Leave it to me to sit in on a luxury cuvée winetasting and gourmet food pairing, hosted by Jean-Charles Boisset at his new JCB Tasting Salon, and almost come away a little bit worried—what happens to the visitor experience when JCB has left the building?
The salon, reborn in the same corner of Healdsburg Plaza where Swirl visited it eight years back, should startle no one familiar with the French wine impresario's style, and delight or perplex newbies with its recherché assemblage of crystal-encrusted bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, whimsical jewelry, surreal art and general glitter-a-go-go. A less familiar sight in the half-dozen salons that Boisset has opened in Napa, Sonoma and San Francisco is Boisset himself—as needs be for a transcontinental wine tycoon. Yet visitors should also know that, for a guy who's often attired in a scarlet tuxedo—or today, to match the decor, peacock blue—and whose signature pattern is leopard print, Boisset can actually be, in his own, jet-setting way, kind of down-to-earth, or how do the French say—terroir?
It all started with a wine of no terroir, "a wine of no place," as Boisset's Sonoma County winemaker of 16 years, Brian Maloney, puts it. The JCB 2012 No. 3 Pinot Noir ($125) is "the ultimate sacrilege," a blend of Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and Burgundy. Quelle horreur! And a horror in express airmail shipping fees to finalize the blend, too, according to Maloney, shaking his head at the thought of it. But it's the thought of that union, and the emotional aspect of the blend, says Boisset, that keeps him pursuing this Franco-American dream years after its wedding-day debut (Boisset is married to California wine scion Gina Gallo). The wine is stocked in the cellars of the American and French embassies in both nations.
It wasn't an easy sell back home, says Boisset, where he caught the flak of his fellow Frenchmen. "What are you doing in Sonoma?" they asked. So he brought his Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley vineyards to blind tastings with his colleagues in Burgundy. They said, according to Boisset, "Wow, I realize why you are over there."
Boisset counsels that the 2014 Surrealist Napa Valley red blend ($350) is, while a bit on the higher end, a more affordable luxury than those $700 Cabernets that you find nowadays. And who can argue that? With an aroma like a chocolate and raspberry vape, oily eucalyptus and chocolate sensations, all tethered to a sufficiently tart acidity, I'd happily round out the afternoon with a bottle of this wine with no worries whatsoever.
JCB Tasting Salon, 320 Center St., Healdsburg. Daily, 11am–7pm. Wine flights, $30–$50. 707.934.8237.