Wonderful Decadence In Portland
You can bet your wine cellar that when you get almost 30 Master Sommeliers from around the country in one place, we are going to have some fun, drink some fantastic wines and eat better than well. And that is exactly what happened this past week in Portland, Ore., where we were proctoring the Advanced Examination for the Court of Master Sommeliers. The Court will be issuing the results of the examinations, but here are some of the unofficial results and highlights of some of our time together.
We had a fantastic meal at Restaurant Gruner. With a name like Gruner, Austrian fare dominates the menu, but unlike our expectations, the food was far from heavy. I had an awesome kale salad with a light lemon and cream dressing, and the halibut was absolutely killer – moist, tender and flaky. We had too many wines to mention here – seriously!
What dinner at Gruner would be complete without a Gruner Veltliner? A magnum of 2012 Weingut Knoll Riedel Schutt Smaragd appeared, my first Gruner out of a magnum, by the way. It was stunningly aromatic: green fruits, citrus, grass, chamomile, Bosc pears and sandy mineral components somersault from the glass. Intensely flavored but medium bodied, this wine was compact and delicious, and one which could possibly live for decades in a magnum.
We also shared a magnum of Riesling of the same vintage and vineyard from Knoll, which was more tropically fruity, hon-eyed and rocky – no less delicious, maybe more regal and seamless.
A methode traditionelle sparkling rose made from Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch by Szigeti in Osterreich, Austria, was inspiring. It was definitely dry but with plenty of red fruit character, more so than any rose Champagne. It was darker but without tannin and really wakes the palate with it’s buoyant flavors and creamy finish.
But the wine star of the evening was the 2010 Humagne Rouge La Mouziere Les Coteaux de Sierre from Valais, Switzerland, by Cave Caloz. This was the very first Humagne Rouge to cross my lips and I was blown away by it. It reminds me of a Premier Cru Pinot Noir – silky, sexy, leaning on cherry and strawberry fruit with a note of wet stone. The structure is so much like Pinot Noir that if I’d blind-tasted on this wine, I would have sworn it was Pinot Noir. I tried to find a bottle to bring home, but alas it is a rare find.
One of Portland’s great Italian Restaurants is Eva Gene’s. Their salads are wonderful ranging from fiddlehead ferns to beets and kale. The house-made pastas are perfectly done.
The specialty of the evening was an Agnolotti of rabbit which disappeared from the plate seemingly instantaneously – a must eat item!
Among the dozen wine selections of the evening, the 2001 Bartolo Moscarello Barolo was king in every sense of the word – regal, brimming with everything one would want in a Barolo. Plenty of black fruit, masculine structure and minerality, but floral and molto-concentrated, it is still a baby. So good we ordered another bottle. A new find among the esoteric Gaglioppo and Nerello Muscalese was an excellent 2008 Brunello di Montalcino from l’Aietta. It was smooth and round, no hard edges. Ripe and inviting red fruit greet the palate, with a strong and lasting finish of spiced cherries that leave you wanting more. Viva Italia!
Pok Pok is a beloved establishment for Portlandians, and I can see why. It is an Southeastern Asian-inspired family-style restaurant based on Thai and Burmese recipes that are homey and fun. The chicken wings and the Huong Lay (a Burmese tamarind curry pot of pork belly and shoulder) are must-haves. Their wine list is very short, but they allowed us to bring a few bottles of our own, so we brought big bottles of Champagne for all. A jeroboam of Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve, which is actually all 2004 vintage disgorged in 2012, was ethereal. It was not only the creamy Chardonnay fruit that was exceptional but it has such a precision and clarity of flavors that I could drink it all night long (unfortunately it didn’t last).
Lucky for me, there was a magnum of 2006 Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or to satisfy my thirst. One of my fellow masters called it “Meursault with bubbles.” I did him one better and called it “Meursault Charmes with bubbles.” This cuvee starts its life fermented in oak, and it shows. There is a perceptible vanilla and toast aroma and flavor in the wine, but behind it lies perfectly ripe and decadent fruit all wrapped up in an elegant and mouth-caressing package. I could hold this magnum for 20 years or more.
It was an unforgettable few days for all of us, maybe even more so for the candidates that took the exams. Thanks to all of the members of the Court of Master Sommeliers for making it such a successful and memorable few days.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.