November 21, 2006

Harvest Dinner at Belle Pente

To celebrate the end of havest nearly a month ago now, Brian and Jill O’Donnell hosted a wonderful harvest dinner at their home literally in the Belle Pente estate vineyard.

The harvest crew, friends, and neighbors were all there, and a former employee with serious chops in the kitchen cooked an outstanding meal.

The meal itself mirrored the harvest experience. The Belle Pente approach to farming and winemaking is highly traditional, and with the harvest dinner we shared another tradition of marking the season’s end. It’s difficult to describe, but this was a special experience.

The wines of course were top notch. Brian poured sparklers to begin, with the clean but simple 1997 Argyle Oregon Brut from magnum showing well enough next to a more mature NV Tattinger Champagne Brut. More impressive was the NV Bruno Palliard Champagne Brut, with terrific focus, freshness, and complexity.

Brian then paired wines to the multiple food courses, beginning with two from Alsace. The 2000 Rolly Gassman Riesling was good, lightly sweet with nice flavors, but not at the level of the 2002 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Munchberg Grand Cru. This was rich with some sweetness, but such terrific acidity, length, and mix of scents and flavors. I’ve heard some mixed things about Ostertag wines but never tried much. This was absolutely gorgeous with mixed greens and cigars of fig, hazelnut, and gorgonzola wrapped in prosciotto.

Next, two Belle Pente Chardonnay, the 2002 Estate Reserve and the 2004 Estate. Both showed well, not especially oaky but pretty. I think they suffered a little after the Rieslings, but still paired nicely with fish.

Then there was the main course, with nicely grilled flatiron strips, twice truffled potatoes, and braised carrots. What else to drink but a mix of red Burgundy and Belle Pente Pinot Noir, which held up well.

We began with the 1995 Roty Gevrey Chambertin Champs Chenys, tight and primary with five or ten years to go before maturity. Then the 1998 Leroy Pommard Les Vignots, which I thought was the class of the night. Backward and reduced at first, it blossomed into something beautiful. There’s nicely ripe fruit here, and also the finesse and complexity of nice Burgundy. It’s not overly tannic either, as the vintage reputation goes. This is village wine? Wow.

With these, we tried the 1996 Belle Pente Reserve, their first commercial vintage and produced from six barrels of Murto Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills. I’ve enjoyed a bunch of ‘96s from Oregon in the last few years, and this was another good one. Mature with some sous bois in the aroma and silky in the mouth, this is more than ready now but quite good. We also tried the 2001 Belle Pente Estate Reserve, which Brian likes for current drinking but I found it needing time to shed its remaining primary character. There’s also seemed to be a slight bitterness to the finish, but I think the wine just needs to rest still.

For dessert, nothing for me topped the 2001 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Furstentum SGN, a honeyed but beautifully balanced, rich and exotic wine. Coming close was the 1993 Diszokno Tokaji Essencia, stunning in its own way. A full bottle of 2002 Belle Pente Pinot Gris VT was less impressive to me than recent half bottles, perhaps a touch volatile but still quite good dessert wine.

There were more wines still, and happily I had a bed down the hill at the harvest crew’s quarters. This was the night before my last work day, and falling asleep that night was especially sweet.

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