Sokol Blosser Wine Dinner at Café Pasta
It was my first time. I’ve attended a lot of wine dinners, but I’ve never hosted one myself. With my background in education, however (I used to have a real job), I have a lot of experience making presentations. And I drink a lot of wine. So this seemed a reasonable venture.
I chose Sokol Blosser, an Oregon winery because my wife and I have long considered it one of our favorites. Most wine dinners focus on high-end wineries. I tend to think about wine the same way I think about cars. Yes, a Rolls is a wonderful vehicle. At that price, it had better be. To deliver excellence at a reasonable price- that’s what impresses me most. Sokol Blosser wines fit into the mid-range. In addition, neither the distributor nor I could recall anyone ever featuring their wines in a wine dinner. So I was able to design a unique experience for the audience.
I chose Café Pasta for the setting because it’s also a personal favorite, based on food and value, and also because owner Ray Essa is the consummate host. His following plus a gathering of my readers ought to generate some interest. It did. The event sold out in advance.
Instead of the fairly common practice of starting with the wines, then having the restaurant design food to go with them, I wanted to pair wines with selections from the restaurant’s regular menu. All the food we had will be available to anyone on future visits.
Bill and Susan Sokol Blosser planted their first vines in 1971 when no Oregon wine industry even existed. They were true pioneers, specializing in Pinot Noir, one of the more difficult varietals to grow and produce. At the outset, they were determined to harvest and sort by hand, ferment in small lots and age lightly in French oak. These practices are usually associated with much more expensive wines. The winery has now transitioned to the next generation. Alex and Allison Sokol Blosser continue the winery’s traditions.
We began with Estate Pinot Gris. To me, this Sokol Blosser wine exhibits more flavor, greater depth and more complexity than other Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio wines. It’s floral and fruity, with bright acidity. I paired it with Café Pasta’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip, spread on crisp pita toast points. The artichoke flavor, in particular, matched up well with the wine.
When the staff began pouring the second wine, Evolution White, I had asked them to leave a cork at each table. I directed the audience to look at the corks. Each is inscribed with some whimsical saying about intent, plans, luck and enjoying life in general. The folks at this winery don’t take themselves too seriously — just another thing I like about Sokol Blosser.
Evolution White is blended from eight different wines. The audience was able to identify Chardonnay and Semillon from the taste. I revealed the others, some of which are little known. There is just a hint of sweetness within tropical flavors. I selected Chicken Picatta as the second food course. Feedback from the audience was particularly positive with regard to how the sharpness of the green peppercorns balanced the crispness of the wine.
On to the really good stuff. Sokol Blosser still specializes in Pinot Noir, and Oregon’s soil and climate create an especially good environment for this temperamental grape. Tonight’s selection was from Dundee Hills, one of the winery’s higher-end productions. The wine is initially aged 17 months in French oak barrels, about a third of which are new, the rest a year old, or considered of neutral influence. This treatment showcases the inherent flavors imparted by the terroir (the influence of the soil and climate) and the unique Dijon and Pommard clones. Almond Crusted Salmon is one of my favorite dishes on the menu at this restaurant; I think Pinot Noir- especially this one- is the perfect match.
We closed the evening with Sparkling Evolution, made from Evolution White. It is crisp and effervescent. My wife made the food choice on this one- “Mom’s” Cheesecake, a family recipe prepared by Margaret Essa, Ray’s mother. She uses ricotta cheese to produce a lighter, cakier treatment of this perennial favorite. I like it better than any other!
Wines were available to order, at deeply discounted prices, after the dinner.
Quite a few people urged me to do this again. My plan is to focus on wineries that no one else has featured in this area, in restaurants where I have been a regular customer for a long time — looking forward to the next one!