Mar 2, 2013

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Fine Dining in the Cellar with Domaine Meriwether

IMG_4886I must admit, I really love my job. Who wouldn’t love attending fabulous food and wine events around the state of Oregon? Like I’ve said before, I’m a lucky wine gal, and I never take that for granted. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by world renowned wineries that produce some of the finest wines in the world, in a state that is unmatched in beauty and bounty.

One of my favorite wineries in the southern Willamette Valley is Domaine Meriwether. Owner, Buzz Kawders, is not only one of the funnest people to be around, but he’s got a heart of gold and has an affinity for life unlike most. He has a great thing going: a state of the art winery that’s just outside of Oregon’s second largest city, Eugene, located on a beautiful piece of property with views of the nearby Coastal Range, and a stellar winemaker named Ray Walsh, who is well known for his success in crafting outstanding sparkling and still wines.

IMG_4881So, when I was asked to attend their inaugural Fine Dining in the Cellar event, it was marked on my calendar before I could say, “count me in,” – this was an event not to be missed. Because it took place just a few days before Valentine’s Day, a red and white Valentine’s theme flowed throughout the winery. The beautifully decorated dining table, which was surrounded by stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, was decked out with red roses and white candles. Gold chargers were topped with fine China, and place cards with guests names were at each setting. To set the mood for this romantic scene, a harpist created a perfectly elegant backdrop of angelic-like music.

As soon as we arrived, Champagne flutes were filled with Domaine Meriwether’s Non Vintage Cuvee Brut, a sparkling wine produced using Methode Champenoise, that I’ve had before and always enjoy. It’s a crisp, refreshing blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. Being a non vintage allows for various vintages to be blended, along with the addition of some reserve wines – adding loads of character. Aromas of fresh, crisp fruit and toasted almond flowed onto the palate with vibrancy.

IMG_4879Chef Garrett Kirsch, who is the chef at Eugene’s popular B2 Wine Bar, had created quite an impressive menu for the evening’s feast, starting with two flavor-packed appetizers that paired perfectly with the Non Vintage Cuvee Brut: Melon Prosciutto Canapé and Bacon Wrapped Dates with Balsamic Glaze. The Melon Prosciutto Canapé was a stacked beauty of four delectable ingredients: a toasted slice of marbled rye with a dab of Espresso Stout spicy mustard (made with local brewery Oakshire’s Espresso Stout brew), and a slice of prosciutto topped with a honeydew melon ball – sweet and spicy gone wild, and truly palate pleasing. The dates were stuffed with Blue cheese, wrapped with applewood smoked bacon and topped with a balsamic glaze – a hearty combination of savory flavors that wrapped around the bubbles in the sparkling wine.

The appetizers were passed around on trays while guests arrived for the dinner. Once everyone had arrived, Buzz invited everyone to find their places at the table and join him for dinner. This was when I got my first glimpse of the menu. We had five incredible courses coming our way, and an unexpected conversation course to be enjoyed while mingling with the other wine and food enthisasts after dinner. I was excited for what was to come.

IMG_4891Starting with a Spinach salad with Raspberry Champagne Vinaigrette, candied almonds and crumbled goat cheese, the wine pairing was Meriwether’s 2007 Pinot Gris. While most of the wineries in the southern Willamettte Valley are currently selling their 2011 vintage Pinot Gris’, Meriwether’s current release is the 2007.  Being just the second vintage of Pinot Gris produced and released at Domaine Meriwether, winemaker Ray Walsh proves his talents with white winemaking in this outstanding wine. Because Domaine Merweither is primarily a sparkling wine producer, the facility was designed to age wine five to nine years, so Buzz not only has the desire to age still wines longer than most – he has the ability to do it. The remarkable depth of character and full round structure of the ’07 Pinot Gris is acquired through additional bottle aging, and alluring honeysuckle and tropical notes hit the palate in seamless silky waves. The pairing with the salad couldn’t have been more perfect. The tropical fruity notes in the wine sliced through the acid in the salad dressing, creating a delectable balance.

IMG_4895The next course to arrive was the Lobster Bisque. Found on the menu at B2 Wine Bar, where Chef Garrett creates some amazing culinary creations, the Lobster Bisque is impossible to pass up. I order this creamy, savory bisque every single time I go to B2, so I was looking forward to the pairing with the 2010 Gewurztraminer – the youngest wine to ever be released at Meriwether. This off-dry beauty is loaded with delicious fresh fruit flavors, but offers very minimal sweetness, and that tiny bit of sweetness was heavenly with the salty and slightly spicy characteristics of the Lobster Bisque.

