When Tom Jordan arrived in Sonoma in 1972, the region was a backwater. Napa didn’t register on anyone’s radar at the time (the Paris Wine Tasting was still four years away), and its western neighbor was one of the last places connoisseurs looked for fine wine.
Jordan, however, saw things differently. He made his money in the oil industry and understood geology. Plus, he had friends in Sonoma. When he discovered prune orchards on the property that was to become Jordan Vineyard & Winery, he knew it had potential.
Jordan envisioned recreating the great wines of Bordeaux in the New World, and he started by building a château worthy of the Médoc. He hired André Tchelistcheff, “the dean of American winemaking,” to mentor rookie winemaker Rob Davis. When the inaugural 1976 vintage appeared in 1980, it was indeed compared to the crus of Bordeaux: The Cabernet Sauvignon–dominated blend boasted ripe fruit, soft tannins, and impeccable balance. Unlike its French counterpart, it was aged in 40-percent American oak, and the powerful aromas and flavors of those barrels helped compensate for the shortcomings of the young vines.
Much like fashion trends, wine styles come and go. Napa Cabernets–—which are supremely ripe, heavily oaked, high in alcohol, and low in acidity—have been the darlings of the past few decades. Now, however, the pendulum shows signs of swinging back, and
Jordan is more relevant than ever. It remains a family winery, with John Jordan taking the reins from his father in 2005.
“André Tchelistcheff always said that balanced, low-alcohol wines age better,” says Maggie Kruse, who joined the Jordan team in 2006 and became head winemaker last year when Davis retired. “When we do comparative tastings at the winery, guests are initially drawn to the Napa Cabs because of their texture and aromatics. But when food comes into the picture, they prefer ours.”
To illustrate her theory, the winery supplied a range of recent vintages. The oldest was 2006 ($115), which still possesses years of life ahead of it; complex and expressive, it reveals a core of ripe black fruit enhanced by good acidity. The 2008 ($125), described as “a wine that captures the heart of Jordan’s style,” is cool and composed, with an earthy, herbal edge. The 2012 ($75) tastes plump and attractive, with acidity that invites you to take another sip. The only outlier was the 2013 ($68). Despite a creamy texture and rich fruit, it displays a spicy, astringent texture that suggests it needs at least five years to settle down and show its best.
Jordan gradually reduced its reliance on American oak, and 2015 ($60) was the first vintage aged exclusively in French oak barrels. It is compact, ripe, and luscious, with surprisingly mellow tannins. It should easily last several decades and is a remarkable value in today’s Cabernet market.
What about the Chardonnay? The 2017 vintage ($31) is composed of Russian River fruit, harvested and pressed at night to preserve freshness and acidity. It presents a clean nose with hints of green apple and ripe pear. In the mouth, it exhibits classic flavors of citrus and melon, accented by notes of spice and hints of vanilla. While taut enough to drink with oysters, it would nicely complement fish dishes with generous sauces. If you’re tired of buttery, overblown California Chardonnay, this one’s for you.