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Grace Restaurant hosts Oregon Pinot Noir powerhouse Eyrie Vineyards

Grace's progression of Kumamoto oysters

hamachi with basil seed vinaigrette and petite radishes

chef Balide Staniford's rabbit three ways (rib chops, loin and en croute)

(L>R) Grace chef Blaine Staniford with Eyrie Vineyards' asst wine maker Mike Eldred and Grace owner Adam Jones

Grace owner (and really good guy) Adam Jones

Sommelier and wine broker Ryan Tedder, with Jennifer Kornblum, Grace's wine director and somm

Last Wednesday night, I caught a late night flight from Dallas to Fort Worth to attend what turned out to be my favorite wine dinner in quite some time: Grace restaurant’s collaboration with Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards.

Adam Jones’ Cowtown temple to high cuisine, three-year-old Grace, hosted a sold-out crowd of about 25 for a seven-course, six-wine dinner. No one left hungry or thirsty.

“Everyone knows that the Willamette Valley of Oregon produces exceptional Pinot Noirs,” said Mike Eldred, Eyrie’s assistant wine maker (and co-host for the evening), “but most people don’t realize it was (Eyrie Vineyard founder) David Lett who first planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the state,” back in 1965. David Lett died a few years ago, so his son, Jason, now runs the family business and makes the wines.

Eyrie’s vineyards are located on about 600 acres of land in the Dundee Hills AVA, 45 miles southwest of Portland. Eldred says the 40,000 vines are pruned, harvested and sustainably farmed entirely by hand (“we adhere to organic principles, but we’re not certified as an organic winery”).

While the wines were each exceptional–from the austere, linear 2009 Dundee Hills Pinot Gris (a surprisingly steak-friendly white) to the 2009 Black Cap Pinot Noir (the only New World-styled Eyrie wine, a special garagiste project of Jason Lett’s) –there wasn’t a lazy wine in the group. Even a spritzy, bone-dry 2009 Muscat was a welcome finishing wine, a glass of “lemon-lemon-lemon-lime”  (Eldred’s description) that seemed perfectly calibrated for Staniford’s final course of dried apricot crumble with hazelnuts and a wedge of cheese.

The big-gun wine of the evening, though, was Eyrie’s $200-a-bottle 2007 South Slope Reserve Pinot Noir, a limited production wine rarely sold outside the winery. “The vines are all from a Swiss Pinot Noir clone planted in 1966,” Eldred told me, sipping a glass of the wine.  “This is the last vintage that David Lett made before he passed away. I haven’t tasted it since it was in barrel, and it’s really showing well.”

Big and brash, the South Slope is like sipping everything good about the Dundee Hills AVA: dark cherry, raspberry and plum flavors tightly integrated with soft tannins, baking spices, the floral scent of violets and rose petals, and a gravelly minerality that reminds me of Burgundy.

The wines could have easily overshadowed the food, but I have a suspicion that neither Grace owner Adam Jones nor chef Blaine Staniford had any interest in letting that happen. I’ll never eat another Kumomoto oyster without mentally comparing it to Staniford’s progression of three Kumamotos  — drizzled with cucumber juice, splashed with Pinot Noir verjus and elderflower water, baked with horseradish. His hamachi, cured in the style of proscuitto, was edged in a light vinaigrette punctuated with basil seeds. The overall effect was first perplexing then rewarding: brine and spice and fleeting hints of basil, which compelled you to pick up the menu, read the description, then feel your head reflexively nod in agreement as your tongue and your brain simultaneously solved the basil riddle). For another stunner, Staniford teamed tiny rabbit chops (their bones Frenched cleaned as if the chops had escaped from the rest of a standing rib roast) with a bacon-wrapped rabbit tenderloin and a pyllo-wrapped pasitlla package of braised rabbit legs. What to pair with rabbit “three ways”? Baby carrots from Tassione Farms, of course.

Grace wine director and sommelier Jennifer Kornblum is my favorite somm in Fort Worth.  Spotted in the crowd: Real estate developer Happy Baggett and his wife Jaime, 360 West Magazine publisher Jerry Scott, Eyrie distributors Jon Davis and Don Cram, and sommeliers/wine brokers Ryan Tedder (who recently resigned as Grace’s wine director) and Jennifer Ohlson.

“I want people to be blown away at our wine dinners,” Grace owner Jones told me after dinner. “I want them to have big pours of wine — if that’s what they want — and really good food, because I want them to come back, especially if this is their first experience at Grace.” I’m pretty sure everyone got the message.

Grace Restaurant, 777 Main Street, Fort Worth, (817) 877-3388.



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