One of the ever-evolving delights in the world of wine is discovering new pairings, especially those rare matches that ignite the senses. In Oregon, winemakers, winery chefs and now even chocolatiers have joined forces to combine their culinary wizardry and artistic spirit to create exceptional tasting experiences. Here are four wineries around the state with state-of-the-art pairings to celebrate the flavors of each season.
Savor the Terroir of Wine and Chocolate in Portland
If sampling well-vetted wine and chocolate pairings sounds like the ideal night out, you’ll want to add Bons Amis in Northeast Portland to your regular rotation. The casual and cozy sliver of a tasting room — named for the French term for good friends and owned by Willamette Valley’s Brooks Wine — is located in Woodblock Chocolate’s bean-to-bar manufactory.
The idea was born out of the pandemic, when Brooks Wine partnered with like-minded businesses to offer virtual tasting experiences. Their craft chocolate and wine course was a resounding favorite — and led to the partnership in the softly lit tasting-room oasis. “We’re looking at cacao like a winemaker looks at a particular grape,” says Woodblock’s Charley Wheelock, “exploring vintages, terroir and origin — just like in wines.”
To try a chocolate and wine pairing experience, visitors choose from several options at different price points. The Signature Pairing matches a rotating selection of pinot noirs with single-origin chocolate. An evening can include tasting the layers of red fruit and rose petals found in a Brooks pinot noir played off warm caramel notes in a Peruvian chocolate. The Savory Pairing brings out the nuances of sparkling riesling with four snacks, including cocoa-dusted almonds and cocoa-nib-covered goat cheese bites.
Serene Spaces and Sensational Plates in Dallas
For an exquisite pairing meal, venture out to Open Claim Vineyards, part of Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon, the Willamette Valley’s newest wine-growing region. At this 55-acre estate southeast of Dallas, the intimate tasting feels like a private dinner party set in an elegant home. “Our property is surrounded by Douglas-fir forests, rich with wild ingredients that I feel add that special connection between the food and the wines,” says chef Michael Neswald.
From an airy, open kitchen, Neswald turns out a brilliant five-course menu, each small plate paired with the winery’s elegant pinot noir and chardonnay. Expect a smattering of surprises, both savory and sweet — think delicacies like singing pink scallops, cocoa-rubbed brisket on a cloud of whipped potato, or polenta with earthy chanterelles, house-cured lardo and sheep sorrel foraged from the grounds.
Plan ahead to visit the elegant hospitality space, as it’s reservation only and caters to smaller groups. “This allows us to put a lot of thought into our menus,” says Neswald. “We want you to feel like you are entering our home when you come to visit, and in return, we want to be great hosts.”
Pizzas and Picnics in Southern Oregon
Want something a bit more casual? Wine pairs just as well with pizza and picnics. A scenic drive from the historic town of Jacksonville brings you out to Cowhorn, a 117-acre polyculture farm on the Applegate Valley Wine Trail near the rugged Siskiyou Mountains. “We see the culinary program as another draw for people to visit this breathtakingly beautiful area,” says chef Tim Payne.
The popular Pairing Tasting serves up wood-fired pizzas alongside current wine releases. “I rotate the pizza toppings based on what’s coming out of the garden,” says Payne. In spring he turns to the farm’s legendary purple asparagus, then switches to squash blossoms and colorful peppers with the longer days of summer. When the temperature dips, he tops the pies with roasted winter squash that’s stocked in the wine cellar.
A grove of oak trees near the tasting room inspired their picnic-basket program. “It’s very vegetable-centric,” says Payne. Each basket is packed with freshly baked bread made with flour from Camas Country Mill, along with a pickle plate, creamy beet or roasted-carrot hummus, local cheese and charcuterie, and pesto with pizzazz — think radish tops or arugula. “When people visit, they experience the terroir not only of our wines but also of the food,” says Payne. (Note that Cowhorn is closed for a holiday break Dec. 19, 2022 – Jan. 12, 2023.)
Lunch Tastings at Hiyu Wine Farm
In the forested canyon of the Columbia River Gorge a mere 22 miles from Mt. Hood, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Hiyu Wine Farm. On this 30-acre permaculture property, you’ll find densely planted forest gardens where a tangle of herbs, heirloom produce, edible flowers and wild mushrooms erupt with wild enthusiasm. You might even spy cows, pigs or chickens among the vines in this ever-expanding hub of biodiversity.
At their snug and woodsy Wine Tavern, chef Jason Barwikowski concocts irresistible dishes paired alongside field blends that are just as complex as the gardens, often poured tableside by winemaker Nate Ready. Tasting meals include lunches — a casual family-style affair — and dinners, which feature four courses. (The winery also offers a six-plate pairing later in the season called a Tavern Tasting, which takes place in the late afternoon. See the website for details.)
Since the tastings use ingredients raised, harvested or foraged on-site, you can expect they’ll be as dynamic and flavorful as their wines. Most bites have a wow factor whether it’s from the crunch of fresh peas with creamy ricotta and mint or pavlova with tart rhubarb in spring, or caramelized cabbage with prosciutto and anchovy butter in fall. In the cooler months, expect “roasts and braises and bowls of slowly simmered beans that have been carefully dried to last through winter,” says Barwikowski.
Visitors should book well ahead — at least 48 hours — for tasting meals. Reservations are especially important because the winery doesn’t offer wine-only tastings, choosing to showcase the experience of dining with an exquisite glass of wine.