A few weeks ago, I was invited to a wine dinner at Scampo at the Liberty Hotel here in Boston. My friend, Alex, is the sommelier there, and I jumped at the chance to attend when he told me that they would be featuring the wines of Belle Pente. I have been a fan of Belle Pente for a long, and I’ve always admired the honest, clean, and unadulterated style of the wines.
Their wine-making approach, admirably, is summed up by a hands-off philosophy in the vineyard utilizing organic and biodynamic techniques. For example, though irrigation is allowed in Oregon, Belle Pente chooses to grow their grapes without aiding Mother Nature. It’s an old world approach to making wine that involves a little more risk for the wine maker, but in the hands of a skilled farmer, it can produce fantastic results. Some might argue that drought, or too much rain fall is really just “terroir”. If you’re changing the amount of water that a vine is receiving, you are essentially changing its environment. Of course, you’re opinion of all of this depends on how much of a purist you are, but no one can argue that Belle Pente’s wines are first rate in every respect no matter how they are made.
On the night of the dinner, we tried their lovely Pinot Gris, a Charonnday, three Pinot Noirs, and a surprising Muscat (Ottonel – not Blanc a Petit Grains au Jus Blanc). In general, I found the wines to be well crafted. The Pinot Gris was especially well-paired with an oyster and a gazpacho “shooter” with cucumber foam by Alex. I found the floral/melon nuance of the wine to be a fantastic foil to the mild vegetal quality of the gazpacho and the briny taste of the oyster. The Chardonnay, likewise showed a good balance between restraint and opulence so as not overwhelm the delicate sweetness of the lobster and to stand up to the heady earthy morels in the dish with which it was served.
Belle Pente’s Pinot Noirs also deserve special mention. Some of the them had been bottle and shipped fairly recently just for the dinner. Although, I feel that we were drinking them a bit young that evening, I could tell that there was something there that would turn into really great wine in a five or ten years time. They were tightly wound, full of dense black cherry flavor, and layers of spice that lingered on the palate well after the glass was empty. And though there was a noticeable difference between them, as time marches on, the differences will become exaggerated in my opinion showing the characteristics of each individual vineyard site.
A memorable duo of roasted lamb chop with cumin flavored ground lamb moussaka was served with the final Pinot Noir, the most chewy and dense of the three opened for sampling. Thinking back on it now is making me hungry for more food from Scampo skilled kitchen, and thirsty for more of that delicious Pinot Noir.
The standout wine for the night, however, was the final pairing: a dry Muscat. It was grapey, floral, and bursting with melon flavors with just a touch of residual sugar. It was served alongside a cheese course that included some fantastic domestic cheeses: Kunik from New York, and Winnimere from Vermont.
I spoke with the winemaker, Brian, about the wine which had so engaged me. He told me that they bought the grapes from a neighbor and were just beginning to figure out a winning formula for making the wine. We seemed to agree that the lower alcohol content (around 11.5%) was one of the most charming aspects of the wine. That coupled with a tease of sweetness made the wine so refreshing and summery. I was pleased to be served a relatively dry and light bodied wine at the end of the meal as well, in place of something syrupy and/or with high alcohol as many dessert wines are.
Muscats of this style are not uncommon in Alsace or Spain, but to see one being made in this country is a real treat and speaks volumes to the potential of the grape grown on domestic soils. Furthermore, one that is as delicious as this is something to be celebrated under any circumstance regardless of its country of origin. I only wish Belle Pente made more. So far their production of this wine has not exceeded 99 cases in its third vintage. I hope that someone in Massachusetts will pick up the wine and pour it by the glass or sell me a case of it for drinking over the summer.
Thanks to Scampo for a terrific meal, and for the chance to taste Belle Pente’s lineup. The evening was a treat all around and I’ll look forward to more in the future.