(Okay, I admit it, this post isn't strictly within my Comfort Food genre. But wine can be comforting, right? And I've always found a posh dinner very comforting.)
A wine tasting seminar, led by Justin Baldwin of Justin Vineyards & Winery, followed by a specially prepared vintner's dinner by executive chef Jamie West of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa got my week off to a great start. Held in the resort's Maravilla Restaurant, attendance was limited to about 70; and locals were joined by guests coming in from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange County.
The AAA 5 Diamond resort, a short drive inland on California's Central Coast, is elegant, yes, but with a laid-back vibe. My husband and I stayed there a few years ago and felt like we were in another world. Maravilla, the resort's fine dining restaurant, has that same elegant but relaxed ambience. The friendly, professional staff provides service that is impeccable without being ostentatious. I was delighted to accept their kind invitation.
Justin Vineyards & Winery, a bit farther up California's Central Coast, is entirely family owned and operated (I like that!) and its "main" wine, called Isosceles (after the triangle), is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.
I don't consider myself a wine connoisseur at all, but I know what I like. I enjoy tasting a wine with care, with and without food, and attempting to notice its characteristics. But I don't dissect it. And you'll never hear me using wine words like flabby or gamy or--heaven help us--naive, amusing or unassuming!
Justin Baldwin's tasting seminar was the best I've ever attended. He's so relaxed and imparts a lot of information for both the novice and the hard-core oenophile. So many people cannot talk about wine without sounding a bit stiff. But Justin, totally at home with his subject after decades in the business, is completely unstuffy. To my dismay, there were a few heavily perfumed people in attendance. I was very amused when Jason walked into the tasting room (the cozy Neff Lounge set up classroom style) and discreetly opened a few windows! (In case you don't know it--and apparently not everyone does!--wearing fragrance is not the done thing at a wine tasting.)
The Paso Robles appellation in the wine country of California's Central Coast is even larger than I thought, with 250 wineries and 30,000 acres of wine grapes. Cabernet sauvignon is the foundation grape variety of JUSTIN. Of the three wines in the tasting--2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Savant (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon--the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite.
Acclaimed chef Jamie West's dinner of what I called posh comfort food was fabulous, each of the four courses accompanied by the perfect JUSTIN wine. In the tasting seminar, Justin Baldwin said "We make our wines to open up and enhance dining pleasure." And that's just what they did!
Each food and wine pairing was so perfect, I could not pick a favorite from the four wines. The Obtuse was the big surprise of the evening for me as I had never before enjoyed a dessert wine half so much. The not-too-sweet, not-too-chocolately dessert, which would have been perfectly wonderful with a cup of tea or coffee, was even more so with the Obtuse. And the Obtuse, quite delicious on its own, was positively transformed by the chocolate fig bread pudding.
It was a delightful repast!