What do you get when you put together one of Portland, Oregon’s most creative chefs and Newton Vineyards, one of California’s premiere makers of unfiltered wines? Some serious deliciousness.
Newton Vineyard, located in Napa Valley, California’s winemaking center, is one of the few winemakers crafting wines the old fashioned way–using natural fermentation and bottling without filtration. That’s the way wines were made for thousands of years, with the emphasis on letting nature do the work to showcase the fruit. Then along came filtration, which stabilized the wine and shortened the time-to-market. But, with this innovation, a purity of the fruit’s essence was lost.
Newton Vineyard has revived the old methods and have partnered with top chefs around the country to show off their wines. One of those chefs is Vitaly Paley, an iconic Portland chef known for his seasonally fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. Paley was named “Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest” in 2005 by the James Beard Foundation, and he co-owns the popular Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar, the Portland Penny Diner, and The Imperial. RFT Editors Bobbie Hasselbring and Anne Weaver were recently invited to experience Newton’s unfiltered wines paired with dishes Chef Paley created for them and the results were quite spectacular.
Let the Feasting Begin
The festivities began with glasses of Newton Vineyard’s signature unfiltered Chardonnay 2010, a crisp, clean wine with lovely mineral qualities that paired beautifully with Chef Paley’s smoked oyster marinated with vanilla and served with salt cured foie gras, spicy cocoa nibs, and anchovy relish. The foie gras was buttery and silky smooth and the cocoa nibs and vanilla added a touch of sweetness to the slightly salty oyster.
Another creative appetizer that complimented the chardonnay’s briny finish was the uni and bacon slider served on house made Parker House rolls. This surprising combination of aioli, creamy uni, smoky bacon, and bittery microgreens played off the soft-crispy, buttery roll for a symphony of flavors. The fruit-forward Newton chardonnay was its perfect compliment.
With those tasty introductions, it was time for the main event, which started with the chef’s grilled oysters on the half-shell served with chermoula. The super-fresh oysters’ delicate and slightly briny signature was enhanced by the fresh, minty chermoula. I could have made a meal of these tasty little morsels.
Next came Paley’s rendition of tortilla Espanola. Having traveled in Spain, I was looking forward to this potato omelet, but the dish was a “deconstructed” version of this classic. Thin slices of potato, spring morel, chewy micro greens, and sweet paquillo peppers floated in a thin beef jus broth over which servers poured egg yolk. My palate was confused. Was this a salad, a soup? For me, it was the only dish of the night that really didn’t come together. Even Newton’s Unfiltered Merlot 2010, a rich, silky, dense offering with a nice fruitiness, couldn’t elevate this course.
The veal stew, however, didn’t disappoint. Big tender chunks of humanely-raised veal with mountain huckleberries and spiced olives were served over thick, homemade noodles and hazelnut butter, all of it lifted with a sprinkling of garden fresh parsley. It was a bowl of comforting deliciousness. The wine, Newton’s Unfiltered Merlot 2010, brought deep, rich, black fruit flavors with a touch of spiciness.
The final entrée, which came with The Puzzle, was a standout. The black pepper crusted and spit roasted leg of lamb came perfectly cooked with a deep peppery flavor. It was served over a creamy polenta that balanced the meat’s richness. The confit of lamb tongue salad, however, tasted a bit too irony for my taste and didn’t really add to this otherwise successful dish.
The Puzzle is Newton’s unfiltered “surprise” blended wine. It’s a cabernet-forward wine that uses the best fruits of the season. Some years, they don’t make The Puzzle because the grapes simply don’t measure up to the winemaker’s exacting standards. The Puzzle 2009 was an especially good year and the wine, with its rich, bold red flavors and toasty notes, paired well with Paley’s delightful lamb.
A Sweet, Light Ending
Dessert was just the right light touch: a silky smooth saffron pana cotta with orange gelee on top that recalled childhood Creamcicles. It was matched with a delicate rhubarb turnover made with multiple layers of buttery filo dough topped with pistachio, honey, and dates that was out of this world.
Real bottom line: By working with creative chefs like Vitaly Paley, fine winemakers like Newton are elevating pairing food and wine. The combination of Chef Paley’s innovative, seasonally-fresh dishes with Newton’s delightfully fresh, fruit-dominant unfiltered wines hit all the right notes. It also made me better appreciate the flavor nuisances that right wines married with the right dishes can bring to the table. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos by Anne Weaver, RFT Editor