Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oregon Willamette Valley

How could we go to Oregon and not spend a fews days in the Willamette Valley? We stayed in McMinnville which had been a recommendation of a wine maker from Argyle who had visited Richmond several months ago. It was a good choice. A quaint main street with interesting restaurants and wine bars.

Our temporary abode was the Steiger Haus located a few blocks from Third St (the main street). We had a nice room with a large shower and soaking tub.

Upon checking in, we made a bee-line for the closest wine bar: NW Wine Bar.

We tried a flight of reds and leanred about the differences between the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Pinot Noirs. We received great restaurant recommendations, too.

The Willamette Valley exudes a green lushness amongst its rolling hills. Vineyards abound, but other crops such as hops and flowers for commercial florists also are prevalent.

There were way too many wineries to visit in just a few days. And we lucked out since we were staying in the area over a weekend. Many of the wineries (if they are open to the public) are only open on the weekends, including some of the wine bars in McMinnville. The weekend before Memorial Day turned out to be a good time to go. Many of the wineries were having special tastings and in preperation for the all out blast on Memorial Day weekend (based on the traffic when we were there, I would avoid this weekend at all costs).

Every winery charges a tasting fee, generally $10 which is generally refunded if you purchase wine or join their wine club (wine club membership is a BIG thing here). While $10 is a lot, most of the wines being poured are at least in the $20 range and we tasted quite a few in the $60 range. And the pours are enormous (at least 1 ounce). Thus, visiting more than 4 or 5 places in a day can be taxing on the driver and the palate.

Winery Highlights

Rex Hill The first winery we visited. Good, but we had better at other places.

Four Graces Not available in Virginia. We really liked the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

Argyle Argyle sparking is always good. We also discovered that in Oregon, they also sell a red sparkling pinot noir. The best pinot here was 2006 Cowhouse. Velvety, rich, and hearty.

Adelsheim We have always liked their entry level pinot noir. The other pinots (not available in Virginia) are outstanding. They are also making a Syrah that is peppery and spicy - very Rhone-like.

Bergstrom Wonderful tasting room on top of a hill. Their highest end wine was Sigrid - a Chardonnay.

Beaux Freres Only open on special occasions. On this day, they were having barrel tastings. Except for the barrel tastings, which were great, we were a bit disappointed in the wines. We had heard so much about them, but they did not please our palates.

Domaine Drouhin Gorgeous setting overlooking the valley and endless vineyards. We enjoyed the wines as well.

Anne Amie Another beautiful setting on top of a hill overlooking vines and sheep pastures. Wines were decent. We stopped here because we had seen the labels.

Barking Frog Loved the name. Pouring out of a storefront in Carlton. Decent tasting wines, including some where the grapes were sourced from Washington State.

Anthony Dell Located in a warehouse in McMinnville. The most laid back of the places we visited. Great wines from the Rogue Valley (south of McMinnville).

Restaurant Highlights

Bistro Maison Classic French cuisine with a very French feel to the restaurant.

We did order a local pinot noir Dominio IV that was quite good.

The green salad with bacon and poached egg was delightful.

Portions were huge however. My duck confit was half a duck!

With a generous side of tasty frites.

The owner/manager was very friendly and gave us some free tasting passes to Argyle. And since this is hazelnut country, I liked finishing with a bowl of nuts to crack and sample upon the end of the meal.

Thistle The most memorable restaurant of the trip. This place was located on a side street and took up three shallow storefronts with large picture windows. The first housed the kitchen, pantry, and dish area. The second, dining room. Third, bar. Only 5 employees - chef, sous/prep (chef's lackey), dishwasher, hostess/waitress (chef's wife), and bartender. The decor had the 40's gradeschool  feel sprinkled with funky vintage finds.

We had no reservations, so we waited at the bar and had a bourbon-influenced. These guys were mixing interesting beverages similar to Acacia here in town.

After about 30 minutes, the hostess said she had counter space for us. It turned out to be right in front of the stove and prep area. For us, prime dining spots. Why folks did not reserve these stools is beyond me. Eric, the chef, answered questions and told about the limited and always fresh chalkboard menu.

I tried raw oysters. So tiny, so sweet, so utterly amazing!

We had a local pinot noir Youngberg Hill to drink.

A salad with chicory (bitter green that reminded me a radicchio).

We then had hangar steak and cod as entrees.

And shared a custard and strawberry dessert.

La Rambla This Spanish tapas place was so busy that we had to sit at the expansive bar. No problem. The list of cocktails was extensive and they also featured sangria. Perfect for a couple that had tasted way too much wine over the last couple of days.

We began with roasted marcona almonds (served warm), and then ordered serrano, a salad, potatoes with garlic aoili, grilled shrimp, Spanish meatballs, tri-tips, and grilled beef skewers.

Wonderful, tasty, and satisfying.

We did see one non-wine/food related attraction: Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. This is the place where the Spruce Goose is on display along with all other manner of aircraft and rockets, including a Titan missile.

While fascinating, the owner is extremely conservative and the displays are definitely biased. The next big projects include housing one of the space shuttles and building a water park out of a retired 747.

1 comment:

Hampers said...

Thanks for sharing....I know where to go to the next time I need a really good wine to go with my food :)