Wine Wednesday: The benefits of membership

If you’re a wine fancier and long for a place where everybody knows your name, you might consider joining one of the Rogue Valley’s many wine clubs.

Most wineries establish a fan base by offering no-cost membership in a club that provides discounts on wine purchases and tastings. In return, the member agrees to buy wines released periodically during the year. Terms of membership vary from winery to winery, and many clubs have different levels of participation depending on how many bottles the customer elects to receive per release.

Among Rogue Valley wineries, the benefits of wine club membership vary widely and often include first dibs on special events, vintages not offered to the public and discounted rates for winery services and amenities. At Irvine & Roberts Vineyards in Ashland, members can sign up for classes that focus on cooking with wine. At these culinary evenings, some of the area’s most creative chefs share their professional secrets while preparing a full dinner in the tasting room’s demonstration kitchen.

On a recent Monday evening, chef Mike Hite of Elements in Medford prepared a four-course Spanish-themed menu for an intimate group of 14 lucky foodies. But even before our group took seats around the chopping block, we were warmly greeted by winery co-owners Doug and Dionne Irvine, who handed us glasses of chardonnay. After a few minutes of sipping and socializing, we sat down at places appropriately set with different glasses for various styles of Burgundy.

The culinary adventure got off to a flavorful start as chef Hite passed around samples of the dried fruit used in his fig-chardonnay salad dressing as we sipped Irvine & Roberts 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé. Dionne Irvine provided comments on each of the wines served during the meal, beginning with winemaker Vince Vidrine’s take on the precise timing and attention to detail required to produce a rosé with the floral nose and strawberry flavors of the vintage we were tasting.

A salad of baby arugula tossed with the fig-chardonnay dressing garnished with Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese crumbles and crushed almonds was served atop thin slices of Spanish serrano ham. Hite explained that while similar to prosciutto, serrano ham has a distinctly nutty flavor because it comes from hogs that forage in forests where they find fallen nuts.

The next course was a frittata featuring the fresh flavors of sautéed sweet red peppers, mild onion, spinach and potato combined with manchego and idiazabal cheeses. Garnished with a sprinkling of smoked paprika, the frittata was perfectly paired with Irvine & Roberts 2014 Chardonnay. Hite mentioned that this dish can be made ahead of time and served warm or at room temperature, great news for home cooks who would prefer enjoying the company of guests to being trapped by last minute preparations in the kitchen.

While he prepared the next course, lamb sausage shaped around a skewer and baked, the chef shared his sources for the best Oregon lamb. With the “lollipops” in the oven, he caramelized sugar, poured it into ramekins and whipped up a custard for flan.

Our hosts poured their superb 2014 Pinot Noir for the meat course. We finished the evening savoring the 2015 clone 777 Pinot Noir with dessert. At the end of the class, I left with several new recipes and several new friends whose names and faces I came to know over the courses of this memorable evening.

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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