Julia Crowley, EDN
When I heard about the Northwest Food and Wine Festival, I didn’t blink an eye before knowing I’d be planning a road trip up to Portland to bask in a plethora of two of my favorite things: food and wine. I wasn’t excited only about food and wine, but any time there’s an emphasis on food and wine from the Pacific Northwest, there’s no doubt you’ll find me there. Little did I know that I’d be in for a lot more than just food and wine.
The Northwest Food and Wine Festival took place at the DoubleTree Hotel Lloyd Center in downtown Portland on a Saturday evening, and the dress code was cocktail dresses for women and sport coats for men. The event began at 4 pm for those that purchased a ticket, which allowed early access to the Preferred and Grand Food and Wine Tasting. Regular tickets were slightly less expensive and admittance to the main event began at 5 pm.
At 4 pm on the dot, we entered the banquet hall where the event was taking place. We were handed a logo wine glass and then immediately drawn to a large attractive display of fruits and vegetables loaded with heirloom tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, asparagus, grapes and strawberries, to name just a few. Next to the vegetable and fruit display, there was a company from Napa Valley offering samples of its product, The Perfect Puree. Their colorful array of premium purees, concentrates and specialty zests are bases used for signature cocktails, mocktails and smoothies.
My first sample was a small spoonful of the Prickly Pear Puree. Exploding with natural, intensely rich and delicious flavors, I was told that all of the Perfect Purees were sourced from premium fruit that was harvested at the peak of season.
“We’ve developed strong and long lasting relationships with our growers and we support their sustainable practices,” said Carol Jenson, Regional Sales Manager for Perfect Puree. Jenson continued, “None of our products have artificial additives or sweeteners, they’re frozen to maintain the flavor and color of the fresh fruit, and they are all natural.”
Some of the other purees I tried included the Kiwi, Ginger, Mango and Roasted Red Pepper. I also tried the Blood Orange and Caramelized Pineapple Concentrates along with the Orange Zest. Each one was absolutely true to their own characteristics, and I was clearly impressed with these savory and flavorful treats. It was easy to imagine the Ginger Puree sauteed with scallops or the Blood Orange Concentrate blended with ice for a refreshing smoothie.
I was ready to try some wine, so we headed over to a table where I saw a familiar face: Jonathan Scott Oberlander, owner and winemaker of J. Scott Cellars. Oberlander is from the Eugene area, and I’ve been a fan his wines for a long time. His belief is “Wine is a form of consumable art, in which no two pieces are ever exactly alike. Rather, each wine is a snap shot of the growing season, mixed with specific varietal characteristics unique to each grape, and a small amount of human intervention.”
Oberlander was pouring some of my favorites from his line of unique, small boutique wines produced from Oregon and Washington fruit. We started with the Rogue Valley 2010 Viognier. With floral aromas on the nose, this white wine has great structure and balanced acidity with a long smooth finish. It’s simply delicious.
Another winery from the Eugene area that participated in this event was King Estate, and I asked for a sample of their 2009 Signature Pinot Noir. Awarded a gold medal from the judges for this event, the ’09 Pinot Noir has aromas of cherry, cedar and vanilla. Bright tannins and a silky smooth mouth feel lead to a lingering finish that complemented a slice of pate that I snatched from a nearby vendor.
I then noticed that almost every food vendor in the banquet hall was offering some form of pate, and I realized that the food portion and competition of this festival had a theme to it: Pate in Portland. I later found out that handmade pate, salami and meats are very prevalent in the Portland marketplace, and with no known pate competitions within the Unites States, Portland was the perfect place to tap into a niche that hadn’t yet been tapped. This event garnered two pate competitions: one for traditional pate and one for the most creative pate.
Pate are basically a mixture of fat and ground meat minced into a spreadable paste. Many pate include vegetables and spices, in addition to wine or brandy and some are baked in a crust. Most pate are made from chicken, beef or goose liver. The most common pate and probably the most beloved is Foie Gras, which is made from the fattened livers of geese.
Although I’m not one to cook or order any form of liver, I was surprised to find that I was enjoying many of the pate alongside Oregon’s earthy Pinot Noirs. One of my favorite combinations was Cottonwood’s 2009 Piper Marina Pinot Noir with a small amount of Foie Gras on a seasoned cracker. Cottonwood Winery is located in Salem, but the winemaker, Aaron Lieberman, is also well-known for his winemaking talents at Iris Vineyards out of Eugene. The ’09 Marina Piper Pinot Noir received a silver medal from the judges, but I felt it was more deserving of a gold or platinum medal.
