Author Archives: Lyle W. Norton

About Lyle W. Norton

Free-lance writer specializing if wine, food, travel and jazz reviews.

Westside Road Wineries

 

Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is synonymous with world-class pinot noir and

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

cool-climate chardonnay.  Its name on a wine label commands immediate respect.  The river itself streams down from Mendocino through the heart of the valley, flowing into the Pacific Ocean north of Bodega Bay. The valley vineyards appear as islands as the road emerges from the thick pine and redwood forest.  The Westside Road is a beautiful, scenic thoroughfare connecting Healdsburg with River Road and the Guerneville area and home to some of the appellations finest winemakers.  Today, we are visiting a patriarch among California producers of Burgundian wines and a fairly new operation on a renovated, historic site, both offering fine wine and unique tasting opportunities along Westside Road.

WILLIAMS SELYEM

IMG_1930

Estate vineyard at Williams Selyem

Simply stated, Williams Selyem produces some of the best wine California has to offer.  Admittedly a customer for several years, I find  all of their releases to be balanced, complex with layered, lingering flavors.  Opposed to some of the luscious “fruit bombs” from the Valley,  Williams Selyem wines are more austere, medium-bodied, with flavors and texture than appeals to palates of all levels.

What began in the late 1970s  as two friends making wine in a Forestville, CA garage, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams have, in a few decades, turned their hobby into an aptly self-proclaimed “cult status winery of international acclaim”.  After some early renditions, the first vintages of the Williams Selyem labels were released in 1984 and soon after, accolades for their single-vineyard pinot noir from Richioli Vineyards began to set them apart from other wineries and

Williams Selyem Winery

Williams Selyem Winery

build a reputation for the Russian River Valley as a premier wine region.  Burt and Ed sold the winery to John Dyson in the late 1990s who later relocated it to the Westside Road property, establishing the first estate vineyards and completing a new sate-of-the-art winery in 2010.

Weathering a change of ownership, head winemaker and location, Williams Selyem has more interest in their wine than they can handle and still produce world-class pinot noir, chardonnay and zinfandel sourced from our finest vineyards.

I have been a patron of Williams Selyem for more than a decade and did not know that they produced a 100% chenin blanc wine, a Loire Valley grape that has made somewhat of an international comeback in recent years in South Africa and other regions.  Available only at the winery, the 2012 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc Vista Verde Vineyard ($30), sourced from a San Benito County vineyard.  As one would expect, they have succeeded in  balancing the tartness of this varietal by pushing the fruit flavors forward.  I recommend this wine as a vibrant, crisp summer wine, but it is only available to those willing to explore the depths of Westside Road, past the one-way bridge to Williams Selyem.  Your reward is a lovely property with  impressive tasting room, tour program and space for a nice picnic.

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

One of the spring releases that I was picking up was the 2013 Williams Selyem “Unoaked” Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($39), fermented in stainless steel, once again balancing a crisp acidity with full texture and mouth feel.  This exceptional wine can be perfectly paired with sushi, crab, river trout or enjoyed al fresco.

Williams Selyem has received acclaim for single-vineyard chardonnay sources from the Allen, Drake and Heintz Vineyards, all rated in the mid to high 90-point range.  I prefer the Heintz Vineyard located in Occidental, CA, family owned for over 100 years with an abundance of dirt called Goldridge Sandy Loam.

Two more tasting room exclusives, both estate pinot noir, were the next pours. The initial vintage 2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir “Luella’s Garden,” named after previous property owner Leulla Litton, who kept a garden where the vineyard now stands, was very fruit-forward with rich concentrated cherry and spice flavors.

Unlike the single clone “Leulla’s Garden,” the 2012 Williams Selyem Block 10 Mass Selection Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is planted to 18 different Pinot Noir clones and is reminiscent of the Burgundy-style wines, medium-bodied with layered flavors and a pleasant minerality.

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem produce an array of single-vineyard pinot noir releases from esteemed vineyards like Bucher, Ferrington and Allen. Past vintages, the 2008 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2009 Precious Mountain Pinot Noir both received near perfect 99-point ratings from wine Enthusiast magazine.

Today, I received a bottle each of two pinot noir releases, both different and uniquely

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

notable. The 2013 Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir ($39) is sourced from the Vista Verde Vineyard in San Benito County, near the small town of Tres Pinos where the soil is heavily laden with limestone.  The result is usually an earthy wine with beautiful bouquet, firm tannins and full floral and spice flavors.

Highly rated, vintage to vintage, the 2013 Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast Pinot

Noir ($52), sourced from the Hirsch and Estate Drake Vineyards, is often their most complex with flavors of cherries, cranberry, orange, vanilla and even chocolate among others.

THOMAS GEORGE WINERY

Although their first vintage was 2007, the Thomas George Winery is steeped in Westside Road history.  The picturesque, recently renovated property was previously owned by Russian River Valley icon, Davis Bynum, the first winemaker to establish a winery on Westside Road and use the Russian River Valley

Thomas George Winery

Thomas George Winery

appellation designation.  The Baker Family, dad Thomas and son Jeremy purchased the Bynum Winery and assembled three estate vineyards with fully intention to carry on a tradition of fine wines from the property.

