent really enjoys making wine from a huge range of different grape varieties from around Oregon and Washington. This time, there were fewer wines open for tasting, and we were much more experienced wine tasters.

We started out tasting a Chardonnay from their second label (which I now can't remember the name). I really do need to start taking notes while I'm tasting so I don't have to try to remember it all the next day! We also tasted their 2007 Pinot Gris, 2007 Grand Cuvee Pinot Noir, 2006 Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir, 2004 Wooldridge Creek Vineyard Merlot, and finally the 2004 Extended Aged Klipsun Cabernet Sauvignon. The whites were very crisp and enjoyable. The '07 Pinot Noir had the big floral nose that is typical of so many of Laurent's Pinots, and was really quite nice for an '07 with bright fruit and some minerality. I actually thought it better than the '06 estate Pinot which seemed a little "mushy" and flat to me. The Merlot was very good - fruity but not over the top, smooth well integrated tannins with a long interesting finish. The extended aged cab was good too, but perhaps a bit harsh. Other than the Merlot, the wines were all quite good but not spectacular. In addition to his Solena label, Laurant makes a lot of Pinot Noir for other growers' labels, and I've tasted better Pinot from some of those efforts.

Next up was lunch at the Golden Valley Brewery and Pub in McMinnville. This is one of my favorite lunch spots: they make great beer (especially the Muddy Valley Oatmeal Stout) and serve really good pub food. We decided to keep it simple today, so I had a burger and Rachel had a Bavarian pork sandwich. No beer today however, since we had many wines to taste before dinner.

After lunch we headed south on 99W out of McMinnville. At the junction of hwy 233 just north of Amity, we stopped at Kristin Hill Winery. They are a small family winery with some fairly old Gewurztraminer vines (planted in 1984?) in addition to Pinot Noir and a few other varieties. We were greeted as we parked by a nice gentleman who directed us to the tasting room and told us a little about the winery (like the old Gewurz vines). We were a bit alarmed to see about 15 different bottles of wine lined up on the tasting room bar, but fortunately they weren't tasting them all. The winemaker, Eric Aberg, looking every bit the farmer in his stripped overalls, poured through a wide selection of his wines from a Pinot Noir rose' to a Muller-Thurgau, and a Beaujolais Nouveau style Gamay Noir along with the more usual Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They were all OK, but nothing really to get excited about. I'm glad we stopped in, but probably don't need to go back.

We continued south on 99W through Amity and stopped at Coelho Winery. As we parked, both Rachel and I thought the tasting room looked very familiar, although I don't think we've ever stopped here before. Once inside, you find yourself in a beautiful high high ceilinged room with a great deal of exposed wood. They too have a wide range of wines divided into different tasting flights. We chose to taste just the reds. We tasted a vertical of their 2005, 2006, and 2007 Paciencia Pinot Noir. The '07 was surprisingly deep for a 2007 and had bright strawberry. The '06 came off a bit funky to me, and the 2005 was fantastic. It had hints of tobacco on the nose, was dark and earthy and had a long complex finish. We then tasted through their Red Table Wine, Petite Sirah, and Marechal Foch, all of which were quite good. The Red Table Wine was very unusual with guava and other tropical fruits. All in all, pretty good stuff.

We then left Amity and went almost to hwy 22. Just a mile or so before the junction with 22 is the turnoff to Van Duzer Vineyards. Now we've wanted to visit them for years since we used to drive by the little blue winery sign at the turnoff whenever we drove to and from Josh's YMA camp. The building housing both the winery and the tasting room is perched on a hill with fantastic views of the rolling Willamette valley below. They have about 68 acres planted in various Pinot Noir clones, 9 acres in Pinot Gris, and a few acres of Syrah that hasn't started producing yet. We tasted their 2007 Pinot Gris, 2007 Pinot Noir Rose, 2007 Vintner's Cuvee Pinot Noir, 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, 2005 Flagpole block Pinot Noir, 2005 Westside block Pinot Noir, and their NV Windfall Oregon Port. The Pinot Gris was clean and crisp, as was the rose. Rachel thought it the best Pinot Noir Rose we've yet tasted. The Pinot Noirs were good but not great, the 2005 Westside block being the best of the bunch with some earthiness and complexity. We didn't think much of the port; it seemed too hot and harsh. So while the view was great, the wines were only average to good.

