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Norwegian Winemaker and Chef James Bring-It-On

Chef James in the open kitchenBy: Valerie Brockbank  Wine shows off its best traits when creatively paired with food. And what better way to experiment than letting the experts do this for you. Wine dinners pair a winemaker and a chef; they put their heads together and come up with a menu that will delight your palate and educate your taste buds.

On an early spring evening, Johan Vineyards near Rickreall, Ore and Chef Jeff James of j.james Restaurant in Salem, Ore, the State capital, created a five course feast that brought food and wine pairing to new heights. Both support organic and biodiversity farming practices.

Who knew an unreleased new vintage 07 Pinot Noir could pair magically with True Cod? Or an 07 Vin Gris Rosé’s light tannins would augment the spinach and aged cheddar in a fallen soufflé?

The combination of wild, white, lemon pepper shrimp on spring asparagus, dressed with toasted curry oil, was a stunning dish on its own, but when paired with Johan’s crisp, dry 07 Estate Pinot Gris, the tangerine notes married with the lemon shrimp, and the wine’s well-balanced acid bloomed the curry oil. The 06 Reserve Pinot Noir’s rich elegance and good fruit paired perfectly with a molasses cured pork loin on a polenta cake. The structure of this wine stood up to the dish’s saltiness and creaminess.

And who doesn’t like chocolate for dessert. The 06 Reserve Pinot Noir also paired unctuously with the warm Swiss chocolate lava cake, with cinnamon caramel coffee sauce.

the dessert I love to cook with wine, but often, I’d like to have had a chat with the winemaker before buying the bottle. At a wine dinner the winemaker is there to answer questions and share information about their wines. Why is the 06 Pinot Noir different from the 07 Pinot Noir? Why is terroir so important? At the Johan/ j.james Restaurant dinner, Chef James, the winemaker and viticulturist, Dan Rinke and the winery owner, Dag Johan Sundby were on hand to share their insights.

Dag Sundby, who is from Norway, talked about his love of the area and why his focus on the vineyard and viticulture is paramount. Johan Vineyards also sell their grapes to other wineries in the region. They are a boutique winery, only producing 670 cases. Their mission is elegance and quality.

Winemaker, Dan Rinke talked about each wine as it was served—its characteristics, how the growing seasons and hang time made each vintage unique, how the Van Duzer Corridor brings a maritime climate to their Willamette Valley area—all this positively affecting the vineyard terroir. Chef James discussed how he chose the ingredients for each dish to work with the layers in each wine.

What I like about wine dinners is that I can enjoy, learn, and savor (with all my senses) an evening that is truly one-of-a-kind. I can find new wines for my cellar and get new ideas for home-cooked fare. I already have plans for a Johan Vineyard 06 Estate Pinot Noir, and I will return to j.james Restaurant for another dining experience.

Wine Ratings:
All the wines tasted here scored 89+ points!

otv rating (0 to 20)
food: 18
service: 16
vibe: 14

j.james Restaurant
325 High St. SE Pringle Park Plaza
Salem, OR
(503) 362-0888

Johan Vineyard
(866) 379-6029



A Winemaker's Dinner with Vanessa Wong of Peay Vineyards

Bacar in San Francisco The concept is sound: A vintner brings a selection of current releases and possibly a few library wines and the hosting restaurant’s chef prepares a multi-course dinner to show off the cuisine that pairs well with the wines.

On this occasion, the wine was from Peay and their amazing winemaker Vanessa Wong. Vanessa (Lafite Rothschild, Domaine Jean Gros, Peter Michael), along with co-owner Andy Peay, brought six wines for this event which was held at Bacar in San Francisco. The dinner was the first in a year- long celebration honoring Women in Wine and put together by Bacar’s wine director Haley Guild.

Andy, Vanesa & NickMissing in action was Vanessa’s husband Nick, Andy’s brother. And, as we learned over dinner, they first met while attending UC Davis as they worked toward degrees in Viticulture and Enology.

We started off the evening with several very well prepared
amuse-bouche. A flavorful duck liver mousse, topped with preserved kumquat and hazelnut, was served on toast points. I also loved the risotto balls, lightly deep fried. These were served with the dry, crisp, superb 2007 Peay Viognier. This is a well integrated wine done with restraint and balance. A very small production makes this one hard to find in the marketplace.

the yellowtailNext up was yellowtail grilled over mesquite and a white bean salad done with a
Harrisa-based vinaigrette dressing—sort of like the Tunisian style dish made traditionally with tuna and citrus. The idea was to use the spiciness of the Harrisa to pick up the spice from the 2007 Chardonnay. Not a bad pairing, however, the Chardonnay, made in a wonderful food-friendly style, outshined the food here. Pure, clean, and backed by a mouth watering streak of minerality made this my top pick of the evening.

roasted squabThe main course was an oven roasted squab done with a Michigan cherry chutney and paired with two of the best Pinot Noir’s made on the Sonoma Coast. Both are from the 2006 vintage—we tried the Pomarium and
Scallop Shelf. The first was a touch more fruit-forward and very aromatic; the second was a bit more earthy and paired best with the squab.

Two Syrah’s followed, wines that perhaps Peay is best known for, La Burma and Les Titians. Syrah is hard to grow along the Sonoma Coast but the result is outstanding. Great depth, grip and intensity. Well paired with a deconstructed lamb dish (loin, a pulled sautéed round and sausage).

We finished with a standout pinenut tart served with an olive oil ice cream, preserved lemon and honey mint drizzle. Life is good. Bravo!

 Bacar is located in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Known for its outstanding wine program and stylish contemporary Northern California cuisine.

448 Brannan St (between 4th St & Ritch St)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 904-4100

 Peay Vineyards is planted on 50 acres in a somewhat remote area just north of Point Reyes. The production facility is in Cloverdale. Tours by appointment only. Visit Peay Online - JAS