Five Star Cellars
Bella ItaliaPort Angeles, Washington
February 7th, 2005
For most of us at the second Bella Italia wine dinner of 2005, Five Star Cellars was a bit of a mystery. It is a new winery, and its reputation had not yet extended to the Olympic Peninsula. David Huse, our guest, was the founder and principal of the vineyard. He spent his formative years as an agricultural equipment salesman, so he knows something of the nuts and bolts of the business, but he only turned to producing wine a few years ago. Right now, Five Star Cellars is a family business, involving him and his younger son.
Five Star Cellars is based out in Walla Walla, which is chock full of grapes (though that name is probably already taken for a winery). Like most modern wineries, they have their grapes grown, cultured and harvested under contract, so they have extensive control of the planting, pruning and harvesting. Most of the Five Stars uses are from the Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills regions. It was hard to miss the Pepper Bridge bramble which came through loud and clear throughout the meal.
For now, Five Star Cellars is only making red wine, so we also tried a pair of whites from Rulo Winery.
As with the previous dinner, Dave Senters had a bit of time to sample the wines and figure out the meal. Needless to say, Olympic native oysters were on our plates, along with a number of surprises.
Native Olympic oysters with mignonette and fried,
Mozzarella and pesto,
Grilled portabello mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant,
Dates stuffed with parmesan cheese
Smoked salmon in filo pastry
2003 Rulo Combine
Chardonnay and Viogner
|This is probably the most
stylized part of the meal.
Little Olympic native oysters were at the heart of our first appetizer. They tasted of sea salt, served raw on the shell, but had a rich, meaty flavor and texture, served breaded and fried.
The filo smoked salmon purses were smoky, tart and salty, with a fine white cheese and capers to set off the oil of the salmon.
The Rulo combine was a mix of chardonnay and viogner with powerful top notes of oak and yeast. It was a good solid wine, and a good wine for food. In fact, the first taste was a bit disappointing. This was not a complex wine, but after a few bites of food, it found its place in the sun. The combine served its purpose well, uniting in contrast the varying notes in the appetizer, with its oysters, cheeses, salmon, mushrooms, grilled eggplant and dates. As Mr. Huse explained, a combine is a machine to pull things together for the harvest.
Timbale of lump Dungeness crab meat with pancetta bacon and braised savoy cabbage
2003 Rulo Viogner
|Even if you have never heard of
Port Angeles, you have probably heard of Dungeness, which is famous for
its Dungeness crabs. The local custom is to serve the crab steamed and
whole, and then make a serious mess extracting the meat, much as one
does with an Atlantic lobster. For those used to picking little scraps
of meat from odd corners of shell, a whole scoop of shelled Dungeness
crab, cooked tossed with pancetta and braised savoy cabbage was a true
luxury. While "timbale" translates as thimble, this refers not to size,
but to shape, so, for once, we could eat our fill of crab.
The Rulo viogner was an intelligent pairing. While we are not particularly fond of viogner, it was a simple wine, with its own integrity. The last thing you want with a dish full of subtle flavors is a show boat wine drowning everything else in its wake.
Fettucini with Taggiasca olive and fennel ragu
|Olives tend to get treated as
accents. One adds them to a dish to set off the other flavors. We don't
remember seeing jars of Taggiasca olives at local Costco, but they have been showing up
in large quantities at Bella Italia
lately, and we are quite impressed. Taggiasca olives are mid-note
olives, brine cured and brown, and similar in flavor to Nicoise olives,
though a bit smokier to our taste. In this dish they are treated as a
full fledged ingredient, as with a tapenade. The perfectly cooked
fettucini and the deeply flavor fennel ragu served as a backdrop to set
off the fruitiness of the olives.
For this dish, we switched from white wine to red, and finally got to taste the Five Star Cellar merlot, and we were quite impressed. It smelled of blackberry bramble, that faint touch of mintiness one associates with Pepper Bridge grapes and the Northwest. The blackberry fruit filled the glass and perfectly complemented the richness of the olives. Of course, Italians have been drinking red wine with their olives for millenia, so it is time we joined in. Five Star Cellar is clearly making food oriented wines.
Bollito misto: braised Oregon Country short ribs with fingerling potatoes and cipollini onions in red wine broth
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
|Some of the hardest dishes to
get right are the simplest. There is a temptation to overwhelm the
diner with expensive and exotic ingredients, but it is the simple
country stews that pose the greatest challenge.
Consider the bollito misto: mixed boiled meats. Can you imagine any dish easier to ruin? You can undercook the meats and have them too chewy, or you can overcook them and have them bland and mushy. There are a million ways to unbalance the flavors and ruin the textures, so it is a pleasure when a good chef manages the perfect balance of flavor and texture.
Short ribs of beef are oily and full flavored, but they can be tricky to cook well. These were hearty and tender at the same time, somehow braised to perfection, then magically granted a rich crust as if they had been grilled or broiled. The cipollini onions were sweet, and the entire dish infused with the aromas of beef and clove. That's right, clove. Imagine how that could have gone wrong. But it didn't. The master was at work in the kitchen.
Jean Louis Paladin used to have a pot au feu in his upstairs restaurant at the Watergate. It was almost as good as this bollito misto.
Such a dish, perfectly balance and redolent of beef and clove, cries out for a hearty balanced wine. The Five Star cabernet sauvignon served perfectly. It had that big northwest flavor, with less blackberry fruit, but full bramble. The leathery notes stood up to the beef, and the fruits married the cloves.
Did we mention that it was only 13.5% alcohol? We could drink lots of it.
The syrah was a plainer wine, and paired with such a dish it faded, leaving a rather acid note. This may have been bottle to bottle variation, for Five Star has sold out of syrah for the year. Still, we were rather disappointed and drowned our sorrows with the wonderful cabernet sauvignon.