Pate definitely dominated the food arena, but I also tried other foods I wouldn’t eat on a regular basis. I experienced the spicy flavors of marinated Steak Tartare (raw beef) that was piled high on a piece of fresh bread, I slurped down a raw, but delicious oyster, and I not so eagerly tried a boiled Quail egg that was actually quite good – all this while sampling excellent wines from California to Washington that paired exceptionally well with everything I sampled.
As we walked around the bustling banquet hall, we came to an area where there was a bartender competition in progress. Five rather serious looking judges sat on stools in front of a bar where a single bartender effortlessly concocted cocktail after cocktail. The judges watched closely and took notes while the bartenders mixed, shook, and poured captivating drinks for the judges to sample. The winner of the competition was bartender Emily Baker.
“Emily Baker tends bar at Rum Club in Portland, Oregon, where she views cocktails as a way to express her creativity in a social setting. That, and she likes being in really close proximity to Tequila,” commented a representative of the festival.
We meandered through the crowds, intent on continuing our tasting spree when we came across Crispin Cider. Crispin Cider has an entire line of premium hard apple ciders, and with six different flavors to choose from, I decided to sample the four Artisanal Reserves: Honey Crisp, The Saint, Lansdowne, and Cho-tokkyu. These are not your average hard ciders.
The Honey Crisp contained pure organic honey giving way to a honey-rich, full bodied and creamy taste. The Saint is smoothed with pure organic maple syrup. Although it’s extremely easy to drink, it has a depth of complexity that was truly delectable. With Irish Stout yeast and organic molasses, the Lansdowne was my favorite of the four. It was buttery and creamy, but crisp on the finish, and the flavors created a well balanced, delightfully fruity cider. The Cho-takkyu is fermented with organic, gluten-free rice syrup and contains sake yeast which gives way to a sake-ish tasting hard cider. Really bright acidity, this would be great poured over some ice and served on a hot summer day.
Not only was there hard cider in addition to wine, but there was also an extensive list of vendors from hard liquor companies. Since I was being bold with my food selections, I thought I’d be bold with my beverage selections too, so I tried the Hogshead Whiskey from McMenamin’s-Edgefield Distillery. Named the ‘2011 Single Malt Whiskey of the Year’ by American Distilling Institute, this amber colored and rich whiskey was really very good. There was a slight vanilla sweetness on the palate that I’ve never tasted in whiskey before; however, I haven’t had an abundance of whiskey in my life time, so this experience was sort of new. I also tried their Pear Brandy which was created using 100 percent Hood River, Oregon-grown pears. McMenamin’s absolutely captured the flavor of the pears, and I’m now interested in learning about the world of brandy, something I’ve never delved into before.
Amazed at how quickly the four hours had passed, we were on our way out the door when I spotted the table that housed the line-up of wines from Willamette Valley’s highly acclaimed Van Duzer Vineyards. Located in Dallas, Oregon, Van Duzer produces a spectacular Estate Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, but the bottle that caught my attention was one from Van Duzer I had never seen: Sorcery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Apparently the owners of Van Duzer, Carl and Marilyn Thoma, own some vineyard acreage in Napa Valley where they grow premium Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 Sorcery displays unique earthy characteristics that are indigenous to the Rutherford Appelation where the Van Duzer Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown, this characteristic is known as “Rutherford Dust.” In addition to the unique earthy tones, I caught hints of both bright and ripened berries along with dark chocolate and pleasing vanilla notes. I absolutely loved this Cabernet Sauvignon, and with only 420 cases produced, I’ll be stocking up on this delicious treat for sure.
After receiving my last savory sample for the evening, we were handed fresh strawberries and a pot of gorgeous fall colored mums on the way out. The beautiful display of fruits and vegetables that had greeted us upon our entry was dwindling down as the farm stand owners gave away all of their fresh goodies to the lucky patrons of an event that offered far more than just food and wine.
I did expect great wine and food at the Northwest Food and Wine Festival, but it was the unexpected palatable pate, liquor, cider, and unusual foods that made this event far more adventurous and exciting than I had anticipated. I’m eager for the next years’ event, it is one I know I won’t miss.