We’re approaching the season when our Northwest wine critics of all type stop their mindless promotion of rich wines, and dutifully yet briefly, write about how well Oregon’s lighter wines pair with the cuisine of autumn. For me, this ranks right up there with the disservice we do to sparkling wines by only serving them on holidays and anniversaries. Lighter bodied Oregon wines pair with a wide range of food, and though delicious, their pairing should not be limited simply to turkey, stuffing and cranberry relish.
I say, If you really love a wine, why relegate it to Thanksgiving dinner and masochistically deny it’s presence for the rest of the year. This kind of madness is not for me, friends. As Huston Smith once said: “If pleasure is what you want, do not suppress the desire. Seek it intelligently.”
With that in mind, I have intelligently sought out three wines that are before anything else, elegant. Some might even say, gasp, light! They are also deeply flavorful, precise, impeccably balanced and most importantly, delicious.
2010 Evesham Wood
Pinot Noir Le Puits Sec Vineyard $32.40
Before turning over the reigns to Erin Nuccio, Evesham Wood founder Russ Raney spend the past three decades slowly building a reputation for expressive, elegant and sanely-priced Oregon Pinot Noir. If there was any doubt at all whether this legacy would continue, the 2010 vintage has thoroughly crushed it for good.
The estate Le Puits Sec Vineyard has been one of my favorites for years, with it’s signature earthy/elegant paradox and piercing floral perfume. The yields in 2010 were sadly very small, but the quality is as good as any Oregon vintage I can remember. Despite the intense concentration, this one retains a breezy center, with it’s succulent red fruits providing a lovely buoyancy.
I’ve had this wine with a creamy truffled risotto before and it is magical. Use our creamy truffle sauce recipe here.
2011 Brick House Gamay noir $26.95
Any list of elegant wines would be incomplete without at least one wine based on the Gamay grape. This is a grape that, at least in modern times, owes much of it’s fame to the region of Beaujolais. In addition to the gorgeous hillside vineyards there, it is also grown extensively in the Loire Valley as well as Burgundy, where it is blended with Pinot Noir in the Passetoutgrains appellation.
Gamay is even grown in Western Switzerland where it is known as Dole. Here in Oregon, we are lucky to have Brick House Vineyards’ Doug Tunnell among us, a man who has advocated locally for the grape since the 1980s. His estate-grown version is nothing if not elegant; defined by it’s soft and pretty raspberry fruits. The spiciness that can be more forward in French versions is subdued here, playing a back note to the easy red fruit and herbal tea subtleties.
Get in line early for this stuff, because it goes fast. Because this one usually arrives in early October, try it with a seasonal dish like our Portobello Mushroom Roulade With Potato Cakes and Mushroom Demi-Glace.
2011 Bergstrom Pinot Noir Rosé $17.95
Though they vary dramatically in style depending on how they were made and which grapes comprise them, the best dry roses are often among the most elegant in any wine shop. Locally, Josh Bergstrom produces some of the most beautifully detailed Oregon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay going.
His rosé falls solidly in the same category with it’s shimmering salmon hue and beguiling fresh fruit aromas. On the palate it’s juicy nature almost becomes tropical but possesses just enough restraint to avoid tipping towards something overtly fleshly. That kind of precision in rosés is my favorite expression of elegance; a tease that pays off with a mouthwatering array of electrically-charged citrus and watermelon fruit.
At once both ripe and light, this stuff should perform magic year round with anything from steak salad to a melon-chile gazpacho. One of my favorites is Ahi Tuna with Persimmon Glaze (below.)
with Persimmon Glaze, Rice & Bok Choy
recipe coutresy of Big River Restaurant, Corvallis Oregon
4 ahi fillets (7 ounces each)
For the persimmon glaze:
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 pinch salt
For the rice:
1 yellow onion
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups white basmati rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon saffron threads
For the bok choy:
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
3 bunches baby bok choy, trimmed, quartered lengthwise
For the garnish:
2 stalks green onion, sliced very thinly
1 red pepper, sliced very thinly
1. When selecting persimmons, make sure the fruit is ripe (soft) or allow enough time for it to ripen. We have placed persimmons in freezer – because they individually ripened – and defrosted the night before making the sauce. Also, the persimmon sauce is very universal and can be used in many different ways (on desserts, ice cream or as an ingredient in salad dressing), so making extra may warrant the effort.
2. To make the persimmon glaze: Trim off the hard green blossom end and peel with a paring knife, then pass through the food strainer. Saute the ginger in the canola oil to extract the flavor and reduce spiciness, and add lemon juice, honey and pinch of salt to the fruit puree. The glaze can be made up to one day ahead of time.
3. If the weather will not allow you to fire up the barbecue, pan searing would be a perfectly acceptable alternative, as long as the fish will be cooked to an ideal medium rare (not more than medium or else choose a different fish, such as halibut).
4. To make the rice: Saute the onion in olive oil until soft, add rice, water and salt. Break up saffron by rubbing between your fingers and allow to drop into the liquid. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn heat to medium and cook until finished – about 20 minutes.
5. Place ahi on grill and start cooking to desired doneness.
6. In the meantime, to make the bok choy: Dissolve honey in rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and water, then set aside. Heat canola oil in large saute pan, add ginger, garlic and let flavors transpire into oil. Stir in bok choy for one minute, then add the soy mixture, cover and cook to desired doneness. Bok choy is excellent with a slight crunch in the center.
7. To serve, portion rice in middle of plate with ahi centered on top. Arrange bok choy around the rice just inside the rim. Drizzle a good amount of persimmon glaze over the ahi and garnish with few slivers of red pepper and green onion.