True confession: We rarely go to Jax Fish House in search of amazing wine.
That's not to say that we never go there. In fact, we've had more meals at Jax than you can shake a fish stick at. Way back in the day when folks were still a bit skeptical about the availability of fresh, quality seafood in our landlocked state, Jax served as a bastion to all of us hungry souls starved for their impressive array of briny oysters and fixation-inspiring calamari. So given our preoccupation with the aforementioned salty snacks, our exploration of the viniferous offerings at Jax has been focused almost exclusively toward wines of the crisp, white (and frequently, bubbly) persuasion. Simply put: We hang out at Jax for the fish, not its wine list.
But a special winemaker dinner at Jax last week commanded our curiosity -- and our attention. And if the idea of indulging in one of our most cherished pastimes weren't enough to pique our palates, the winemaker whose wares we'd be sipping with our fishy fare was to be none other than Peter Rosbeck, one of Oregon's best loved pinot posse members (and maker of one of our favorite white blends).
It was right about then that our curiosity was upgraded to something more akin to "unbridled anticipation." But we did remain puzzled by one thing: Of all the wine producers Jax might choose to feature, why Sineann? Turns out these two have a lot more in common / deeper connection than you might think.
- Jax wine director Adam Reed has had a thing for Sineann wines since...well, forever: Reed has visited the Sineann winery in Oregon a number of times - and has featured Rosbeck's wines on the Jax list since the beginning.
- Jax' private label pinot noir wines are made by -- wait for it -- Rosbeck: Reed was looking for a special, custom blend that would allow him to pick the exact flavor profile to best suit their menu. Rosbeck created a few different blends, from which Reed made his final selection. Now in the third year of their collabo, the style of the wines has evolved along with the unique nature of each vintage.
- The French [Laundry] Connection: If you've despaired that you'll likely never have a chance to visit this vaunted Yountville restaurant, take comfort in the fact that since 2005, Peter Rosbeck has been making a private label pinot for them, too.
Chef's amuse course: A single, gloriously plump Penn Cove oyster topped with a sweetly savory melon granite (an intensely flavored scraped ice that's like a less refined version of sorbet) paired beautifully with the Sineann 2011 Pinot Gris, whose fiesty lemon and round cantaloupe flavors fell in love with and married the oyster's cucumber-y essence. Summer never tasted so good.
Course one: The olive-oil poached king salmon, served with a quenelle of eggplant pureé, green tabbouleh and a madras curry emulsion, elevated a simple fish dish into an explosion of exotic flavors. Showcasing the broad versatility of a variety often wrongly pigeonholed as being sweet, the Sineann 2011 'Celilo' Gewürztraminer made for one of the most inspired match-ups of the night. Gingersnap and Asian pear fragrances preceded a combination of fresh white flowers and more pear on the palate? Please and thank you, gewürtraminer (we just love to say that word).
Course two: Jax chef-duo Sheila Lucero and Amos Watts blew us away with a deceptively simple Pinot Noir risotto. The dish, colored the same inky-red as the wine we would drink with it, showcased intensely roasted garlic and Parmesan components that played off the spice-driven, smoky nature of the private label Jax Fish House Sineann 2009 Pinot Noir served alongside. Then we got a bonus pour for comparison: the Jax Fish House Sineann 2007 Pinot Noir surprised us with its contrastingly fresh, almost floral aromas and burst of Burgundian acidity. Tasted side-by-side, they reminded us of brother and sister -- one bigger and tougher, the other more elegant and ladylike. The one similarity? They both rocked.
Course three: Halfway through the courses, we took a deep breath, and soldiered on to savor a grilled filet of Snake River sturgeon that shared the plate with a mound of butter-braised onion & ricotta agnolotti and fava beans, all resting atop a classic pesto. Proving the point that red wines work like a charm with all manner of full-bodied seafood, we gloried in the rustic, earthy flavors offered by the Sineann 2009 'Wy'east Vineyard' Pinot Noir.
Course four: This is where things really got interesting. See, the dinner menu at Jax is anchored by classically French, Italian or regional American-inspired dishes that let the quality of their pristine seafood show through. So we were thrilled to see them stretch those boundaries with a dish of Kurobuta pork loin, sliced paper thin and served in a bowl full of smoked soba noodles, watercress, and daikon radish -- all of which was doused tableside with a steaming pour of even smokier pork dashi. Add to that awesomeness a glass of Sineann 2009 'Schindler Vineyard' Pinot Noir, which delivered yet another wallop of smoky oak, plus elements of cinnamon and cocoa and you have the equivalent of a food and wine home run.
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Course five: We have no words (okay, maybe we have a few) to describe the fantasticness of this pairing. Preferring to consume our calories in liquid form, dessert usually falls firmly into our "meh" category, especially when it comes to multi-course wine dinners. But after taking one whiff of the warm, big-as-a-baby's-head doughnut, topped with a dollop of rhubarb-strawberry compote and embellished with a scoop of malted vanilla bean ice cream, we dove in with gusto. And then, there was the wine. Enjoying its debut vintage was the Sineann 2011 Pinot Noir "Ice Dance", a juicy, strawberry-jam-in-a-bottle dessert wine that seemed tailor-made for the heavenly dessert. We tasted. We drank. We swooned. The doughnut was so magical, we begged Amos to make us another order -- to go -- two nights later, in order to stage a second magical experience with someone at the end of yet another delicious, almost-summer night in the city. The best part of this food and wine love story? You'll be able to have your very own happy ending -- because Jax is adding this stellar dessert to their summer menu.