Leaving Van Duzer, we headed back north on 99W and in just a mile or 2 came to Left Coast Cellars. Clearly someone had a lot of money to spend. Of the 400 acre property, over 100 are under vine. We drove up the very long driveway past the manicured lawns, solar arrays, ponds and young vineyards, past a massive winery building to the tasting room. The vines are all less than 7 years old, some much less, and the wines show it. We started out with a pleasant Pinot Gris, then tried a very over-oaked Chardonnay. For those who like the big buttery, oaky Chards that used to be ubiquitous in California, you'll like this one. We prefer a crisper Chardonnay. Next we had a Pinot Noir Rose that I thought was pretty good. We then tried several Pinot Noirs: the 2007 Cali's Cuvee, the 2006 Parallel 45 and the 2006 Suzanne's Reserve. All of the Pinots were fairly mundane and forgettable. As we drove away, we opined that it seemed like the owners bought into the winery lifestyle without, perhaps, a passion for the wine. It seemed to us that starting with 100 acres of vines made it impossible to really get to know the individual blocks of vines, the different soils and microclimates, etc. needed to really get the best out of your grapes. The wine tasted plain and mass-produced because it probably was just that.

We continued up 99W and turned east onto Bethel Rd. toward Lincoln. There are many wineries in that area, but most are only open on weekends in March. However, we did discover that in spite of the WVWA map and their website, St. Innocent Winery is open on Fridays. I've heard good things about their Pinot Noir and was eager to try it. The winery and tasting room is in the middle of Zenith Vineyard. They also have an associated event center. The parking lot is huge - bigger than any Oregon winery we've visited, and the plaza outside the tasting room is at least 4 times as big as the entire crush pad that I'm used to working on at Apolloni (and that doesn't even count the huge fountain). They had a large lineup of wines to try, starting with a crisp, bright Pinot Gris, and a very pleasant mildly oaked Chardonnay. We then tasted through their lineup of Pinot Noirs which included the 2007 Villages Cuvee and 2006 single vineyard wines from Momtazi, Seven Springs, Zenith, and Justice. All were very good, although Rachel and I liked the Justice and Seven Springs the best. All were fruit forward without being over the top and had a long lingering finish. Not the absolute best Oregon Pinot Noir we've ever had, but right up there.

We continued on Bethel Rd (which had turned into Zena Rd by now), and took 221 south to the northern edge of Salem. There we visited Redhawk Winery. What a contrast to Left Coast Cellars! It was obviously a very small family winery where they didn't pour massive amounts of money into it. In addition to their own Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, they source some warm weather varieties from the Columbia Valley. They specialize in value wines, and so while none of them were great, they seemed to offer decent value for the price. We tasted their 2007 Pinot Gris, 2007 Grateful Red Pinot Noir, 2006 Pinot Noir Vinter's Reserve, NV Redhawk Red Cab/Merlot blend, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2005 Reds Cuvee (Cab, Merlot, and Syrah). For $11, the Redhawk Red was a very good value for an everyday table wine, up there with David Hill's Farmhouse Red (but very different). To finish, we tried a Tempranillo desert wine, which although we love Tempranillo, was disappointing. One interesting note is that as we pulled out of our parking spot, we noticed that the pickup truck parked at the winery had a WIRX bumper sticker on it. That was the local rock station that we used to listen to many years ago in St. Joseph, MI. I wonder if the owners use to live there?

