Friday, May 27, 2011

Sake and Wine on Oregon Celebrity Stop

It was my first trip to the Willamette Valley and though I knew it wasn’t going to be as long as I’d like, I didn’t know that it wasn’t just wine I would be discovering.

Ron Burke of Oregon Wine Tours was waiting for Lynn and I when the Celebrity ship docked in Astoria, Oregon. We had been warned that the drive to the Willamette Valley would be a long one, but the scenery and the tales about the area’s wine vineyards made the ride go by quickly. The valley has a total of 17 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and it was easy to see why with the hills, peaks and mountains on each side.  It is by far the largest wine producing area in the state, claiming over 300 of 425 wineries. Though Pinot Noir is the grape Willamette is known for, additional varietals are popping up around.

Our first stop was at Patton Valley Vineyard. On a clear day, you can see Mt. St. Helens from here, and on a slightly cloudy day we still got some good views. Monte Pitt owns 24 acres of sustainable vineyards. He only grows pinot noir, getting grapes from others he likes to occasionally make. I started with one of those, an excellent 2009 Wente Clone Chardonnay, just partially oaked so it has a bit of butter, but retains plenty of lemon and melon.

The Pinot Noirs at Patton Valley are equally memorable, from the 2009 Declassified, dry yet light, with an easy drinking fruit jam finish, to the 2008 Ten Acre, which is a bit sweeter and more fruit forward, though the nose is quite earthy. I also enjoyed the 2010 Pinot Noire Rose, which is very light in color from a short time on skins, but picked up a great combination of berry and melon, with a little acid.

Next was Adelsheim Vineyard, a completely different winery than the last. This family owned company was started 40 years ago and now encompasses 190 acres on the Chehalem Mountains that produce 45,000 cases of wine each year. The operation is still overseen by David Adelsheim and is done with complete environmental protection, including recycling waste water and using solar panels.  The wine collection is a bit unique, especially to this area.

They started me right off with the unusual, the 2009 Auxerrois, a white grape from the Alsace region of France.  It’s a rare grape with a rather unique taste, herby and fruity at the same time. I was much more familiar with the red choices, and chose the 2008 Bryan Creek Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, with a nose full of ripe, red berries that continues onto the palate before a bit of spice sets in, thought it is lighter than most pinot noirs. Lynn favored the drier 2008 Temperance Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir, which had much more tobacco, nutmeg and cinnamon to the smell and taste.

Before we left Adelsheim Vineyard, we had a delicious lunch from Recipe, a Neighborhood Kitchen.  It brought me back to my days in Champagne with Jambon Persille, Duck Liver Pate, Pork Terrine, Cheeses with Poached Figs, accompanied by a Turkey Sandwich with Pesto Cream Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade. I washed it down with Adelsheim’s 2009 Pinot Gris, an excellent combination of pineapple and grapefruit with just enough minerality.

Our next stop  didn’t work out as planned and Ron suggested that we instead check out Momokawa Sake One instead. Within minutes he had arranged it and we were on our way to this premier sake maker that works in partnership with Momoikawa Brewing Japan. Sake One uses local Oregon water, rice from Sacramento and Japanese yeast to create this spirit – and make various infused versions.

I freely admit that I knew nothing about sake and really enoyed the tour, which takes you through the production step by step, with full explanations on everything from the grain of rice to the yeast and the water in this gluten-free beverage that is filtered five times.  There is no vintage here as the idea is to make every one of the 17 varieties taste the same this year as last.  

After the tour, we got to taste a number of the sakes and I was certainly impressed.  My absolute favorite was the Plum Moonstone,  which tasted like fruit punch (with 7% alcohol). I also really enjoyed the Diamond Junmai Ginjo, a little drier tastying with more balance, and the G, an American style Sake full of butter and vanilla that definitely makes you believe their motto that sake belongs with barbecue. (If you make it to taste at Sake One be sure to get some of the draft, which is really special, but has a short shelf life so it can’t be shipped.)

I had to say that I was quite confused as to why Celebrity would choose Astoria as a stop on the wine cruise. Portland would have been much closer to Willamette Valley and had a lot more to offer downtown. I did understand the value of the stop, though, when Ron took us up to Astoria Column. It was quite a view, not just of the port and the valley, but a chance to look at the four mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon and Washington.

Back on the Celebrity Millennium, we had dinner at the ship’s specialty restaurant the Olympic, named after the sister ship of the Titanic and matching its classic d├ęcor. Although at first glance the menu looks very similar to that in the regular dining room it is anything but. Both the food and the service were over the top and I can’t say enough about my dinner of a Warm Goat Cheese Souffle; Wild Mushroom Cappuccino with Mushroom Gelato; Mushroom Crusted Rack of Lamb; a French Cheese Cart; and a Dark Chocolate Souffle! Our waiter, Sasha from Macedonia, made the evening fun and luckily gave us awhile to digest between delicious courses.  It was a good thing we had until late morning the next day to get ready for our Chocolate Tour in Seattle.

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