Portland wine and food fest a celebration of the senses
On Nov. 5, a dozen local restaurants and 15 area wineries assembled at the Sentinel Hotel in downtown Portland for Corklandia. The inaugural event featured bites and pours, along with a cooking competition and musical crooning from Tony Starlight, the city’s beloved supper club maestro. Playing backdrop was the Governor Ballroom, easily one of the Northwest’s most sophisticated event spaces.
Wineries like Stoller and Blakeslee poured from a handful of vintages, namely 2011 and 2012. Popular names like Argyle, Elk Cove and Stoller shared the room with Willamette Valley neighbors such as Youngberg Hill and Chapter 24 — the latter, a sibling of Fire + Flood with a crisp new Dundee tasting room to its name, poured two Pinot Noirs from 2012, one the product of sedimentary soils, the other volcanic. Brooks wine, sporting American Wine Story DVDs — a much-talked-about documentary starring the label and its young owner, Pascal Brooks — poured reds and whites, most notably a punchy dry Riesling.
The restaurants ranged from small Italian establishments such as A Cena to institutions like Jake’s Famous Crawfish. Seared steak with olive oil, shrimp bisque and fresh ravioli were a few edibles served that night. Laurelwood Brewery was on hand pouring its seasonal Cable Knit Pale Ale.
Attendees moved leisurely through the u-shaped line of vendors, pausing near the main stage to shout a request or two at Tony Starlight and his band. Portland’s answer to a Rat Pack leader did not disappoint, pulling from a grab bag of classic pop, jazz and show tunes.
One side of the venue was devoted to the Wall of Wine, where wineries donated bottles and brown-bagged them. The mystery offerings went for $20 a bottle, with all the proceeds aiding Meals on Wheels, an organization helping to ease hunger among seniors. Corklandia had hoped to raise $3,000 at the event and did just that. Every bottle available was worth at least $20, making placing a donation all the more tantalizing.
Some vendors made the trek to the Rose City for the event. Girardet and Pick Me traveled from their Southern Oregon home bases, pouring heavier reds and blends, respectively. And it wasn’t simply wine on display, as Imbue featured with its aperitifs. The Willamette Valley label crafts fortified wines like vermouth, which stretch the palate in all directions and offer tremendous aromatics. The base wines and brandies used in Imbue’s work are made by Oregon producers.
In a food- and wine-adoring town like Portland, there is no shortage of similar events. Corklandia came off as promising thanks to a well-attended but uncrowded setting and small plates from established chefs. The “Albacourse” competition, sponsored by the Oregon Albacore Commission, pitted five chefs against one another in an Iron Chef-style battle. Chefs from Allium Bistro, Saucebox, Jake’s, A Cena and The Heathman offered their own individual variations on tuna.
Overall, Corklandia’s spread was a solid one, blending the city’s food with the state’s wine. The $45 entry fee was not cheap, but the portions and pours were healthy. All too often, gatherings like this focus too much on the wine and the food remains an afterthought.
The timing worked out well for the wine industry, having just accomplished a memorable harvest that may go down as one of Oregon’s best and certainly most fruitful. Assuming Corklandia returns next year, we just may be able to check in on those 2014 wines in a year’s time.