For our last stop of the afternoon, we visited Cristom Winery on the way back toward McMinnville for dinner. We got there at 4:50, and the pourer was in a hurry to get out by closing time at 5:00, so we didn't have much time to taste. We tried their Pinot Gris (crisp and acidic), several 2006 Pinot Noirs (Sommers Reserve, Marjorie Vineyard, and Louise Vineyard) and 2005 Estate Syrah. Yes, estate Syrah in the Willamette valley. They grafted the Syrah onto older Chardonnay vines in 2001 and this (2005) was their second vintage. The Pinots were all quite nice, but the Syrah knocked my socks off. It was classic cool climate Syrah with a floral nose and very peppery taste. I'd like to go back and taste again sometime when we have more time.

Well, 8 wineries in one afternoon ain't bad, but it was time to head into McMinnville for dinner at Nick's Italian Cafe. Rachel had lined up 3 other couples to join us, so we knew we were in for a fun evening. Nick's has been a landmark in McMinnville for many years, and although we've heard a lot about it, we'd never eaten there. What we didn't realize is that within the past few years, the place had gone considerably upscale. The menu was a 5 course prix fixe meal with numerous choices for each course (antipasto, soup, pasta, salad, entree). Antipasto choices included seared scallops (which I had), pork belly on crostini, salumi, and pork terrine (which Rachel had). I had a very tasty minestrone and pesto soup, while Rachel had the bread soup. Pasta choices were numerous and unusual - I had a tuna and olive pasta while Rachel ordered the lamb ragout. It turned out that we each liked the other's better and traded. I had the classic ceasar salad, and Rachel had field greens. By the time the entrees arrived, we were all pretty full, but we fought on. I had a pretty good pork loin and sausage dish and Rachel had three-way lamb which was delighfully prepared but not that interesting. While we were even more stuffed after the entree, we of course needed some desert. Rachel had a very tart and tangy Meyer lemon sorbetto, and I had one of the best executed creme brulees I've ever had. Nothing fancy, but the custard was perfect.

Over the course of the evening, we ordered 3 bottles of Italian wine: a Barbera d'Asti, a Chianti Classico, and something from Montalcino. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of any of the labels this time, so I don't have any more details. The first 2 bottles were wonderful, but the last one was pretty funky. It may have been slightly corked. If you could get past the funky nose, it tasted alright. So, while we all had a great time, I think most agreed that it wasn't worth going back. The food was good but not great, but there was too much food and perhaps not a great value either.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tim's birthday dinner

Tim is a bit unusual for a 14 year old. When asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said "dinner at Red Hills!" Red Hills Provincial Dining is one of several very good restaurants in the wine country around the Dundee hills. From the outside, it looks just like an old farm house (which it is). Once inside, you find yourself seated in the main room of the house with a large fireplace at one end.

When we have eaten there in the past, we've been quite impressed with their wine list. In fact, they've received Wine Spectator's award of excellence for several years running. This time, however, we were somewhat disappointed because it seemed that in addition to a good selection of Oregon Pinots, the only international wines on the list were the older and very expensive. They had a 1988 La Tache for only $2000 (no, we didn't get it). We were resigning ourselves to an Oregon Pinot Noir, when Rachel suggested a 1996 Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco. Don't get me wrong, we enjoy a great Oregon Pinot at least as much as the next person, but we can get those anytime. When we eat out, we often like to order wine that we can't get locally. We settled on the Barbaresco, but when the wine came up from the cellar, it turned out that they were out of what we ordered. This happened the last time as well. However, they did have a considerably more expensive 1996 Barbaresco from the same producer but a different vineyard that they were willing to sell to us at the price of the bottle we had ordered. Now who am I to argue with such an offer?

When first opened, the wine was very tight and was really not speaking at all. Fortunately after a little time in the glass, it started to reveal itself in a most wonderful manner. The nose was floral, and we could detect notes of rose on the tongue. It kept getting better as the meal progressed - a dark earthiness along with sufficient acid matched very well with our meals.

Ah, the food: the soup du jour was traditional French onion soup with a cheese covered crostini on the top. The broth was a very deep rich beef broth (the kind that bouillon cubes only attempt to emulate) that was seasoned perfectly. The onions were delicious, but probably could have used a little more cooking. I was the only one who ordered the soup, but all three of us ended up eating it.

