J Vineyards & Winery
By James Knight
Just saying "mouth amuser" makes one smile. This translation of amuse-bouche, the term for a bite-sized, whimsical appetizer, could just as handily describe the effects of sparkling wine: a wet and tingly, alcohol-fueled but welcome surprise, like a slightly sauced smooch, and lately I just can't get enough of it—the fizz, that is. Even long after New Year's, sparkling wine is nice anytime, thank you. Save the sit-down, three-course food and wine pairing in J Vineyard's Bubble Room for a special occasion, an occasion like . . . hey, it's Sunday.
On a recent visit, a bigger and rowdier crowd might have applauded the kitchen staff as they walked each Lilliputian-sized course down the length of the room on large platters. J's Bubble Room program, designed by executive chef Mark Caldwell, is about a year old and changes every six weeks to feature produce in season. Looking out of floor-to-ceiling windows from the comfort of a double-L sofa, we can see that J is as popular as ever with young adults who stream across a moat to the business park-style concrete-and-glass building to crowd around the distinctive bar. But for extra attention, extra wine and—for some of us—a rare forkful of the fare of the epicure, J's well-run weekend program offers three deceptively wee courses that magnify their diverse and intense flavors like a loupe.
Our amuse-bouche, an intricately detailed dollop of edamame-hummus on a wonton spoon, arrived shortly after a welcome flute of 1999 Vintage Brut ($40). Five years on the yeast rounded out this creamy sparkler, still light and alive with citrus zip and aromas of fresh linens.
Paired with a demitasse of roasted cauliflower soup with watercress purée, the ample-bodied 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28) showed aromas of roasted almond with caramel-taffy finish; crab cakes brought out its more exotic flavors. The 2005 Pinot Noir, Nicole's Vineyard, Block 4 ($50) was reminiscent of potpourri, spices, dried cherries and orange peel, and, while finishing dry, perfectly juiced up the dryness of the pink pork medallions, plated with rutabaga and roasted Brussels sprouts.
The vegetarian alternative to softly splintering, braised veal cheeks was a sticky beet risotto, but upon being also served by some accident the foie gras, our vegetarian took the plunge. Paired with light pink, salmon-tinged Brut Rosé RRV ($30), foie gras on toastettes melted just like butter—tasted blind, one would guess, from a happy cow. Laden with rich, golden pear and honey flavors, the 1998 RRV Late-Disgorged Brut ($65) was spiced with nutmeg, while a fine, creamy mousse struggled against its weight. After finishing off the gras with a dollop of triple cream Brie on walnut cake, all while waving flutes of fizzy wine about, I looked towards the mirrors for a glimpse of some glutton of pre-revolution Versailles. By the time the nectarlike "Ratafia" ($42), a cognac-infused dessert wine, arrived with J Pear Liqueur floated on a pool of cooked cream over a little crock of chocolate pudding, I could no longer honestly say I hadn't gotten enough.
J Vineyards and Winery, 11447 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg. Open daily 11am to 5pm for tasting flights, $20. Bubble Room, Friday–Sunday only, 11am–3pm. $60. 888.594.6326.
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