Up next was Pesto Salmon grilled on cedar plank served with polenta and rainbow carrots, paired with the non vintage 100 percent Pinot Noir Rosé. Like the Cuvee Brut and Pinot Gris, I’ve had the Meriwether Rosé before, but what I didn’t know about this particular wine, was that it was made different than most. Usually, Rosés get their salmon-pinkish hues from grape skins being added back in during the winemaking process. The red grape skin comes in contact with the juice for a short period of time, giving it the rosé color. With the Meriwether NV Rosé, the wine is made like a white wine, treated like a white wine, and then it’s aged in the barrel. At the very end of the process, a tiny bit of Meriwether Reserve Pinot Noir is added, giving it the pinkish hue. This sort of blending is rarely done, but it certainly makes the flavors and qualities stand out from other Rosés. No contact with the grape skins means no tannins, so it’s really smooth and easy to drink. Lovely aromas and flavors of strawberries and watermelon are balanced by a solid acidic backbone, which makes it a super food-friendly wine. It’s a dry Rosé that really showcases the Pinot Noir characteristics, and it was ambrosial with the Salmon, which according to Chef Garrett, was soaked in the Rosé prior to grilling – wow.

IMG_4902You’d think by this time, we would all be too full to continue with dinner, but the portion sizes were absolutely perfect. Up next was Rack of Lamb with Espresso Stout mustard and pistachio nuts, garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus served with my all-time favorite Meriwether wine, the 2005 Pinot Noir Reserve. Until this particular dinner, I had never thoroughly enjoyed rack of lamb, so I need to give a shout out to Chef Garrett for totally converting a skeptic. This dish was so delicious, and paired so well with the Pinot Noir, I was completely blown away. The ’05 Pinot Noir is not your typical Oregon Pinot – it’s darker, richer and fuller bodied than most. Aromas and flavors of blackerries, raspberries, cassis and cinnamon are followed by an earthy, smoky, pie spice, long lasting finish. Incredibly well balanced along with a silky, velvety mouthfeel make for one incredible Pinot Noir. The smoky qualities in the Pinot were down right delicious with the flavors of the lamb, and the pairing was a bull’s eye.

I am a huge cheesecake fan and had been sticking pretty well to my low-carb diet since early January – up until the Chocolate Pomegranate Cheesecake with strawberry sauce arrived. Frankly, I didn’t care. I was about to sink my teeth into a heavenly dessert paired with a 13 year old sparkling wine, the 2000 Prestige Cuvee – no diet on earth could stop that from happening. My favorite Meriwether sparkling is the 2000 Prestige Cuvee with it’s millions of tiny bubbles and intensely pleasing balance. With a blend of 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay, the Pinot characteristics shine in this elegantly rich and well rounded sparkler. Mid-palate, the Chardonnay becomes evident and the finish is long and luxurious. Aromas and flavors are all about almonds and cream with vibrant acidity – deliciously perfect with the strawberry sauce on the cheesecake.

IMG_4907Usually, this is the point when a cellar dinner is over – people chat for a few minutes and head home. Not at Domaine Meriwether. Buzz announced that the Conversation course was on its way, and offered everyone a final glass of their favorite wine from the evening. Platters filled with different gourmet cheeses and dried fruits were placed down the middle of the table while glasses were refilled. With the delectable cheeses, including Blue, Swiss and Gouda, I decided to have a final glass of the ’05 Pinot Noir Reserve – what a way to end a stellar evening.

I’ve attended many cellar dinners, and this invitation to stay longer, enjoy more wine, and get to know the people around you was a first. Buzz said at the beginning of the evening, “You’ll leave here tonight with a full stomach and new found friends.” And, we certainly did. We even exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, and made future plans with some of the people we met. As if it couldn’t get any better, on the way out, each lady received a red rose, and the men took home a boxed chocolate truffle.

IMG_4866The next cellar dinner happening at Domaine Meriwether is in the works for Saturday, May 11: Mother’s Day Cellar Dinner, which I’m sure will sell out fast. To keep an eye out for when reservations will become available, like the Domaine Meriwether facebook page by clicking here.

Domaine Meriwether, 88324 Vineyard Lane, Veneta, OR 97487