Tue 1 Jan 2013
Judy Jordan was only 25 when she founded J Winery in 1986, adhering to the principle that Russian River Valley grapes could produce great sparkling wines. While in subsequent years the winery moved into still wines — chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir — the heart of the enterprise is still sparkling wines made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation and aging in the bottle. She is still the president of the winery. Today, I review two special products, the J Vintage Brut 2005 and the J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003. This would be a good point at which to explain the rather unpalatable term “disgorged,” which sounds like what a coyote does after a night indulging in too much roadkill.
When the base wine is put into bottles, a mixture of sugar and yeast is added to restart the second fermentation that produces the bubbles; then the bottle is capped. After the Champagne or sparkling wine has aged an appropriate period — sometimes many years but more often 15 to 24 months — that mixture inside the bottle must be gotten rid of. This “disgorgement” is accomplished, at least traditionally, by freezing the bottle neck where the deposit has lodged, upending the bottle and popping the cap, thus expelling the frozen material. This is a simplified and sketchy description of the Champagne method, but you get the idea about disgorging.
These sparkling wines were samples for review.
The blend of grapes in the J Vintage Brut 2005, Russian River Valley, is 54 percent chardonnay, 43 percent pinot noir and 3 percent pinot meunier. This sparkling wine aged nearly five years before being disgorged in October 2011, followed by three months aging “on the cork” before release. The pale gold color is activated by myriad glittering bubbles streaming to the surface. It’s a precise and crystalline sparkling wine, emitting lovely clean fresh aromas of roasted lemons and pears, toasted hazelnuts, quince and ginger and a burgeoning limestone quality. The wine, exquisite in many ways, exhibits terrific presence and tone; it’s dry and crisp with taut acidity that animates a supple texture wrapped around notes of yellow plums and caramelized grapefruit; reservoirs of limestone and chalk contribute a serious structure that does not detract from the wine’s innate elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 700 cases. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $48.
The J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, was bottled in July 2004 and disgorged seven and a half years later in early 2012; the sparkling wine aged five more months “on the cork” before release. It’s a blend of 49 percent each pinot noir and chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is pale blond; the bubbles are fine, energetic, persistent, a transfixing of silver on gold. For a sparkling wine that’s nine years old, J Late Disgorged Brut 2003 is remarkably clean and elegant and elevating; ethereal aromas of steel and acacia are bolstered by notes of green apples and cloves, lime peel and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, with the barest hint of fresh biscuits. You might think that a sparkling wine displaying so much winsome personality and appeal, that’s such a refined weaving of ephemeral tissues would be too fragile to be taken seriously, but you would, My Readers, be wrong, because J Late Disgorged Brut 2003 incorporates lithe sinews of crisp bold acidity and limestone and slate-flecked minerality to ensure the tensile strength of all its meticulously balanced elements. By the time this sparkling wine has passed mid-palate and you feel the deep resonance of its structure and the increasing power of its glacial austerity and authority, you should come to acknowledge that this is a brilliant effort, even though it feels so effortless. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $90.
The striking image is from Cortney Roudebush’s blog Sip Swirl Savor, and I hope she doesn’t mind if I borrow it on New Year’s Day.