Their house salad was wonderful as usual - assorted greens with a balsamic vinaigrette topped with grated Parmesan cheese and finely chopped hazelnuts. For our entrees, Tim ordered the Fillet Mignon with porcini demi-glace and an au gratin potato cake. Rachel had an incredible cassoulet, and I had a braised lamb shank with barley. It was all wonderful. Tim's demi-glace was so good that he even ate most of the vegetables on his plate after dragging them through the sauce (especially the asparagus).

We couldn't pass up desert, and Rachel had the orange cheesecake while Tim and I each had a piece of chocolate espresso tort. I finished it off with a small glass of Fonseca Bin 27 porto.

All in all, another great meal at Red Hills. While we did find a great wine without breaking the bank, we were concerned about their lack of reasonably priced imports. We'll have to keep an eye on the trend next time we go. Next up, a trip to Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinnville for my birthday tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 16, 2009

McMinnville Food and Wine Classic

One of my favorite wine festivals, this is held every March at the Evergreen Aviation and Space museum in McMinnville. This year it was held in their new Space Museum building in among the historic spacecraft and other artifacts. In addition to wine, they have a large number of food and craft booths, as well as guest chef demonstrations and live music. Rachel and the boyz were at a swim meet in Astoria, so I was on my own. I attended Friday and Sunday.

This year they held the cooking demos in the museum restaurant which was much better than the back room they used last year. Unfortunately the sound system was not ideal, and it was difficult to hear the chefs speak over the live music. Another nice addition to the cooking demos was the wine tasting. Each chef was paired with a winery to supply tastes of an appropriate wine to accompany the food. Nice touch!

Cooking Demos:

Cielo Blu: I have eaten at this restaurant only once, and while the food was pretty good, the service was terrible. I prefer to call it “Glacial Blue.” So the fact that the cooking demo started 20 minutes late didn’t improve my opinion at all! It wasn’t the chef’s fault; his was the first demo of the festival, and the staff hadn’t quite finished setting up the demo kitchen. When executive chef Bonifacio Solarzano finally got started, I was thrilled to discover that he was making lamb! He took racks of lamb and rubbed them with olive oil, garlic and rosemary, then seared them in a hot pan and put them in the oven. He made a sauce for them by reducing port with rosemary, then adding a good amount of demi-glace. Tasty! For a side dish, chef Solarzano accompanied the lamb with a basic polenta (with rosemary of course!). He had prepared some lamb in advance and served it with the sauce and polenta. Now, I’m used to getting a small taste during these demos, but he served us each 2 lamb chops! Zenas Wines served their ’07 Merlot with the rosemary bread (forgot to mention that) and the ’06 Cab Franc with the lamb. It was a good, but not inspired pairing, although we like and have purchased both wines.

Joel Palmer House: This restaurant is mushroom heaven. We’ve eaten there once, and will definitely go back. The food is designed around wild mushrooms which the owners gather and dry themselves. Recently, ownership passed from parents to son as Jack Czarnecki turned the restaurant over to his son Chris. Chris has been the chef at Joel Palmer for the past few years, so very little should change.

Chris was on hand to demonstrate their famous mushroom risotto which is served as an amuse bouche every night. The first thing he did was let us in on a little secret. When we had eaten there in the fall, we noticed that they were fairly liberal with their use of salt. It turns out that they use a mixture of soy sauce, salt, and sugar in nearly all of their mushroom dishes to bring out the flavor in the mushrooms. Chris then proceeded to make the risotto. He brought about 3 quarts of water to boil in a large sauté pan, along with 1 lb. of butter and some of the soy/salt/sugar mix. He then added about ¼ cup of dried wild mushrooms and some dried onion. He uses fresh onion at the restaurant, but said that dried onion really doesn’t alter the flavor much at all, and is much easier. Finally, he added a quart of long grain white rice. Why long grain? Apparently it doesn’t get mushy as fast as Arborio rice, and this is important in the restaurant when you have a batch that might sit around for an hour before it is completely used. He then did the usual constant stirring while fielding questions from the audience. Once the rice was al dente, he checked the seasoning (adding more magic mix) and served with a little truffle oil and parmesan cheese. Very tasty stuff. Terra Vina was on hand to pair their ’07 Cab Franc.

