“And wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” — Alexander Pope
Our morning at Jordan complete, we traveled south to our next Sonoma stop, J Vineyards. I was intrigued by J Vineyards due to its history. It was established in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan. It started as a project to produce sparkling wine, but has expanded to include other excellent varietals. We pulled into the parking lot and immediately I knew I had chosen wisely – the tasting estate was gorgeous. You walk over a bridge with a series of arched vines overhead, flowers blooming and lush vegetation all around, to enter a spacious modern main room with branching salons to either side.
There are multiple tasting options at J Vineyards. You can walk in without a reservation and do a tasting in this main room, or take a tour, or do an elaborate food paring in their Bubble Room. When planning our trip, I elected to make an appointment for the J Legacy Tasting in the Legacy Reserve Lounge. For one, I am somewhat obsessed with pairing wine with cheese, and this afforded the opportunity to order what turned out to be a gorgeous cheese board. More importantly, however, the J Legacy Tasting actually includes 3 different options: a Pinot flight, a bubbles flight, or the Legacy flight with the opportunity to try the J Pinot Gris and J Chardonnay in addition to three J Pinot Noirs. I figured with four people, it might be nice to allow for some individual options.
We were led into the Legacy Reserve Lounge, a beautifully appointed room with an entire wall of windows looking out over the lush property. Like the main room, the windows and the light and the high ceilings made for a modern, airy, and relaxed ambiance that I found completely enchanting.
We settled in and made our selections. I opted for the Legacy Tasting – I do enjoy my white wines – while my three companions opted for the Pinot Noir flight. Something I should mention at this point – the glassware in Napa is always immaculate. Most wineries serve your wine in Riedel stemware – always with true wine glasses and never in those accursed stemless vessels. J Vineyards was no different, and I admired the graceful stemware our waiter, Izzy, lined up in front of me. I usually scorn Pinot Gris but I was pleasantly surprised by the J Vineyards version, and I found the Chardonnay lovely. The Pinot Noirs, though, stole the show. Given J Vineyards started as a sparkling wine concept, I wasn’t expecting high quality Pinots here (and I am very, very picky when it comes to Pinot Noir). However, all three of the Pinots in my flight (and the two others in Brian’s Pinot flight, which by spousal privilege I did, of course, sample) were excellent! Our cheese board was something of a work of art, each of the unique cheeses topped with some sort of pretty garnish. Izzy was attentive and informative, rounding out the perfection of our visit. I would definitely recommend stopping at J Vineyards if you find yourself in Sonoma, as the entire experience was fabulous.
Our two Jordan family experiences completed and satisfying, we started heading back towards Napa. Lest anyone consider us irresponsible, my husband, ever the sophisticated pragmatist, carries with him a breathalyzer. Not because he has ever been convicted of driving under the influence – quite the contrary, Brian has a sense of duty and honor that cannot be questioned, which is one of the reasons I admire and adore him so greatly. He simply never wants to get behind the wheel when he would be unsafe to drive, not trusting the self-assessment of anyone who has imbibed. We confirmed that both he and Steven were still well below the legal limit (we females in the group were borderline, so goes the losing battle of the BMI) and proceeded to our final destination of the day, Bouchaine Vineyards. It was rather perfectly situated for our day, being located in the Carneros region on the way back to the Marriott. It’s one of the wineries you can walk into without an appointment, which was nice given that, with the afternoon Sonoma traffic, it was impossible to predict exactly when we would arrive.
We turned off the main highway onto a pastoral side road, past sun-soaked vineyards, leading to Bouchaine. We entered their quaint tasting room, where we received some of the best of the already excellent service to be had in Napa. Their hours are only until 4:30pm, but though we showed up at 4 o’clock there was no rushing us. The two personable and cheerful women pouring at the tasting room bar chatted with us as though we were old friends as we moved through their tasting menu. The Bouchaine rosé was the only rosé wine we purchased on the entire Napa 2017 trip. Moreover, their Pinot Noirs are wonderful, the Carneros region with its cooler climes well suited to growing this varietal. I definitely want to go back sometime and relax on their patio, which overlooks the idyllic grounds at Bouchaine. This was another of Marcia’s recommendations, and per usual it did not disappoint.
It didn’t take long to wind our way through the Carneros countryside back to the Marriott Napa Valley. Our day was not yet complete – we still had dinner to look forward to!
When we came to Napa last year we were blown away by a food and wine paring experience at Chateau Potelle (also a Marcia recommendation – have you noticed a trend?) The wine at Potelle was so fabulous, it was the only wine my parents deemed worthy of purchase during that trip. The food part of the pairing was prepared by the chef from La Toque, a Michelin star restaurant located within the Westin Hotel in Napa. The food was so lovely I vowed to to have dinner there during our next Napa trip. As such, it was to La Toque that we headed for dinner this night.
There is one word to describe dining at La Toque, and that is “fabulous”. The entire experience, from being greeted by the hostess, to our intimate table by the fireplace, to the immaculate service, to the exceptional food, was just amazing. La Toque is the essence of fine dining, and is very much deserving of its Michelin star.
We elected to do the 5 course tasting menu, which included desert. We both ordered a glass of Chardonnay while the sommelier decanted our recently procured Jordan 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. To start we were offered an amuse bouche, a lovely little bite to “entertain the mouth.” We followed this with a roasted baby beet salad, served on a slate board and looking more like a piece of art than something you would eat – though it was delicious, the morsels of roasted beet melding with the tendrils of mascarpone. From here we moved to a grilled Pacific sablefish floating on a lush mouse studded with gems of sunchoke. At this point our Jordan Cabernet was poured, just in time for our next course, a Spanish octopus served with olive puree and Romesco. I love grilled octopus, and this was mouthwateringly delicious. For our final course, I elected for a tortellini stuffed with mint and Mascarpone served in a broth with English peas. The little pasta purses burst with flavor, the mint and the peas a smashing combination. I really must try pairing mint and peas in future culinary endeavors. Brian had some sort of steak, which he assured me was exquisitely done. For dessert, Brian elected for some sort of chocolate concoction that, of course, was a work of art. I wasn’t really in the mood for anything sweet, so I went with their cheese selection which I found a decadent end to my fabulous meal.
La Toque was probably the second-best dining experience of my life, to be surpassed only by the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, another Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley. Please, friends, make a point to dine at La Toque on your next Napa excursion – you won’t regret it! They even have an all-vegetarian tasting menu, which I am sure is outstanding.
Sated and merry, we headed home to the Marriott. It was a wonderful day.