'Salade Nicoise' bruschetta with poached ahi tuna, caper aioli, green beans, potatoes, olives and egg is served with Madrone Mountain Starthistle Cuvee for the first Pallet Wine Co. 'perfect pairings' event. - Bob Pennell

'Perfect Pairings'

Like the synergy of sun and soil that supports local farms, vineyards and gardens, a new food and wine partnership is bearing fruit in downtown Medford.

Restaurateur Helena Darling and winemaker Linda Donovan plan to host their first "perfect pairings" Wednesday, March 2, at Pallet Wine Co., Donovan's winery housed in a historic warehouse on North Fir Street. For Third Friday, March 18, Pallet's barrel room will become a bistro serving a set menu of five courses, each paired with a Pallet wine.

"We just kind of open up the winery," says Donovan.

"It gives people who love wine and love food all kinds of things to talk about," says Darling.

The two women shared no prior working relationship, says Donovan, "just a whole lot of respect," until Darling called Pallet last month about hosting one of her catered events there. The concept for monthly offerings at the winery came together almost immediately.

"Her food is special; it's recognizable," says Donovan of Darling.

The restaurateur holds a similar opinion of Donovan's wines, which have a lot of "varietal characteristics" that aren't masked by wood, she says, so it's obvious which grape is in the glass.

"She makes good food wines," says Darling.

"They're meant to be sipped with a meal," adds Donovan.

Consuming a full meal isn't the intent of Pallet's Wednesday pairings. Guests have the option to purchase as few or as many plates as they desire for prices between $8 and $12, which includes a tasting portion of the featured wine.

On the debut menu is warm goat cheese, oat crisps and pickled onions with sauvignon blanc; Jarlsberg gougere with viognier; truffled salmon, potatoes and carrots with pinot noir; lamb meatballs with mourvedre; and salade Nicoise bruschetta with a sweet white blend.

Donovan, Ellie, Domaine Paradox and Madrone Mountain labels all were chosen for the inaugural event because Darling serves them at Madrone Kitchen, her year-old Shady Cove restaurant in the location of former, longtime institution Bel Di's. Madrone Kitchen has been closed since the new year but will reopen March 19 for its first "fireside supper," a five-course menu pairing wines for $65 per person.

Hosting special events for her catering clients through December, Darling's restaurant will be open weekends for "limited" public hours throughout the year. Check the website

Like Madrone Kitchen, Pallet events will highlight local foods in season, says Darling. And guests will get to see various phases of the winemaking process, including bottling and crushing, says Donovan. Pallet pairings allow the public to taste limited-release wines, and clients who produce only small quantities will get some additional exposure and recognition, says Donovan.

"Our clients are very excited," she says of the events. "Everybody is wanting their own wines in."

And while Donovan makes "sophisticated" wines, says Darling, neither woman is "snooty." Nor is Pallet's setting, which should foster a "casual, accessible, fun" ambiance, she adds.

"People should feel like they can show up right after work if they want."

"It's a working winery," says Donovan. "You get to see the mess."

Housed in the circa-1942 Cooley-Neff Building, Pallet will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month. Darling asks guests to confirm attendance by telephone, although they don't have to commit to ordering a specific number of tasting plates. Prices can be adjusted for patrons who want only food or only wine, she says.

Reservations are required for bistro suppers the third Friday of every month. Cost is $54 per person, including wine. On the March 18 menu are salmon, beef short ribs, spring vegetables and poached pears. Call 541-734-9280. For more information, see

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or e-mail

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