Cuvee: Another fairly recent addition to the Carlton restaurant scene, Cuvee offers a mostly traditional French menu paired with Oregon wines. We have eaten there once and thought the food was quite good, but not spectacular. I’d certainly eat there again sometime. Chef and owner Gilbert Henry demonstrated a basic chocolate mousse starting with 72% cacao chocolate melted over a double boiler. To this, he folded in whipped egg whites, whipped cream and a little liquid cream. It was simple, but very well executed. Our friend Dyson DeMara, owner and winemaker at Hillcrest Vineyards, was on hand to talk about his wines and serve us a new Syrah blend called Up Under 15 (a play on down under Aussie Shiraz). When I first tasted the wine, I had my doubts about the pairing with the mousse. However, when the mousse was served, the pairing was inspired. The soft mouth feel of the wine was a perfect match to the rich mousse. I like all of Dyson’s wines, and had actually already bought a bottle of this wine on Friday.

Wine Tastings:

Barking Frog: Another winery that we enjoy very much from their visits to Forest Grove. Ron had new vintages of a couple of our favorites. He had 2 Sangiovese offerings: his standard ’07 is a little too restrained for me, but his ’07 Elerding is quite deep, dark, and fruity. The newly released ’06 Cab is good, but a bit more subtle than the ’05. He’s also trying to move his ’05 Syrah (very peppery) at $18 each. Bought a couple of Syrah and the Elerding Sangio.

Bradley: Very nice farmers who now produce some of their own wine. Good Baco Noir, so-so Pinot, and a decent Riesling.

Cana’s Feast: Had a nice long talk with their winemaker. Decent Sangiovese, a very nice almost-Rhone-style Syrah that was still just a little too fruity for me. Several Bordeaux blends that were OK.

Cathedral Ridge: Decent but forgettable Merlot, pretty good Cab and a very good Syrah. The Syrah was spicy and peppery and I was going to buy a bottle until I saw the price. $44 is just too much for an Oregon Syrah.

Coure de Terre: Pretty good 1% RS Riesling. Pinot Noir was so-so, although they had a Rennelle’s Block Pinot that was very nice, but overpriced.

David Hill: Again, our local winery up the hill from us, so I didn’t do much tasting, but had another nice chat with Will. Their Tempranillo was just released and it rocks! Deep and rich without being overly oaky. I’m going to have to taste it head to head with Purple Cow’s ’04 reserve which has been my gold standard for Oregon Tempranillo. Both leave Abacela in the dust.

EdenVale: A very pleasant surprise, this Medford winery has a huge lineup of good wines. Standouts for me were a very good fruity Tempranillo, elegant Claret, and Syrah. Would be worth a visit if near Medford.

Hillcrest: Dyson gave me his usual warm greeting and said that he’s released several new wines since Newport. The first was a Pomerol-style Bordeaux blend called Right Bank. Deep flavors and still quite tannic. Best to age this one. The second was a Syrah/Merlot blend called Della Terra Up Under 15. This one had subtle fruit with some spice. Finally a very nice Riesling. Very floral and crisp with 0.8% RS. Ended up buying a bottle of Right Bank and Up Under, and Dyson threw in a bottle of the Riesling.

HV: Lots of fruit wine (which I didn’t try). A very interesting Syrah with heavy licorice flavors, apparently due to the kind of yeast they used. A fairly mediocre lineup of other red wines.

Johan Vineyards: Hadn’t heard of them before. Chardonnay that was too oaky and buttery. Pretty good ’06 Pinot, and a very nice earthy ’07 Pinot Reserve (not yet released).

KathKen Vineyards: Decent Merlot, ordinary Pinot, good crisp Pinot Gris.

