Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Setting Sail on the Oregon Trail

Conclusion: apparently if I'm drinking Elizabeth Chambers wines, there are cookies involved.

The connection was set in stone last summer after missing the originally scheduled appointment and showing up with locally-baked cookies as a peace offering for tardiness.

As it turned out, baked good were hardly necessary given the laid back attitude of our Oregon come-here pourer, who gushed about mossy rooves, gray skies and a wine scene small enough to be groovy, unlike California, from whence she'd come.

And, of course, the micro-boutique wines had been fabulous, so my hand was in the air when I got an invitation to an Elizabeth Chambers wine dinner at Camden's. Pru and Beau, being devoted fans of the pinot noir grape, were my date.

Tucked into a table amidst cartons of grape juice from various winemaking regions, we happily held court, with both the wine rep and the winery rep stopping by periodically to school us on what had been poured, why it was significant and how it fit into the winery's repertoire.

Beginning the evening with Silvan Ridge 2014 Pinot Gris paired with watermelon and tomato salad with feta and micro-basil felt like a summery rebuke to the damp, gray skies outside, so sunny was the salad and wine combo.

And, really, it only takes one glass of Pinot Gris to get a party started when I'm seated with these two. After a spirited discussion, Beau leaned over to Pru, smiling, saying, "Did I hear you say I was right?'

Without so much as missing a beat, Pru came back with, "You'll never get it in writing!" True as that might be, I've no doubt that just the satisfaction and memory of her words will live on in perpetuity for him.

It was while we sipped Silvan Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir that our wine rep explained the 1979 medallion on the bottle's label, touting the winery as one of the oldest in Oregon. When he spoke of earnest young people moving to the area in the late '70s to work the soil and eventually grow grapes, I felt the vibe.

So these were hippie types who moved up from California looking for fresh, cheap dirt, eh? The wine rep laughed and said I'd nailed it, mentioning that in the early years, the hippies focused on growing, with no clear sense of what.

"Then they'd take a bottle of their finished product to the nearest agriculture school and ask for an analysis. They'd say, tell me what we've got because they had no idea. For them, it was all about the dirt and the growing." Yea, yea, they probably had terrariums, too, and plants growing in the back of their VW Bugs, just like I did.

Far out, man, that's an interesting way to launch a state's wine industry.

We enjoyed the light red wine with grilled asparagus wrapped in housemade ham over local greens and goat cheese creme fraiche, a dish that got high marks all around and a gold star for the ham.

But the wine that Pru and Beau were instantly enamored with was Elizabeth Chambers Cellars 2013 Winemaker's Cuvee, a Wine Enthusiast 93-point selection with notes of French oak and a lingering finish.

"We want this one, don't we?" Pru asked of Beau after she'd finished her first sip. While Beau is known to be among the most agreeable people on the planet, his heartfelt agreement seemed to come more from an appreciation of the elegant and complex Pinot Noir than a slavish desire to please the little woman.

It was served with pan-roasted Pacific salmon over beet carpaccio with poached Black Mission figs, which inevitably led to a fig discussion given the passion Pru and I carry for figs of any stripe. The recent planting of a fig tree at her Church Hill manse has not yet produced fruit, but we continue to be hopeful given her great success raising figs when she lived on Mulberry Street.

Segueing from fruit to body parts, Pru explained the weenus to us, pulling on hers and sharing that  a person's age could be determined by their weenus. Is it dark or red, dry-skinned or pliant, or, god forbid, nothing more than an unappealing stop for a pair of lips kissing up a woman's arm?

You make the call.

Like a pair of prize fighters slugging it out, in the fourth round Elizabeth Chambers 2012 Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir took on roasted Hudson Valley duck breast with fingerling potatoes and mixed roasted olives, the fat and saltiness standing up to the sturdy, tannic and expensive ($52 a bottle) wine for a most-evenly matched round.

One wouldn't be half as good without the other.

Because Beau was wearing a black t-shirt under a cream-colored button down, Pru called him on it, leading to a discussion of one of the silliest fashion accessories we could think of: dickies.

I'm not gonna lie, I had a couple in middle school, but I can't recall that they lasted much later than when the hippies started growing grapes in Oregon.

"When are the dickies coming back?" Pru mused to no real answers.

Just when we thought dinner was finished, dark chocolate cookies with sea salt arrived and my night was complete with the sweet being the final punctuation to a long, savory sentence. I, alone, had two.

By then, the room was noisy with wine-lubricated conversations, including ours which ranged from '70s decor - green and silver bamboo wallpaper, mirrored walls with distinctive gold filigree designs on the mirror tiles - to misheard conversations.

Referencing her favorite hippie chick's new-found passion for weed brownies and holding up her own chocolate cookie, Pru observed the contrast, noting, "There's no pot in here" and took a bite.

Beau, whose years in the Navy ensure that he only hears half of our conversations and who'd conveniently forgotten his ear trumpet, replied, "Yes, it is warm."

Say goodnight, wine lovers. It's already Wednesday.


  1. Well it WAS warm in there. Even without a dickie. Audiologist appointment Tuesday (sticks tongue out).

  2. Here's a tip as you get older: Don't bother with a hearing aid because then people will expect you to listen to them.
    (return tongue stick)