HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline.com on Twitter

Critics Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge

Winemaker Challenge

J's Essence Tasting and the Ultimate Holiday Cookie
By Sally Belk King
Dec 4, 2007
Printable Version
Email this Article

Cookies are my weakness.  For some, it's ice cream.  For others, it's crème brulée.  For me, it's the all-American cookie. I've always had to  watch my weight and I'm fairly disciplined, but when I nibbled the Chocolate Fleur de Sel cookies at J Vineyards & Winery several weeks ago, I threw caution (and calories) to the wind.  'More, please!' I begged like a deprived orphan in a Dickens novel.

The fudgy, salty-sweet confections were part of a dessert trio; a fine finish to a seven-course wine-and-food-pairing  lunch created by J's über-talented Executive Chef, Mark Caldwell.

The meal was the finale  of  J's new Essence Tasting program, a four-hour gourmand extravaganza, which begins in the stylish visitor's center (with a glass of  J bubbly), continues to the vineyards (for hors d'oeuvres and Pinot Noir) and onward to the posh Bubble Room for a lunch that celebrates the best of the Russian River Valley paired with J wines.

Launched just last August, the Essence experience is both mouth-watering and educational. "We believe that wine and food should be enjoyed together … our new Essence Tasting allows guests to have an unparalleled experience that takes them from the vineyard to the table,' says J founder and CEO, Judy Jordan.

The Essence experience is offered on Thursdays from 11 AM to 3 PM for $200 per person (which includes transportation from the visitors center to the vineyards and back) . Eight guests maximum; reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance by phoning 707-431-5430. 


While these may just be the best Christmas cookies ever, don't waste them on the kids: most little folk will be happier with plain ol' sugar cookies coated with plenty of colored icing. At J, you'll likely be served a glass of  J Pear Liqueur, a rich, floral-spicy  eau de vie made from Bartlett pears, available at JWine.com. At home, pour a glass of vintage Port or late-harvest Zinfandel.  Whichever you choose, it will be a match made in holiday heaven.

15 tablespoons (11 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons Fleur de Sel
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 2/3  cups pastry flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
10 ounces best quality very finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
Fleur de Sel, to garnish

  • Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and creamy.  Add the 2 ½ teaspoons Fleur de Sel and the vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Sift in the flour, cocoa, and baking soda and stir until just combined; do not over-mix or cookies will be tough. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
  • Roll the cookie dough into a log about 1-inch in diameter; wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 2 cookie sheets with butter or non-stick spray.
  • Unwrap the dough log, cut into ½-inch thick slices and place slices 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 7 minutes.  Remove from oven and while still warm, sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of Fleur de Sel.  Let cookies cool slightly on the baking sheets, then use a spatula to transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Photographs by Sarah Belk King: Top, Judy Jordan; middle, J Executive Chef Mark Caldwell.

Visit Sarah on the web at SarahBelkKing.com.