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Musings by Leah Jorgensen

The Tables Turned

I have had an interesting and exciting career in the wine industry over the past decade.  It has certainly opened many unexpected doors for me.  Creatively, my learnings about the world of wine provided me with the inspiration to write my first novel, which is set on an Oregon vineyard in the Dundee Hills.  That book has yet to be published.  To be perfectly honest, it still needs an editing overhaul.  But, the point is, that was my first experience with fusing my three passions – food, wine and writing.   I wince a little at categorizing myself as a food and wine writer, but, rather, I prefer to call myself a lifestyle writer.  Plus, I don’t want to pigeon hole myself.

Subsequently, after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, I found myself in a very unique position.  I was a foodie, a wine industry professional and budding writer with a major conundrum.  I was severely restricted with my dining out options.  I was terrified to eat out at most restaurants because of the potential for cross-contamination.  First of all, gluten can be found in practically everything.  Second, most commercial kitchens are hectic enough without the annoying distraction of keeping an order gluten free and safe.  It’s a major risk to dine out when you have a food allergy or celiac disease.  The challenge fuelled me to prove that you don’t have to put to bed your love for fine dining just because you have a dietary restriction.  I was determined to seek out the safe side of eating out, gluten free.

This has helped me to carve out a nice little niche in my writing.  I have contributed to a handful of magazines on the topic of gluten free eating and imbibing.  Among the perks I have found as a gluten-free lifestyle writer, especially since I began contributing to Wine Press Northwest magazine, is the occasional invitation to food and wine events in Oregon, like wine dinners.  This gives me the chance to test out the gluten-free preparedness of local restaurants.

Most recently, I was kindly invited to attend the Milbrandt Vineyards spring wine dinner at Salty’s Seafood Grill on the Columbia River.  My host, Sommelier Matthew Carter, immediately welcomed me and my boyfriend and brought us to an upstairs private dining room where guests were already mingling and sipping on the 2007 Traditions Pinot Gris, a crisp, acidic white wine with a subtle roundness from the Ancient Lakes region (currently under application for AVA)in Washington.

Once we sat down for the first course, Chef Dana Cress came out to present a Halibut Tartare with Sweet Basil Parmesan Flan, Spring Pea Bisque, Red and Yellow Pepper Coulis paired with the Gris.  This course did not contain any gluten, so I enjoyed the whole presentation.  The Gris, which was quite different from the Oregon wines I was more accustomed to, was bright and really opened up with this course.  It brought out the flavors of the halibut and the sweet basil. 

The second course was a Duck Trio – Smoked Duck Toast, Gingered Rhubarb – Duck Confit, Marionberry Black Pepper Chutney, Sweet Potato Gaufrettes – Crispy Seared Duck, Scallion Pancake, Sweet Cherry Sauce, paired with the 2006 Traditions Merlot.   I was pleasantly surprised by the balance in this wine.  It had wonderful dark fruits without being a too heavy a hitter.  Which means, the wine truly accompanied the duck trio.  My serving was slightly modified, where the smoked duck was presented without toast and the crispy seared duck was sans pancake, which was fine by me.  I got to really enjoy the pairing of duck and Merlot, which really brought out the tenderness of the meat and the delicate marionberry and sweet cherry sauce flavors. 

The third course was a Filet of Beef Wellington, Roasted Garlic & Preserved Lemon Pate, Roasted Fiddlehead Ferns, Oregon White Truffle Hollandaise paired with the 2005 Legacy Syrah.  Once again, I was pleased to find a very balance Syrah with notes of flowering herbs, dark fruits and mocha.  The wine brought out the beef flavors beautifully.  The roasted garlic, lemon and white truffle were subtle because of the wine, which was very interesting to me.  When I’d bite into the course without sipping on the wine, the other flavors were much more pungent, which proved to me the Chef put a lot of thought into this pairing and how the Syrah would effortlessly lift the beef to the front of the palate.

Finally, the dessert course included a Chocolate Pear Frangipane Tart, Late Harvest Anglaise paired with the 2007 Estates Late Harvest Riesling.  My version was not a tart, but a lovely stewed pear in the anglaise with chocolate sauce, which was still delicious.  The Late Harvest Riesling was sublte and delicate with the pear.

All in all, it was an engaging evening of good food and wine.  Mibrandt’s Regional Sales Manager was on hand to take us on the journey of what was in the glass, where the grapes were grown (the reds were from vineyards mostly planted in the Wahluke Slope), and how the wines were crafted.   The Chef and his team offered an engaging presentation of seasonal fare.  Even the tables were decorated with centerpieces with stalks of fiddlehead ferns – a lovely touch.  If given the chance, I highly recommend attending one of Salty’s wine dinners – an opportunity for the Chef to creatively depart from his usual menu, and an opportunity to taste some great wines selected by Sommelier Matthew Carter, whose list and cellar is quite impressive.

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