Kramer: It’s always fun to see Keith and Trudy. Tasted some of the new vintage Cardiac Hill from Keith on Friday – it’s very good, and I’ll need to head up to their tasting room to get some soon. On Sunday I was tasting at a neighboring booth and Trudy came over to talk to the folks in the booth. She mentioned to them that I’d helped out at Kramer during the harvest, and the folks at the booth said “Oh, you’re industry” and refunded my tasting fee. I love the people in the Oregon wine industry!

Methven Family: Very good dry Riesling, good ’05 Pinot Noirs. The reserve Pinot is very good, but not worth the $55 they are asking.

Panther Creek: One of the first wineries we ever visited, so we are quite fond of them. ’07 winemaker’s cuvee was good with subtle fruit and minerals. They were getting rid of half bottles of the ’05 Shea, so I bought a couple for $10 ea. Not my favorite vintage of their Shea, but still quite good.

Ribera: I’d forgotten that I tasted them at Newport, but my notes are pretty consistent: nice Merlot, pretty good Pinot Noir.

WildAire: Very friendly family winery that makes some pretty good Pinot. Their ’06 Reserve was very good, and I would have bought some if we needed Pinot.

Youngberg Hill: Nice lineup of Pinot Noirs. Their Jordan Block was very good and I would have bought some if we weren’t already drowning in great Pinot.

Zerba: Usually a favorite, we were disappointed with them at Newport. Their ’06 Cab took best of show this time, so I wanted to try it again. It was showing much better and has the big, bold flavors that we like. Dan thinks maybe it was too cold at Newport.

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival

According to the Newport Chamber of Commerce, it just wouldn’t be winter on the Oregon coast without the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Held the last weekend of February every year, this festival brings together a wide range of northwest wineries, food vendors and craft vendors for a giant weekend party. The festival is held in a huge tent in a parking lot near the Rogue Brewing Co. and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

This is our third year attending the festival, and I think we finally have the routine down. We drove in on Friday, checked into our motel and took the shuttle bus to the festival. We bought e-tickets in advance this year, and it is the best way to go. They charge you that annoying “convenience fee” (it wasn’t convenient for me!) but the 3 day package was still cheaper than buying tickets at the door for all 3 days. The best part is that e-ticket holders get a separate entrance with a much shorter line. We’ll do that again next year. We stayed at the festival until around 6 or 7, and took the drunk bus (I mean shuttle) back to the motel. This year we stayed at The Waves of Newport near Nye Beach. It was the most expensive place we’ve yet stayed during the festival, but the location was perfect. Plus, it wasn’t that much more expensive than the other motels that all seem to jack the price up for wine festival weekend. Back to the location – it’s near the beginning of the shuttle route, so there’s still plenty of room on the bus when it arrives to pick you up. Also, it’s within easy walking distance of the Nye Beach shopping district, so for dinner on Friday, we walked down to see what we could find. We ended up at Nana’s Irish Pub – not much to look at from the outside, but real energy when we walked in. It was crowded, mostly with people our age, but we were able to get a table right away. If you want comfort food, this is the place. Rachel had a rustic chicken pot pie, and I had shepherd’s pie with a chunky mashed potato topping. Although we’d been tasting wine all afternoon, we were in an Irish pub, so I had to have a pint (imperial of course) of Guinness. Rachel thought I was crazy, and of course she was right. Good thing we were walking back to the motel! By the way, if you’re wondering how authentic an Irish pub in Newport Oregon can be, it’s owned and run by the mother-daughter team of Philomena O'Brien and Tara Coughlan. That’s Irish!

Saturdays at this wine festival are legendary. We found this out the hard way our first year. This is when all the 20-somethings decide to get completely smashed and party, party, party. Both this year and last, we discovered that we can get 2 or 3 good hours of tasting in during the morning and then head over to the Rogue Brewing Co. restaurant for lunch. If we found any wine in the morning that we want to buy, we whip back through right after lunch and then get out! If you taste a wine you like, it’s best to buy it that day. Many of the wineries have sold out of some wines by the last day of the festival. And in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t have a beer with lunch, even though Rogue makes some mean stout. I also had my spit cup with me at the festival on both Saturday and Sunday, so I was in very good shape. After lunch and a quick run through the festival to buy wine, we went back to the motel for a relaxing afternoon.

