The Accidental Palate

After nearly ten wonderful years of editing Northwest Palate magazine in Portland OR, I've handed over the reins and am now enjoying the leisurely (not!), ever-changing (and then some) life of a freelance bon vivant. Hope you enjoy these posts, and if you want to reach me, contact ajabine (at) yahoo (dot) com. Cheers! Angie Jabine

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Roaring 20th (Auction of Washington Wines)

(Thanks to Chris Nishiwaki for this quick report on Washington State's premier wine auction weekend, which took place August 16-18.)

The Auction of Washington Wines, the annual auction benefiting Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center and the Washington Wine Education Foundation, combines some of my biggest passions and interests: education, the well-being of children, the Washington wine industry--and a good party.

Actually, it was several parties, spread out over several days. In 2007, the auction’s 20th year, events included a casual winemaker’s picnic on Thursday, August 16, a dozen intimate winemaker dinners on Friday, August 17, a 5K run and walk in the morning of Saturday, August 18, and the capper, that evening’s Gala Auction.

At Thursday’s picnic, winemakers roamed the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle pouring their wines. Mark Ryan McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery, Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery, Anna Shafer of aMaurice Cellars, David Merfeld of Northstar, Chris Upchurch of DeLille, and Trey Busch of Walla Walla’s new Sleight of Hand Cellars were among the featured winemakers.

The evening also featured a barrel auction of pre-release barrels from eight Washington wineries: Boudreaux Cellars, Col Solare, Côte Bonneville, DeLille Cellars, Dunham Cellars, K Vintners, L’Ecole No. 41, Long Shadows Vintners, Mark Ryan Winery, Matthews Estate, Northstar, and Va Piano Vineyards.

The post-picnic party at DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, WA has become a tradition during the weekend of festivities. Though it is not an official function of the Auction of Washington Wines, patrons look forward to it with great anticipation. This year’s celebration doubled as the annual meeting for the Zino Society, the wine-centric social and professional networking membership group.

I had the good fortune of working at Children’s Hospital and its affiliate, the University of Washington Medical Center, for three years. I also served on the committee for the Auction of Washington Wines for three years. On Friday all those experiences came full circle as I attended a private winemaker dinner, courtesy of Larry Symonds of Mellon Private Asset Management, at the Medina, WA home of Cameron and Linda Myhrvold. Jonathan Zimmer of Lisa Dupar Catering prepared a series of small plates paired with wines from four Washington wineries: Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41, Reininger, and Three Rivers.

The Myhrvolds’ relationship with Children’s Hospital is a great example of why the Auction of Washington Wines draws so much support, year after year. One of the Myhrvolds’ daughters was a patient of Dr. Richard Ellenbogen at Children’s Hospital many years ago. That daughter is thriving now, thanks in large part to the care she received from Dr. Ellenbogen and his colleagues at Children’s. So moved were the Myhrvolds that they became supporters of Children’s Hospital and the Auction of Washington Wines. In fact, Cameron Myhrvold co-chaired the auction for two years.

This year, in honor of the auction’s 20th year, the overall theme was “The Roaring 20th." The auction indeed was a roaring success, racking up nearly $2 million in proceeds from all the events. The August 16 barrel auction raised a total of $40,000. At the August 18 gala auction, a new BMW convertible sold for $40,000, and the “fund-a-need” portion alone raised a record $623,000.

The largest auction lot? No, it wasn't wine. It was Super Bowl XLII packages for two couples, which were sold to three winning bidders for a grand total of $85,000. --Chris Nishiwaki

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Peaches En Regalia

Is it just that I always order any dish that uses fresh peaches, or do Portland chefs have a soft spot for this succulent summer delight?

In the past week alone, I've enjoyed three delectable peach dishes, two savory and one sweet.

Last Friday I visited Toro Bravo with my friend Peter who lives in Spain, so he could tell me how Toro Bravo's tapas stack up to the genuine article. After a good look at the menu and a taste of three or four dishes, he declared Toro Bravo's fare to be a lot more sophisticated than what he gets in Madrid--it's more like what you'd get in Barcelona. Of course he saw a few items you wouldn't find in Spain at all, like grilled corn with a red pepper sauce...

But I digress from peaches. One of our dishes at Toro Bravo was pork rillettes, served in a little bowl alongside roasted ripe peaches and some housemade grain mustard. Last time I went, this dish was served with red-wine braised cherries, and I'll bet that was good, too. But the peach version, served atop toasted baguette slices, was just plain heaven. The duck-peach-mustard trio replicated Remy's semi-psychedelic vision of what happens when the right ingredients collide, in fact.

(Who's Remy, you ask? He's the rat in the latest Pixar movie, Ratatouille. Great, now I'm identifying with an animated rodent....)

Peach delight number two came on Saturday night, when it was just too hot to even look at a stove. Instead, we drove to Lauro Mediterranean Kitchen. When I saw the appetizer of roasted peach stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with pancetta and served with arugula. I completely forgot I'd eaten peaches the night before.

Again, yum! The dish arrived with not one but two whole roasted peaches, neatly cut in half, pitted, and filled with fresh soft goat cheese. Full disclosure--the peach I ate was really not ripe, and it took my steak knife to cut it up. And yet it was surprisingly delicious, with a spicy tartness that I couldn't separate from whatever spices were added to it--fresh tellicherry pepper, maybe. And the arugula... I boxed up the other peach and ate it last night. After no more than a minute in the microwave, it revived perfectly. Four days in the fridge had brought the peach and pancetta even more in harmony. I do think this peach was riper than the first one, though.

Finally, Tuesday night was a very special occasion, a welcoming dinner for Randall Grahm, founder of California's Bonny Doon wines. He's chosen Portland as headquarters for his new Pacific Northwest enterprise, Pacific Rim Winemakers, which will produce mostly Riesling from Washington grapes. (Putting his new staff in Portland was a lifestyle decision--they didn't want to live in Eastern Washington or fact the new venture's corporate office is in the same building as the Chesterfield and Rocket in inner East Portland, how's that for Coolsville?).

They held the Pacific Rim dinner in the teahouse at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, and the meal, catered mostly by Sungari Pearl, was designed to complement Pacific Rim's latest Riesling releases. You're thinking, peaches in Chinese food? No. To match Pacific Rim's Vin de Glaciere (a Riesling dessert wine), we devoured some peach custard tarts from Ken's Artisan Bakery. Sliced mandoline-thin and perfectly ripe with the barest hint of a sugar glaze, the peaches were the very definition of summer.

And now, another digression. Outside the teahouse, Chinese musicians played flutes in a very well attended concert in one of Portland's most beautiful enclosed public spaces, on one of the most beautiful evenings of the year. The Classical Chinese Garden has become a local treasure, and I intend to go back there before the autumn rains descend.