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/ Source: TODAY

For the record, I taste wines that I buy for possible review in this column as well as samples sent to me (and many other critics) by wineries that offer up their new releases, although I make no promises. Wineries also flood me with loads of information — tasting notes, harvest facts, winemaking and aging techniques and food pairings, as well as histories of the wineries, staff biographies and awards won.

Most of the time I glance at these materials, put them aside and then have trouble finding them when I get around to tasting the wines. So I began my tasting of the 2006 J Pinot Gris not really knowing a thing about the wine, which is usually fine with me because I like to taste wine with a clear head, so to speak, uninfluenced by promotional or marketing efforts. 

The front of the bottle simply has a painted J, which is short for J Vineyards and Winery in the Russian River Valley of California’s Sonoma County. The $20 wine, I quickly discovered, is a gorgeous example of pinot gris, which is also known as pinot grigio and is growing in importance in California. Pinot gris can now compete, in no uncertain terms, with California chardonnay for the attention of white wine lovers.

The setting for this lovely revelation was lunch on the patio on a cool and sunny September weekend — still summer, but with a touch of autumn in the air. The meal included a curried chicken salad my wife made with some of the sweetest red table grapes of the season, and that summer staple: sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

The wine was “lush and beautiful,” as I wrote in my notes, and it perfectly complemented the range of flavors at our lunch, from the sweet spiciness of the curry to the sweet acidity of the just-picked tomatoes. Notes of pear, white peach and strawberry were accented by touches of thyme and vanilla. Notably absent was a big oak presence, which keeps the wine fresh and bright despite its richness.

J Vineyards, it turns out, is owned by Judy Jordan, who started the winery two decades ago when she purchased the former Piper-Sonoma winemaking facility in Healdsburg and continued to make the sparkling wine for which that winery was known, as well as others. The winery also makes pinot noirs.

Jordan, by the way, is the daughter of Tom Jordan, owner and founder of the famed Jordan Winery in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley and one of Judy Jordan’s “first great mentors,” according to her Web site. Judging by her 2006 J Pinot Gris, she learned well.