Feb 25, 2013

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Feast In The Cellar at Sweet Cheeks Winery

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Sparkling wine by the fire at Sweet Cheeks Winery

Sweet Cheeks Winery, located in the heart of the southern Willamette Valley in Eugene, Oregon, is known for their incredible vineyard and valley views, award-winning wines and popular signature events; such as, the Masquerade Ball, Romancing the Vineyard, Summer Solstice Celebration and Feasts in the Cellar. I’ve spent many Friday afternoons sipping their Pinot Noir by the firepit in the winter months, and soaking in the suns rays during the summer months – it’s simply a great, and very popular, place to be.

Most recently, I attended one of Sweet Cheeks signature dinner events: Feast in the Cellar. It just so happened that my friend, Heidi Tunnell, of Heidi Tunnell Catering Company, was the featured chef for the evening, so I knew I was in for a special treat.

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Delicious Pork Confit and Grilled Ciabatta Bread

Starting the evening with a glass of Sparkling Wine, I sat by the fireplace to warm up as I sipped this dry, yet soft and complex bubbly. Pears and apples with a zest of lemon formed into a crisp and refreshing finish – the perfect way to start an evening of indulging in food and wine.

Once Heidi emerged from the kitchen with a platter of Grilled Ciabatta Bread, I couldn’t wait to spread some of her Slow Cooked Pork Confit or Herbed Goat Cheese on top of the crispy grilled bread.  Paired with the creamy, rich and well structured 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris, the honeydew melon, apple and hazelnut aromas and flavors were perfect with the Confit and Goat Cheese.

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Elegant set-up in the original barrel room

When the first course of the evenings meal was ready to be served, guests found their seats at a long, elegantly decorated table that was set inside the winery’s original barrel room. Tealight candles in small glass balls hung from the ceiling, and white calla lilies and  light green roses graced the table in clear glass vases – it was truly beautiful. Much too small for their current production numbers, this barrel room is the perfect size for intimate events like Feast in the Cellar.

Sweet Cheeks winemaker, Australia born Mark Nicholls, joined us for dinner, and talked about each wine as it was served. In between courses, Chef Heidi Tunnell would describe her cooking techniques for each of the dishes; as well as, share where the food was sourced from – many of the ingredients were sourced from her own farm, located just south of Eugene, in Creswell.

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My kind of Riesling

The first course was Seafood Sausage and Salad paired with Sweet Cheeks 2011 Dry Riesling. I first tried the 2011 Dry Riesling several months prior to the dinner, and I was excited to see that it was paired with seafood. The solid acidic backbone and orange and lime zestiness on the mid-palate and finish of the Riesling is down-right delicious with the salty, briny flavors of the seafood sausage. I’ve always been rather picky with Rieslings produced in America – I’ve often found them to be too sweet or too dry. Produced from some of the oldest Riesling vines in the state, Sweet Cheeks 2011 Dry Riesling is exactly the kind of Riesling I seek out and absolutely love. It’s extremely food friendly, especially with seafood, yet I could pop the cork on a sunny day on my back patio and need no food at all.

I was super excited for the main course: Pinot Noir Braised Chicken, Mushroom and Lentil Ragout, Sautéed Greens and House Baked Ciabattini (Heidi makes the best bread in the world), paired with the 2009 Vintage Pinot Noir. Heidi braised the chicken in the same Pinot Noir that was in our Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses. If you know me, you will already know that I was a happy wine gal having my Pinot Noir poured into the proper stemware; after all, I don’t hide the fact that I am a wine glass snob. Sweet Cheeks ’09 Vintage Pinot Noir is a beautiful deep garnet color in the glass, and has aromas of black cherries, ripe raspberries and a hint of cranberry. On the palate, the silky mouthfeel is rich and complex mid-palate and lingers long with flavors of cherries, caramel and fall spices. The sauce that covered the chicken was made using the Pinot Noir, and the delicate, yet substantial, flavors of the chicken and mushrooms were ambrosial with the delicate, yet pronounced, flavors of the Pinot Noir. It was quite the exceptional pairing.

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Seafood Sausage and Salad

For dessert, Heidi made a Chocolate Tart, which was a generously sized slice of dense, rich, dark chocolate, along with a sauce made using the Sweet cheeks 2009 Barrel Select Syrah – to pair with a glass of the Syrah, of course. Enjoyed on several previous occasions, I love this Syrah made with fruit sourced out of Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. As I’ve described it before, this Syrah offers vigorous aromas of ripe plums and black currants that flow onto the palate with flourishing added flavors of cocoa and white pepper. It’s fruit forward with a nice long finish, and just like winemaker Mark Nicholls, I love Rhône style wines, and a Syrah that is topped off with a bit of Viognier, just like the one Mark made for Sweet Cheeks, is my kind of Syrah. There could be no more of a decadent pairing with a Syrah like this, the dark not-so-sweet chocolate tart was perfect.

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The rich and decadent Chocolate Tart

Before departing, I was able to get a bonus pour of the 2010 Barrel Select Merlot. Just like with Riesling, I am super picky about Merlot. All too often, I taste Merlots that are flat and flabby. I’m happy to report that the Sweet Cheeks 2010 Barrel Select Merlot is anything but. Flavors mimic the aromas of rich dark fruits, fresh tobacco, coffee and cedar. Supple tannins and jammy fruits create a smooth and easy drinking wine that is well rounded and quite palate pleasing. With just 653 cases produced, this won’t be around for long. I’m hoping to bring home a few bottles next time I find myself sipping wine on the Sweet Cheeks patio while taking in the unmatched view of the vineyards and valley below.

Feast in the Cellar is a signature Sweet Cheeks event that happens periodically throughout the year. Visit the Sweet Cheeks website for more information: SweetCheeksWinery.com

Sweet Cheeks Winery, 27007 Briggs Hill Road, Eugene, Or, 97405

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Kudos to everyone at Sweet Cheeks for putting on a stellar event, and thank you for the gracious invitation.