Cosmos Bistro and Portteus Winery

On March 4, a sold-out crowd at Cosmos Bistro experienced a range of wines from Portteus Winery, paired with out-of-this-world small plates created by Cosmos owner Cinnamon Berg, during Bellingham Alive magazine’s Spring Sips of the Season. Dan “The Wine Guy” Radil explained to attendees why certain wine pairings are successful, what to do if you’ve made the wrong choice, and how Portteus became one of the state’s wine pioneers in the Rattlesnake Hills region of eastern Washington, on the Yakima Valley’s upper plateau.

Attendees got a taste of what was to come with the first wine, Portteus’s 2013 Viognier, a big, full-bodied white. Paired with a light salad with greens, quinoa, and sweet potato cake with a toasted Macadamia nut light topping and Champagne vinaigrette, the dish was mild enough to complement but not overpower the Viognier. Radil’s tip on pairing wine and food: You want to either complement or contrast. If your pairing doesn’t work, he said, eat first, and have the wine after. You can’t lose.

Like food, where you can get information by examining the fat, sugar, and acidity by checking the label, you want to look at a wine’s ingredients, which produce the range of aro – mas and tastes like oak and different fruits.

The Zillah-based, family-run Portteus vineyard and winery was established in 1981, one of Washington’s oldest winer – ies —No. 14 in a state that now has close to 900 of them.

The Washington wine pioneers’ choice to put down roots in the Rattlesnake Hills region was affirmed years later, when they saw apple orchard trees being removed as an established winery decided to join them —Chateau Ste. Michelle. When one of the largest wineries in the world becomes a neighbor, you know you’re in the right spot, Radil said.

Portteus wine is appealing in part because it hits the right price notes. Red blends, like the 2013 Bistro, and 2013 Rattlesnake Red, are reasonable, costing around $15. The bulk of Portteus’s bottles are $20, but you can also go higherend with its $40–$50 reserves.

For the second course, Portteus’s 2013 Bistro Red —mostly Merlot and part Cabernet Blanc —had plum-like, cherry tones with a soft finish, a smooth complement to the sweet, salty richness of the French classic Croque Monsieur appe – tizer: sliced ham and caramelized onion on toasted sour – dough, smothered in Gruyere cheese.

Next was the butterscotch and toffee tones of the Rattlesnake Red (the day’s surprise bonus taste), with its unconventional combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah. Radil pointed out that wineries were hesitant at first to put the name of the lethal snake on their labels. But the product turned out by the region, a half-hour east of Yakima, was too deserving of an honest name, so the snake stuck. Count Portteus Vineyards and Winery among those celebrating the wines coming from the Yakima Valley’s upper plateau, an unusual growing area where grapes luxuriate in air warmed a few degrees by mild winds that keep the cold – est weather at bay.

Portteus’s Rouge 66, with highway-sign logo, upped the ante as a full-bodied red to handle Berg’s sweet, tangy grilled meatloaf (gluten-free), made with oats rather than bread crumbs, originally her mom’s recipe. The event finished with a surprise reversal of the “wine should always be sweeter than the dessert” rule —a light Zinfandel featuring delicate boysen – berry and raspberry tones that allowed the dessert —a densely moist French Financier cake —to take the lead in sweetness.

Thanks to Cosmos Bistro and Berg for the small plates and space, Portteus Vineyard & Winery for the well-paired wine, and sponsors Barkley Village and Mt. Baker Theatre. Thanks also to Dan “The Wine Guy,” for his pouring and advice. And thanks to everyone for supporting Bellingham Alive, including local businesses for swag bags and raffle prizes. Look for future Sips of the Season and Meet the Chef events.

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"You want to either complement or contrast. If your pairing doesn't work, he said, eat first, and have the wine after. "