We had dinner reservations at the Bay House in Lincoln City on Saturday night. We thought we had left plenty of time to drive from Newport, but as soon as we got in the car, Lee (our GPS) already indicated that we were going to be late. I hate being late anywhere, and it put me in a slightly foul mood. Fortunately, when we were about half way there, we realized that Lee’s arrival time couldn’t possibly be right. It turns out that Lee really had no idea where the restaurant was, and had placed it about 5 miles further into Lincoln City than it really was. We arrived in plenty of time. We had a wonderful time at the restaurant. Our waiter was a Rhone wine fan, and we ended up ordering a very nice Vacqueyras with dinner. It was earthy and slightly spicy and opened up nicely as the meal progressed. The food was very good, but not excellent. The crab cake appetizer was great, although I could have used more of the aioli, and we had a wonderful hearts of Romaine salad with terrific fried polenta croutons. I had originally planned to order lamb, but they had just run out, so Rachel and I both ordered filet mignon. While the flavor was very nice, the texture was somewhat spongy. We of course ordered desert and I had a small glass of port to finish off the evening.

Sunday is my favorite day at the festival. All the crazy 20-somethings had hangovers from the night before, so most of the attendees on Sunday morning had gray hair. We felt right at home. It’s also much less crowded and you get more of a chance to talk with the folks in the booths. After about 2 hours of tasting, we had both had enough; my palate was tired. Rather than taking the shuttle bus, we drove to the festival on Sunday. There was plenty of free parking along the side of the road near the festival, and we could just walk out to our car and take off when we were done. Using a combination of Rachel’s food instincts and Google on the iPhone, we stopped for lunch at a place called Tidal Raves just north of Depoe Bay. The food was OK, but the view was spectacular. The restaurant is perched on a cliff above a very rocky bowl-shaped inlet and one entire wall is glass. We watched the waves come in and crash against the cliff throughout the meal. It ended up being exactly what we wanted – a place to sit down and get decent food fairly quickly.

Tasting Notes:

12 Ranch: Good Syrah and Cab.

Abacela: A good Albarino this year (better than last). Nothing else, including the Tempranillo was great.

Abiqua: Very nice slightly sweet Muscat.

Amity: They were awarded a gold medal for their ’06 Pinot. We thought it had a good, earthy nose, but was somewhat thin with a mildly unpleasant finish.

Anthony Dell: We tasted through their wines again and really were not impressed. The Syrah was OK, and the Del Rio red was pretty good, but nothing worth buying.

Capitello: Another local winery that we’ve tried many times. The Sauvignon Blanc was good (better than the previous vintage) and they had a wonderful Brut. If we needed a Brut, I would get this one.

Cathedral Ridge: They had pretty good reds, but nothing to knock your socks off.

Chateau Lorane: While we bought a lot of their Tempranillo, Foch, and Baco last year, nothing really floated our boat this time.

Cliff Creek: Another of our favorite wineries specializing in big reds. Had previously tasted and bought the Claret and Merlot, so we just tasted and bought the Syrah this time.

Coelho: Good Petit Sirah.

Cooper Mountain: Mediocre Malbec.

Crater Lake: We had tried their wine a year ago in Portland and liked it. They have a number of very good reds. The Syrah was good. We liked and bought the Merlot 29 and Recito-style Merlot.

David Hill: Given that they are about a 3 minute drive up the hill from our house, we had already tasted all of the wine they brought to the festival. But it was fun, as always, to have a chat with winemaker Jason Bull and Will Kobyluck, David Hill’s sales and marketing director.

Eola Hills: Good Sangiovese and Merlot, but fairly forgettable Cab and Petit Sirah.

