Discovering Estate Wines of Cougar Crest at Ilani Casino Resort

I recently had the pleasure of delving into the finer cuisine of the Line & Lure restaurant at Ilani Casino Resort north of Portland, Oregon. While I discovered how creative Chef Ryan Zeigler could be, the wine pairings also attracted my attention. Cougar Crest Estate Winery brought award-winning wines ranging from a 2015 Viognier to a 2007 Port. The result? A perfect evening.

Cougar Crest

We were introduced to a selection of Cougar Crest award-winning wines at the Line & Lure wine dinner. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

About Cougar Crest Estate Winery

Here in the Northwest, we pretty much figure anything labeled “cougar” relates in some way to Washington State University. And, at the dinner, I met Deborah Hansen, co-owner of Cougar Crest who told us that she and her husband met at Washington State University in Pullman.

These alumni “Cougs,” one a pharmacist and one a veterinarian, married and moved to the San Francisco area where they lived for 18 years. And, what is north of San Francisco? The Napa and Sonoma wine regions. The Hansens became enamored with wine and wineries and eventually purchased land in the grape-growing region of the Walla Walla Valley and moved there in 1996.

The first vines were planted on their land in 1999. The vines flourished and more were propagated and planted the following years. Their winery was first established in a little building at the Walla Walla airport. The team began to enter their wines in competitions.

In 2003, their 2001 Merlot and the 2001 Cabernet won gold medals and best of class at the Los Angeles Fair. And then the Cabernet won best of class in the whole competition.

This success and high rankings in Wine Spectator supported and encouraged the growth of the winery. Today the vineyard totals 110 acres, spread out over four different vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA.

The Hansens have four tasting rooms, the main one being at the new winery on Frenchtown Road in Walla Walla. The others are in Woodinville and in Spokane’s Cork District. The newest, in Dundee Oregon, opened in September.

About Line & Lure and Ilani

When the Cowlitz Tribe dedicated their new casino facility, I was there to enjoy the cultural presentations, drumming and exciting décor. I was offered a meal at their seafood restaurant, Line & Lure, and enjoyed a great salmon dinner and met Chef Ryan Zeigler.

Cougar Crest

Stunning lighting at Ilani Resort and Casino. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

But it wasn’t until the wine dinner that I saw what could be done at this casual casino restaurant. Our evening started with sipping a 2015 Viognier as we chatted by the restaurant’s outdoor fire pit. Dinner was then served and, after introductions, we enjoyed course after course of surprising food, served in small plates, thank goodness.

I’ll walk you through our dinner via photos that will entice you to dine at Line & Lure.

Cougar Crest

We enjoyed a glass of Cougar Crest Viognier before dinner. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Our meal began with a crab cake dish paired with the crisp, refreshing Cougar Crest Viognier.

Cougar Crest

The crab was served over sesame slaw made with fresh ginger, cilantro, lime, mandarin oranges, and lemon aioli. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Next were what they called “Lobster Corn Doggies.” Don’t think for a moment that the lobster was anything short of delectable. The name did not do the dish justice. The lobster was paired with a Cougar Crest Red Blend.

Cougar Crest

Mini lobster corn dogs served with Chef Ziegler's “awesome sauce.” Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Next up was a perfectly cooked Painted Hills top sirloin paired with Cougar Crest’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cougar Crest

The locally sourced top sirloin was served with a hazelnut crusted-herbed goat cheese “cheescake,” buttered green beans and herb butter. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

We were surprised by yet another seafood dish… a Cedar Plank Roasted Columbia River Sturgeon paired with Cougar Crest Merlot.

Cougar Crest

The sturgeon was served with a cauliflower mash, grilled asparagus and lemon herb butter. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

And, although we were far from hungry, we couldn’t resist the dessert course… Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cake paired with Cougar Crest Port.

Cougar Crest

Chocolate cherry truffle cake… chocolate ganache served with sweet cherry sauce. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Chef Zeigler really outdid himself with this dinner created for “high rollers,” foodies and wine enthusiasts. We enjoyed each and every course and the Cougar Crest pairings.

Cougar Crest

Line & Lure's Executive Chef Ryan Ziegler. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

When You Go to Cougar Crest and Ilani Line and Lure

Watch the Ilanai website for special events like our marvelous wine dinner. Line & Lure is open daily for casual fine dining and cocktails. Ilani is located north of Portland, Oregon just off I-5.

Cougar Crest has four tasting rooms. The closest to Ilani Resort Casino is the Dundee, Oregon tasting room.

Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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Written by Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose is back again in the Phoenix area after more than a decade living in New Mexico and Washington state. She travels throughout the West and beyond writing about destinations, accommodations, festivals, and restaurants, especially farm to table cuisine. As an expert in cultural tourism, her writing reflects that passion. She has won awards for her photography and accompanies her articles with her own images. She also provides photos for magazine covers, web sites and magazine articles (both print and online).

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