Norwegian Winemaker and Chef James Bring-It-On
Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 8:39PM
off the vine

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


Article originally appeared on off the vine magazine (
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