16 November 2010

Wine - Justin Vineyards Visits Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

(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!
Chicken Roulade with Almonds and Goat Cheese
Pineapple Spiced Couscous, Apple Gastrique
2009 Chardonnay

"Pork & Beans"
Crisp Pork Belly, White Bean Ragout
Tart Cherry Reduction
2007 Justification (blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc)

Braised Veal Cheek
Root Vegetable Puree, Creamed Spinach
Blackberry Espresso Demi
2007 Isosceles

Chocolate Fig Bread Pudding
Mascarpone Vanilla Gelato
2008 Obtuse (Port-style fortified Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine)


Sully said...

What I know about wine wouldn’t impress a grape. Worse, I’ve tried to get into the habit of drinking the stuff, but alas, it doesn’t take. Ah, well. Conformity of any kind escapes me. But I would have scarfed through those comfy foods in a heartbeat (um…maybe not the fig thingy after I inhaled the chocolate through a straw).

But I do recognize a well-written review when I see one, Jeani. U done gud…great, in fact. Hope you are passing a copy along to Justin. Networking, networking…

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Sully! If you don't like it, you just don't like it. But this wine dinner might have made a convert of you!

Nancy said...

Hi Jean,

Sounds like a wonderful way to learn about wine! Love the Ojai Valley Inn, was there last January and had a wonderful time - Jamie West is a very talented chef!!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Hi Nancy. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Yes, Jamie West is very talented. I love his food. Every element is just right.

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

I always enjoy wine tasting! Furthermore with scrumptious dishes.
My preferred the pudding with gelato with the dessert wine - incredible :)



Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks so much, Gera. Gelato is wonderful, isn't it? I've never made it myself but plan to make some when I can finally decide which ice cream maker I want to get!

Sippity Sup said...

It's been way to long since I have been to Ojai. Your review proves that I need to break out of my same old circle of weekend activities and get up there. Thanks GREG

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

You'll love it there and wonder why it took you so long to get back! Thanks for stopping by, Greg, and leaving a comment.

Marc Frederic said...

Wow, this food has been well thought out, being a Charcutier it is nice to see a chef who can present well those parts like your Veal Cheeks to such a high standard.

Why was I not invited?

I might be coming Stateside in the New Year, I'm prepared to work for my supper if the food is like yours!

Jan Fredrik Lockert said...

Love wine tasting. Did a wine tasting of Masi wines short while ago in Oslo. We started with the least expensive ones and moved on to the more expensive wines. My problem was that I never did get to the real big ones as I had too much of the ordinary wines. A lessoned learned. When it comes to California wines, I choose the Zinfandel grape, Ravenswood or Fetzer!. Regards, Jan Fredrik

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Marc. I hope you do make the trip and have a wonderful time. And I'll pass your compliments along to the chef!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

I know what you mean, Jan Fredrik. I knew I would be tasting seven wines, so I had to be careful and not overdo on the first few. I'm kind of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol!

Anonymous said...

My favorite way to spend time with friends is to go on a wine tasting tour of local vineyards. Your trip looks so special and memorable. And the FOOD!! Yum. - Vic

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Vic. And I so look forward to one day sampling the wines of Virginia, visiting the James River and once again seeing the dogwoods in bloom.

Anna Johnston said...

Oh Wow.., sounds wonderful Jean. Isn't is fabulous when you get winemakers who share their knowledge without all that silly posh rubbish. Wine is for everyone and I think we've gone way past the time where all those stuffy old rules exist, glad you had a great time.

Peter Bryenton said...

The Obtuse: aptly named for those for whom windows were opened ;)

Alyson and Ford said...

Sounds too wonderful! I love red wine and having a tasting with a gourmet dinner too - wow! How special!

Alyzabeth's Mommy

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Peter, I love how your mind works! You got my day started with a laugh! (Why didn't I think of that?)

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Anna, thanks for stopping in! Yes, let's lose the rubbish--wine snobbery is a bore.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Alyzabeth's Mommy! I like that you said "How special!" I wouldn't want to eat like that every day, but I think once a week would be fine and retain the specialness.

Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear said...

Those dishes look amazing!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Yes, Anne, they were. Jamie West is an amazing chef!

eatingRD said...

Oh my goodness that all sounds and looks amazing! I LOVE when wine complements the meal and it becomes an 'experience'. I love talking about wine and it's fun to explore all the characteristics that wine has to offer without being 'stiff' :)

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks for stopping by. It was a fabulous evening! You must try the Obtuse--I was so surprised by it.