My personal love affair with food and wine began as a child. My mother, who studied with a French master chef, cooked beautifully. My father, a wine enthusiast and educator, loved choosing the right wine for dinner. I helped with my parents' monthly wine dinners. I did this primarily to be part of the experience: to taste the dishes and wines. At age 10, my first cooking experience was helping my mother bake French bread every Saturday. By eleven, I was making chocolate soufflés. When I was in college, I was cooking the same elaborate meals as my parents. It was clearly my destiny to be a food and wine junkie!
In general, the wines produced in the Willamette Valley pair extremely well with a wide variety of foods. Of all the red varietals, Pinot noir is the most flexible: a lovely match with both red and white meat dishes. The white wines of the Willamette Valley have a backbone of fresh acidity that is critical in food pairing.
My winemaking style is focused on making wines to be enjoyed with a meal. I want to capture a broad spectrum of flavors and textures. I choose to do this rather then emphasizing maximum fruit. I use oak to bring out nuances rather than creating its own flavor profile. Finally, I strive for balanced acidity that allows the palate to be refreshed after fat, protein, and other strong flavors.
A true food wine integrates itself into a meal, emphasizing the flavors of the dish, cleansing the palate, and maintaining freshness. When a wine and dish work together, the wine tastes better with the food and the food tastes better with the wine. Thankfully there are many ways to create these matches.
Our grapes come from a wide variety of different sites. It is important that my wines to reflect the personality of each location. Some sites create wines that are bold and rich, others create wines that are pure and fresh. These “terroirs” or site-driven personalities influence the way wines interact with different foods.
A good analogy is the way a chef creates food with a distinct personality. They use the same meat and vegetables as other chefs, but produce very different flavor and textural elements. The same thing happens when Winemakers pick from distinct sites at different ripeness levels and choose different production methods.
I focus on creating food compatibility for all my wines and I have enjoyed my wines with a wide range of foods. For me, some pairings stand out as memorable. This guide is intended as a stimulant to your creativity instead of a set of rules. Your personal taste should be the first priority; if you like it, then it is a good pairing! - Mark
Our Pinot blanc Freedom Hill Vineyard was created for NW shellfish. The lovely tree fruit aromas and flavors play well against the essential “sweetness” of fresh shellfish. I ferment Pinot blanc in both stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, and leave the wine on its lees for eight months. My intention is to create a balance for the rich texture of shellfish on your tongue. It also works very well with rich white fish dishes and appetizers.
Pinot gris has a spicy component that we accentuate by limiting the crop in the vineyard. The grapes come from a cool site that slows the final ripening and flavor development phase, creating more nuances and textures in the grapes. We ferment it in stainless steel tanks and leave the wine on its lees longer than usual both to capture the fruit and lengthen the mouth feel. My goal is to feel those spice notes throughout your mouth. This style of Pinot gris matches very well with rich white meat dishes as well as preparations that have some heat: Cajun, Thai, Vietnamese, or Mexican foods.
When the summer heat arrives, "slaving over a hot stove" is not our activity of choice. At the same time, gardens and farmer's markets are providing an abundance of fresh, flavorful goods. These are flavors that we want to enjoy in all their glory, often accompanied by grilled protiens, whether it be fish, poultry, or rich meats.
Wines with finesse and balance are important, but an even better match are wines of clarity or purity. These could be wines of Provence, many Rosés, and wines from cooler regions. They all highlight the simplicity of the food preparation and freshness of the flavors.
Our Pinot noirs from Temperance Hill and Vitae Springs have that "purity" of expression. Both come from cool sites that ripen later thus always retaining a healthy backbone of acidity. The "smoky" background note in Temperance Hill matches very well with the smoky flavors that come from the grill.
Also lovely is our Maliziosa, a rosé of Pinot noir with soft, balanced tannins, lovely fresh fruit, and enough savory notes to play with grilled mushrooms and vegetables.
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The key with these dishes is texture. If you take a piece of red snapper, sauté it and serve with white rice, the flavor experience is fundamentally different that if you crust the fish with almonds and serve it with a lemon caper sauce and risotto. Both start with fish and rice but end in very different places.
I believe that Chardonnay is the wine for sauces as it is capable of expressing a textural richess and breadth beyond all other varietals. This is especially true when the grape is respected. Heavy oak usage and rich malolactic character create wines with immediate appeal when tasted alone. They do not match well with food. A more balanced approach creates beautiful wines for dinner.
Rich dishes balance well with rich wines. These are wines with ample tannins and fruit that are balanced with nuanced aromas.
Tannins act to clear the palate and provide enough flavor to clear our taste buds of the rich flavors - meat, the smoke of the grill, or the density of tomatoes and root vegetables - refreshing us for another bite.
When the dish is dominated by texture from foods such as braised meat, sausages, and mushrooms, wines with more exotic flavors and a denser texture are great matches. Pinot noir from Momtazi Vineyard has an especially rich feel. With its savory spice and dark fruit, it loves all of these foods and is a great choice for dishes with Indian spices.
The sweet purity of a great steak can be beautifully balanced with a denser structured Pinot noir. Freedom Hill Vineyard has the exposure to the sun and warmth to create rich and ripe tannins along with ample acidity from the cool nights. Together this is the structure of the biggest Pinot noirs and it comes naturally from the site. The more expressive fruit and rounder tannins play beautifully with the juciness of a great cut of beef.