Girardet: Always fun to visit. Had a brief chat with Philippe Girardet, and he’s quite a character. He assured us that drinking wine will give us long lives. The ’07 Baco was not so good, and the Baco reserve was better, but not as good as our Chateau Lorane Baco. They had a nice, smooth, easy drinking Cab.

Hillcrest: It’s always fun to be warmly greeted by Dyson DeMara, and he welcomed us as old friends again. We re-tasted several of his wines that we already had, and of course still loved them. He also had an ’04 Chard that was just wonderful – yeasty like warm bread. Bought 2 bottles.

Hood River Winery: We’ve enjoyed their Marionberry fruit wine in the past. This year it was just too sweet. Did the wine change or did our palates? They did have a nice fruity Sangiovese which we bought.

King’s Raven: Very good Foch.

Melrose: Very good Baco Noir. Their Equinox blend was OK, and the other reds were just so-so.

Misty Oaks: Good Pinot Gris and Cab Franc.

Orchard Heights: They had a good Cab, but everything else was so-so.

Palotai: They have that strange Bull’s Blood wine that we had with lamb sausage at Greatest of the Grape. Didn’t try it this time, but they had a pretty good Meritage blend as well as a nice white blend called Bella Bianca which we bought.

Paschal: I can’t remember if we’d tried them before, but they had some pretty nice reds. A decent Syrah, and a very good Sangiovese-Dulcetto blend (which we bought).

Purple Cow: Another winery we know very well, so we didn’t taste anything at the festival. I’ve been fortunate to help out at the vineyard and winery during harvest, bottling, and other activities. Jon and Galo make some great wine, and it was great to briefly chat with them, as well as with Briana and Matt.

Ribera: Very good ’05 Pinot Noir, and a good Merlot.

River’s Edge: Good barrel select Pinot Noir, but not as good as David Hill.

Saginaw: Pretty decent Marshall Foch.

Sienna Ridge: Good Pinot Blanc. Everything else was OK.

Snoqualmie: Decent Cab and Merlot.

Sol et Soleil: The ’07 vintage of their Pinot Gris is as good as we remember the ’06. Very crisp and slightly sweet. We got 2 more bottles.

Spangler: Several fairly forgettable reds. We once liked one of their Pinots.

Spindrift: Decent Pinot Noirs – fairly simple and earthy. Really nice Syrah which we bought.

Spring Hill: This is a nice family winery with a fairly quiet winemaker and his more sociable wife. Good Pinot Noirs with an exceptional reserve bottling called Mer Vin. We bought 2 bottles.

Sweet Cheeks: We were not that impressed with their wine when we tasted it about a year ago, but this time they had a fantastic Riesling which we bought – spritzy, low alcohol and slightly sweet.

Terra Vina: Lots of big reds. Good Sangiovese, Malbec, and Cab Franc. We bought a bottle of the Cab Franc.

Troon: This was a bit of a surprise, as we have tried their Druid’s Fluid in the past and not been impressed. However, they also have an upper tier collection, and these were pretty good. They had a very nice Zin (not as good as Mazzocco), and a good Meritage. Their Cab was quite good – nice acid and would go well with food. A fun sweet wine called Jeannie in a Bottle would go great with chocolate chip cookies. We bought a bottle.

Valley View: Very good Merlot and Syrah. We bought both.

Vitis Ridge: We’ve enjoyed their Foch in the past, and this vintage is good, but not enough to push us to buy it. They also had an excellent Riesling that we did buy.

Volcano Vineyards: A winery in the Bend area, they had a good collection of big reds, but none were exceptional.

Wild Rose: A large collection of red wines, but all were rather thin.

Zerba: Usually a reliable producer of big reds, we were disappointed in the ’06s.


Welcome to Dave's food and wine blog. Rachel and I love good food and wine, and many of our vacations and activities revolve around food and wine. My plan is to use this space to record and remember these experiences, primarily as a reminder for myself. If anyone else finds it interesting, so much the better.