Cochon 555: Pork and Pinot Noir in Boston

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cochon 555 -  a national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs - came to Boston January 30th, 2011. The event challenges five local chefs to prepare a three course meal for attendees who then vote to determine which will advance to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to compete against winners from the other ten cities where Cochon 555 is held.

If you're a fan of Top Chef the format felt very similar to the challenges contestants go through each week where they need to prepare food for a large audience within a challenging set of constraints.

The event is all about pork, but for me it was all about the wine. I enjoyed the mix of top-flight wines from family owned wineries pouring mostly domestic Pinot Noir. Because the primary focus was on food, the lines at the wine tables were relatively short which provided an excellent opportunity to get to know the winery reps present at the event.

The 2011 Boston event was held at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.  A VIP hour kicked off the event with something for everyone. Beer, sustainable oysters, artisan cheeses, bacon-themed appetizers, and an impressive selection of wines from West Sonoma Coast Vintners Peay, Freeman, Red Car, Ramey, Boheme, Martinelli, Freestone, and Littorai.

In Boston the chefs competing were:
  • Matt Jennings from Farmstead
  • Barry Maiden from Hungry Mother
  • Lydia Shire from Scampo & Locke-Ober
  • Mary Dumont from Harvest
  • Will Gilson Garden at the Cellar
As the chefs were preparing, plating, and serving their dishes I made my way around to the wine tables. I've been having a hard time finding value from the highly-regarded 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir vintage. The event provides an opportunity to taste higher end bottlings from well regarded producers so I was excited to see what was in store. First stop: Elk Cove.

I enjoyed talking with Elk Cove's Sales Manager Craig Hedstrom as he described each of their wines. We started off with a couple whites - a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris. The 2009 Elk Cove Pinot Gris really caught my attention. I've had this wine in prior vintages and it felt a little lean but this 09 was impressive. More luscious and generous but balanced nicely with acidity. Crisp and clean yet round and delicious.

Craig Hedstrom
Sales Manager, Elk Cove
Then we tasted through their 2008 Pinot Noirs. The 2008 Willamette Valley, the Mount Richmond, and the Five Mountains.  The Willamette Valley sells for around $25 here in Massachusetts and the single vineyards sell for $40 and up.

For immediate consumption, I think the 2008 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is the value play. It's one of the few entry-level 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs I'd call outstanding and it's been reliably delicious across multiple bottles. It's one of those wines that no matter how many bottles I buy I know I'll run out of them in a year or two. The single vineyard wines are great, but they're expensive and I think they need bottle age to show their stuff.

Next stop was Sokol Blosser.

They were pouring their 2007 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir which sells for around $38. 2007 wasn't a well-regarded vintage for Oregon Pinot Noir but this wine was one of my favorites of the entire evening.

I thought it was vibrant with elegant, focused flavors. Nice acidity and no green/stemmy aromas or flavors to distract from the fruit. Wow.

Hard to find in Massachusetts but I'll keep my eye out for this wine for sure.

I took a little break from the wine tasting and checked out the food. The Harvest table was serving one of the more unique things I've ever tasted: Bacon cotton candy. Just as I was wondering how they injected bacon flavor into cotton candy I realized - the cotton candy was wrapped around a stick of bacon! It was actually a pretty pleasing combination of sweet and savory.

Chefs were working hard to get things prepared and plated in time for guests:

Here's Tiffani from Top Chef talking with an attendee. She was working with the folks at Harvest:

Here's Lydia Shire from Scampo & Locke-Ober:

The day after the event I had lunch at Scampo with Paul Sequeria from Red Car Wine Co.  I learned of the event from the Red Car Facebook Page and the 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Pinot Noir was one of the best Pinot Noirs I've ever tasted.

At the event Paul was pouring the 2007 Red Car Tomorrowland Syrah and the 2009 Trolley Pinot Noir. Both were showing nicely.

More on Red Car in a future blog post for sure. Subscribe to the WWP so we can keep in touch.

Domaine Serene was pouring their plush 2006 Evenstad. I've heard good things about Domaine Serene and this was my first chance to try it. I wasn't disappointed - very round and satisfying. No green notes. I like their labels too. The 06 Evenstad retails for $58.
I've heard good things about Peay's Pinot Noirs. They were at the event but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to taste their wines:
Conclusions and recommendations:

Cochon 555 is a pork-focused event that offers something for almost everyone. Beer, wine, oysters, cheese, and even some vegetarian options. As a wine enthusiast, especially one who enjoys domestic Pinot Noir, this event was very enjoyable.

The tour is just getting started. Check out these links for an upcoming Cochon555 event near you:
I attended the event on a press pass. 

Question of the Day: Have you been to Cochon555? If so what did you think?


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