"That's a no-brainer," said our waiter at Roaring Fork, the still-hot Scottsdale, Ariz., restaurant that specializes in chile-laced dishes that sing with Southwestern spices. I had asked him what kind of wine he thought would go with the dishes we had ordered. "Pinot Noir."
The waiter talked a good game. "The pretty fruit flavors of raspberries and cherries will be great with your scallops and the ahi, and the underbrush, what the French call 'sous bois,' will be great with the tortilla soup and the short ribs."
Isn't the wine world great? Who would expect the waiter in the patio area of an Arizona restaurant to be talking like that? What's more, he was right.
Roaring Fork's wine list is not long, but it has about 100 nice choices, most of them available by the glass, except for about 25 wines on the reserve list. That's where our waiter pointed us toward the Pinot Noir he declared was his favorite: Shea Vineyard Estate 2005, an Oregon wine I have not yet rated (though I gave the 2004 a 95-point score).
Shea's style is fruit-centered, and the 2005 vintage (like the 2004) represents a more typical, balanced character than the results of the hotter years that preceded it. The wine has rich cherry and raspberry character, plus some nice hints of vanilla and cream, but no overt oak. Those are good signs, because oak and alcohol can react badly to peppery heat.
Pinot Noir is the kind of wine that settles in happily with a wide variety of dishes, but I wasn't sure about the spices that Roaring Fork's founding chef, Robert McGrath, is famous for using.
I shouldn't have worried. None of the dishes blazed with chile heat, and the more chiles there were, the better the wine got. It developed plush texture with the tortilla soup (one of the best renditions of this Southwestern classic I've had), a velvety soup, rich with tortilla flavor, that was poured around a mound of roast chicken and green chile-studded avocado. And it sang its prettiest tune with the seared ahi, a beautifully satiny piece of fish that shared the plate with olive and cilantro vinaigrette, roasted golden beets and more avocado.
The only dish that affected the wine adversely, surprisingly enough, were the short ribs, a heady, fall-off-the-bone version. The wine came off earthier and a bit tough in texture against the savory meat and its sweet barbecue sauce, although the wine tasted just fine with chile-cheese grits under the meat.
The happiest surprise, and for me the dish of the evening, was an appetizer of seared scallops over sautéed spinach and applewood-smoked bacon, mushrooms and delicately spicy truffle beurre blanc. Not only was it a great dish, but it made the fruit pop in the wine like nothing else did. And that's a big part of the charm of young Pinot Noir, all that fruit on a relatively unaggressive frame.
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — February 20, 2007 5:44pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 20, 2007 7:45pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — February 20, 2007 10:24pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 20, 2007 11:00pm ET
David Nerland — Scottsdale — February 21, 2007 9:19am ET
Matt Devan — Fairhope, Alabama — February 21, 2007 11:08am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 21, 2007 11:15am ET
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