PORTLAND, Ore. — Every year, there are a series of wine dinners at popular restaurants around Portland, all in support of the Classic Wines Auction to raise money for a series of children’s charities, raising over $50 million since its inception in 1982.
While the pricey gala draws the most money, the dinners leading up to the big night are considered a highlight for those who adore the wines of the Willamette Valley, and the restaurants that prepare the meals that showcase them.
This was the last trip I took before the nation went on lockdown and the dinner at Noble Rot Restaurant featuring the sparkling wines of Argyle Winery, in Dundee, Oregon. So, it was worth the 15-hour Amtrak train ride from Sacramento, although it was a long ride leaving at midnight and arriving around 3 p.m. The cost was about $85 for a business-class seat, and the scenery absolutely stunning as the train made its way among the Cascade Mountains in the early morning.
Next time, I would splurge and reserve a sleeper, but I was on a bit of a budget and wanted to check out train travel as an alternative to plane and car rides. I liked it, although your mind must be able to slow down and enjoy the pace. I wrote, I read, I gawked at the passing views, and waiting at the end of the journey was one of the most phenomenal wine dinners I have ever experienced — and there have been hundreds.
Argyle Winery was founded in 1987 by Rollin Soles with the intent to make sparkling wines from cool climate grapes. All of their wines are estate grown and made from hand-picked, cold-pressed grapes. They are vintage dated and bottle fermented from proprietary yeasts and aged at least three years on the yeast and “disgorged in demand” for freshness. Argyle makes a range of sparkling and still wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
For the dinner at Noble Rot, winemaker Nate Klostermann and the folks at Argyle did not skimp. We tried a full range of wines.
Noble Rot served inventive dishes like appetizers of mini-Reuben sandwiches, a seafood dish Dungeness crab ravioli with pioppini mushrooms, a Moroccan lamb dish and the surprise finale of Basque Burnt Cheescake, a surprisingly simple dessert full of flavors and dimension primarily because it is intentionally burnt on top.
Paired with the Basque Burnt Cheesecake was the 2008 “Extended Tirage” Brut($80), which spent more than 10 years on lees for a creaminess that matches its still bright acidity. This wine is continually the highest-rated sparkling wine outside of Champagne in publications like Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate.
Noble Rot Chef Gregory Smith sums it up in saying, “For the Argyle dinner I wanted to keep the age-old acid-versus-fat idea that is the basis for a complete palate-involved experience. Champagne is particular. I felt it important that the food be gentle but also full flavored, I mean, people want to eat right? To take that further things like cheese, smoked meats, bright pickled vegetables, and cooked fruit would all let the wine shine but would also bring the “sum is greater than the parts’ ‘ though present.”
“Then the Basque ‘Burnt’ Cheesecake came up as a proposed sweet at the end of the meal. For me, this may have been the coolest pairing. The way the caramel notes of burnt sugar sparred with the bubbles was eyebrow raising and the quince was the perfect sour sweet punch to reset the palate for another go round.”
Stunning wines and views from Noble Rot’s 6th floor perch over Portland made my last big dinner before the COVID-19 crisis so memorable that eight weeks later, the memories are still fresh. Now to pop open a bottle of Argyle and get to making the cheesecake below.
Basque “Burnt” Cheesecake
Noble Rot, Portland, Oregon
1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter, or as needed for greasing pan
3 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
½ teaspoon fine salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Cut a sheet of parchment paper large enough to line the inside of the pan by a few extra inches. Butter the paper and press it into the pan, flattening any major creases. Trim away any excess paper from the sides until you have an inch or two of overhang.
Combine cream cheese, sugar, salt, and flour in a bowl. Stir and smear together with a spatula until very smooth and creamy. Add vanilla extract and 1 egg; whisk to combine. Whisk in remaining eggs, one at a time. Pour in heavy cream and mix until smooth.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Tap the pan against the counter to burst any excess air bubbles.
Bake in the preheated oven until puffed, very well browned, and nearly burned on the edges, 50 to 55 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees in the last 10 minutes.
Let cheesecake cool to room temperature, at least 25 minutes. Lift out onto a plate and peel back parchment paper, using a knife or spatula if needed. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, 4 hours to overnight.
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