Forgive the hackneyed analog, but I’ve just eaten a Lennon-McCartney harmony of food and wine over at J Winery; OK, maybe that’s too much, but a solid Bee Gees, at least! Seriously, if we wore socks on our teeth, then Chef Mark Caldwell’s Lobster Bisque, together with winemaker George Bursick’s Hoot Owl Vineyard Viognier, would knock them clean off. And I don’t even like Viognier, as a rule.
Eight-Flavor Local Duck, Tamarind-Orange Glazed Pork Belly, and Yuzu Royale; a vertical of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, a late-disgorged vintage sparkler. For breakfast, no less. Not that one necessarily needs a special occasion to have wine for breakfast when one lives in wine country, but it helps, especially if you’ve got school pick-up, or anything else marginally productive to do. Fortunately, I had neither, so I got to enjoy all of this at a “Chinese New Year”-inspired pairing of food and wine in J’s Bubble Room; the menu, and the wines, will be featured through February 6th, a great call if you’ve been looking for a something-special to do in Healdsburg.
As good as it all is – and it’s all very good – it’s that Lobster Bisque and Viognier that makes you forget about the door levy. To be sure, $65/head for a 7-course menu hardly qualifies for a budget-oriented visit to the tasting room, but to be fair, it’s a meal more than a tasting (7 substantial plates of very tasty vittles), and ends up as much a miniature course in wine education as it does a tasting (including 8 different glasses of J’s top-shelf offerings); really, my only gripe is that I had to write this review, instead of taking a nap. But back to that bisque: Chef Mark serves it as a “cappuccino”, the “foam” delicately laced with coconut, an intriguing note of lime adding just the right balance to the sweet-spicy decadence of the soup and coaxing a range of citrus flavors from the wine.
Now, I don’t know about you and Viognier – with the notable exception of a few of the better examples from the Condrieu region of France, I generally won’t touch the stuff – but I’ve just been converted. The honeyed texture, the white flowers and stone fruit, and, above all, that mysterious note of lime zest in the wine do a little tango with the soup, each getting more from its partner than either had alone, the ultimate goal of all wine-food pairings. I’m going to try to convince Mark to give me his recipe for that bisque, but in the meantime, I’m headed back to J for another bottle, and then to pick up some Thai food to-go, something with coconut and lemongrass, maybe…