Wine Tasting Notes: J Vineyards, Russian River Valley

jvineyardsGiven the choice between a glass of Chardonnay and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I’m liable to choose the latter about nine times out of ten. I have found that among wine drinkers, this decision tends to be pretty divisive: people will usually form a distinct preference between these two white wines, kind of like an Elvis-versus-The Beatles debate. For me, I just prefer the acidity and the aroma of Sauv Blanc, and I somehow find Chardonnay less intriguing on the palate (I also find Elvis less intriguing than the Fab Four, for what it’s worth).

Unfortunately, for those of us who prefer Sauvignon Blanc, the choices are far fewer than those of Chardonnay (on the positive side, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be much less expensive). Honestly, I would like to see more Sauvignon Blanc out there, but I realize that Chardonnay will always be the king of California white wines. In my own mind, however, I have a list of wineries that I wish would offer Sauvignon Blanc. I suppose that Shafer would be atop this list, since they produce my all-time favorite Chardonnay, Red Shoulder Ranch.

Of course, my proposed marriage of Shafer and Sauvignon Blanc might be a stretch, and such a wine would probably retail for $40 per bottle anyhow, but what oenophile wouldn’t want to taste Sauvignon Blanc in the deft hands of Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez? But I digress — perhaps a more realistic wish would be a Sauvignon Blanc by J Vineyards & Winery. Considering J produces so many other whites, including a Viognier and a Pinot Gris (as well as the requisite Chardonnay), Sauvignon Blanc always seemed like it would be right at home in the J portfolio.

• The irony of this discussion is that my tasting at J began with their 2006 Russian River Chardonnay ($40), which featured typical apple flavors bolstered by 100% new French oak. This particular style is a radical departure from past vintages, in which 75% of the wine was aged in stainless steel. The Chardonnay was well-made, despite J’s contrarian approach to aging.

• Next was the 2008 J Vin Gris ($20), a rosé dominated by delicious strawberry flavors, but ultimately a wine that I labeled as “good for rosé” — I like my blush wines to sparkle, whenever possible. Still, I don’t want to deny this wine its proper place: it will certainly earn more points in the summertime.

• The third wine in the flight was the 2006 J Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($38), a wine that needed more in the way of a finish, although it did deliver a nice first impression. As much as I enjoy several Russian River Pinots, it’s important to remember that the Russian River appellation is 10,000 acres — it’s a bit of a minefield, since quality can vary heavily.

• The final wine was the J Russian River Cuvée 20 ($28), the winery’s flagship and the highlight of the visit. This non-vintage sparkling wine featured terrific layers of lemon zest, biscuits and apple. Offset by about 1.5% residual sugar, the wine maintains a pleasant acidity and a refreshing quality. The wine is named in honor of J’s 20th anniversary.

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