Sonoma’s J Vineyards takes the guesswork out of food pairing
Wine Access - The Dish, by Kasey Wilson
October / November 2011
At J Vineyards, food and wine go hand-in-hand. J’s tasting room stands among the best in the West.
The winery’s owner, Judy Jordan, has been a Sonoma pioneer in her efforts to create an elegant food-and-wine experience for visitors. Touting both sparkling and traditional Burgundian still wines, Jordan offers guests a luxurious take on Sonoma County hospitality.
Judy Jordan, J Founder & President
In 1996, she purchased the former Piper Sonoma winery in Healdsburg, in the heart of California’s Russian River Valley. A few years later, in 1999, she opened J Vineyards’ tasting room. Going beyond basic wine tastings, staff members offered small food items to complement each wine, showing how what’s in the glass marries with what’s on the plate.
Eight years ago, Jordan hired Mark Caldwell as executive chef. His job: to create a variety of “ahhh-inducing” dishes to partner with her wines.
Mark E. Caldwell, J Executive Chef
The Signature Bar in the tasting room has art as cool as its bubbly. It’s backed by an impressive 18-by-24-foot, floor-to-ceiling, metal-and-glass installation by Napa Valley artist Gordon Huether. It’s washed with acid and mineral dusts to give it the warm hues of copper. Embedded in it are sparkling nuggets of glass lit by fiber optics, evoking the bubbles in a flute of sparkling wine.
J Signature Bar
On weekends, an enhanced tasting is offered in the Bubble Room, overlooking the gardens and lily pond. As part of this experience, Caldwell prepares several courses to go with a half-dozen wines, all served in the luxuriously appointed salon. Jordan believes Caldwell’s cooking is a perfect match to J’s wines; both wines and dishes have balance, elegance and subtlety.
J Bubble Room
“There’s a lot of experimentation and playing with flavors at J,” says Caldwell. “I reduce down sparkling wines to make different vinaigrettes, or to make a sauce for oysters on the half shell; or I’ll marinate strawberries in a reduction of our rosé and mint. I’ll also pour sparkling wine on dessert, so it foams up at the last second.”
His experimentation has led to one answer to the ongoing challenge of pairing asparagus with wine. “What I’ve learned,” says Caldwell, “is that steamed asparagus brings out a metallic flavor with wine. If you sauté or roast asparagus, it caramelizes, and shows nicely with the earthiness of a pinot noir.”
His impeccably wine-friendly recipes vary from succulent lobster-shellfish cakes with saffron aïoli (paired with J Cuvée 20 and the 2009 California Pinot Gris), to chilled carrot-curry soup (see recipe; best with the 2008 Chardonnay and J Vintage Brut). He uses two ’08 pinots — the Russian River Valley, and the Nicole’s Vineyard — in a reduction to accompany pan-roasted beef sirloin. Even sweets are deserving of pairings, with a dessert of citrus olive-oil cake with rose petal parfait matched to J Brut Rosé.
With an owner intent on upholding gracious wine country hospitality and a chef crafting unforgettable wine and food pairings, J’s tasting room stands among the best in the West.
Chilled Carrot-Curry Soup Recipe
Photo by Lenny Siegel
Here, Mark Caldwell shares his recipe for a silky, Madras curry-spiked carrot-curry soup. It’s wonderful chilled, but can also be served warm.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. young fresh carrots, scrubbed then chopped
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. Madras curry powder
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 can (14 oz/398ml) unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock
In a heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and garlic; cook until onions are softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and 1 tablespoon of curry powder and cook for 5 minutes. Add bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer soup for 15 minutes. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of curry powder and cook, stirring for 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in coconut milk and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Pour coconut-curry mixture into soup and stir well. Purée (in batches) in a blender until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and chill thoroughly, at least 2 hours. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
J Wine Match: 2009 J Vineyards Viognier, Hoot Owl Vineyard