One of my most astonishing moments in the wine world was the recent tasting of J Vineyards wines, including the 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
It wasn’t astonishing because the pinot noir came from Russian River Valley; I’ve enjoyed many pinot noirs from this excellent appellation in Sonoma County. And it wasn’t because it came from J Vineyards; I’ve enjoyed its sparkling wine for years. I was astonished because the wine was made by George Bursick.
Prior to accepting Judy Jordan’s offer to be the winemaker at J Vineyards, Bursick was the winemaker for 22 years at Ferrari-Carano. And for 22 years, I disliked those wines to the point that I never put them on the wine lists at my restaurants.
Everything I dislike about California wine was in the bottle of Ferrari-Carano: overripe, jammy fruit; vanilla-like extract from new oak barrels; obvious alcohol; lack of tannins and acidity; unbalanced, one-dimensional wines that never compliment food. It was cocktail wine.
As I approached the tasting, I was thinking: Oh, I hope Judy Jordan, who founded J Vineyards in 1986, didn’t change the style of J Vineyards with George Bursick as her new winemaker. She and he didn’t.
The tasting began with a remarkably flavored 2007 Pinot Gris and a 2006 Chardonnay that unites the best of white Burgundy and California traits. Both white wines are from Russian River Valley.
Next came three 2006 pinot noirs: Russian River Valley, Nicole’s Vineyard and Sonoma Coast. Each offered pleasure and balance; and the Russian River Valley pinot noir added good value to the equation.
Made from grapes of J’s five vineyards and growers in the Russian River Valley, the 2006 has pinot noir’s naturally translucent cherry color; its black cherry, raspberry and cinnamon aromas are enticing enough to cause a long pause before tasting the delightful mix of ripe bitter cherry and strawberry flavors. Dry tannins give the wine length and an elegant texture; and crisp acidity helps conceal the 14.3 percent alcohol.
When asked how he could create such opposite styles during his career, Burdick responded, “I make what the owners want.” Thank you, Judy Jordan.
The 2006 J Vineyard Russian River Valley pinot noir was hedonistic with a lamb sausage, olives, tomato confit and pureed potatoes.
I think it will be a perfect palate partner with farmers’ market swiss chard steamed in olive oil and served with grilled pork loin; heirloom tomatoes speckled with goat cheese and chopped black southern Italian olives; and grilled breast of chicken over chopped garden arugula drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
The 2006 J Vineyards Russian River Valley pinot noir retails for $37.