We met up with Operations Manager Sean Tevik who showed us around the property including the vineyards and the impressive tasting room cave.  He explained that nine staffers handle all facets of the operation that

Baker Ridge Vineyard

Baker Ridge Vineyard

encompasses 8,000 cases of wine produced annually, some in concrete eggs.  Thomas George owns around ten concrete “eggs” that serve as a new approach other than oak or stainless steel to construct chardonnay.  Unlike stainless

steel, concrete is porous and permeable to water and can impact the flavors of the wine.

Our first tasting, the 2012 Thomas George “Concrete Egg” Estate Chardonnay ($42), aged sur lie for nine months with no malolactic fermentation had a nice tartness

concrete egg at Thomas George

concrete egg at Thomas George

and minerality that was balanced by the full-bodied tropical flavors.  The larger production 2011 Thomas George Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($34), comes from 70% oak barrels and 30% concrete eggs with some malolactic fermentation giving it a nice rich mouthfeel with tropical and stone fruit flavors.

Next we tasted a flight of three pinot noir from different blocks within the Baker Ridge Vineyard, each from a unique micro-climate. East-facing for ample morning sun, the 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Backbone Block Pinot Noir ($75)comes from a cooler, protected slope, producing less than 100 cases of a deeply rich wine with a complex, floral nose and dark fruit flavors.  A lovely wine that will become exceptional with age.

From a south-facing slope that receives sun until 7 pm during the peak growing season, the 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Dexter’s Block Pinot Noir ($75) exhibited intense floral aromas and a rich, concentrated and complex flavor profile.  The 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($70) originating from multiple cloned vines planted decades ago by Davis Bynum, exudes floral aromas and dark berries and spice on the palate.

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

We finished the pinots with the 2012 Thomas George “Barrel Selection” Pinot Noir ($50) and the 2012 Thomas George Cresta Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60), the later as full-bodied as any tasted.

Our tasting concluded with a delightful grenache sourced from local vineyard management icon, Ulises Valdez’s El Diablo Vineyard. The 2011 Thomas George Grenache El Diablo Vineyard  was very fruit forward with a satisfying finish that lingered.

Valdez, an immigrant and self-made man, farms and manages over 800 acres of vineyards, mostly in the Russian River Valley including all the Thomas George estates.

Thomas George Winery intends to address all needs, grape to glass.  Cave tours, beautiful picnic facilities, locations for

Cave and tasting room at Thomas George Winery

Cave and tasting room at Thomas George Winery

outdoor weddings, special events await wine club members and those looking for a unique wine experience in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Wine club members also enjoyed reduced rates on the four upscale guest houses on the site.

Westside Road is synonymous with the Russian River Valley which is synonymous with, arguably, the best pinot noir and chardonnay produced outside of Burgundy, France. Williams Selyem and Thomas

George are but a few of the many great experiences available to those who travel “The Road.”

 


Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley

 

Sonoma County is known for great appellations like the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Alexander Valley that produce famous pinot noir and chardonnay with the aid of coastal

Endeavor Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley

Endeavor Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley

influences.  The overshadowed, more inland Dry Creek Valley appellation serves as the region’s “banana belt,” somewhat protected from the morning fog, causing warmer average temperatures.  As a result, Dry Creek Valley boasts some of the best zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, anywhere in the world.

Another attraction of the Dry Creek appellation is that all of its wineries are within a few miles from

Healdsburg Plaza

Healdsburg Plaza

quaint downtown Healdsburg, recently described as “Carmel North” for the upscale lodging, restaurants and shopping that is available on the plaza.  If the thought hasn’t already crossed your mind, this spectacular area is ideal for your next wine-tasting getaway. Luckily, Healdsburg is 12 miles from my new home, so I can do some quick on-site research to help entice you.

The Dry Creek Valley is rooted (pun intended) in California’s wine history and was one of the first areas to be recognized with an American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation.  With vines dating back 140 years, the area was booming in the late 1800s with nine wineries and over 800 acres of vineyards.  The boom was interrupted by Prohibition, leaving only Frei Brothers and J. Pedroncelli post-repeal, both still producing fine wine.

The area’s current winery map, boasting over 9,000 acres under vine, includes historic patriarchal producers and a plethora of new start-ups that are focusing on organic, sustainable farming, remarkable zinfandel and the exploration of new varietals.  On a recent gorgeous afternoon, we visited two wineries, one established in 1972, the other in 2007, that are representative of the Dry Creek Valley profile.

TRUETT-HURST

Part of a large, wine-producing conglomerate, Truett-Hurst was established in 2007, as

Truett-Hurst Tasting Room

Truett-Hurst Tasting Room

a flagship winery to create high-end wines using “holistic” biodynamic farming methods.  The estate vineyards, included in a magnificent setting for picnics and strolling, are composed of zinfandel and petite sirah vines from cuttings that the Italian immigrants brought over a century ago. To extend their palate of wines, Truett-Hurst also source chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon grapes from nearly Russian River and Napa Valleys.

Our tasting began with the 2014 Truett-Hurst Gewürztraminer Russian River Valley ($24) expressing fragrant bouquet and crisp flavors of pear, melon and

Barn at Truett-Hurst

Barn at Truett-Hurst

honeysuckle and a very dry 2013 “Salmon Run” Zinfandel Rose Dry Creek Valley ($18) with pleasant, soft flavors of peach and strawberry.  Specialty, boutique rose’ is popular and the full-flavored zinfandel grape seems to be conducive to the style.

Next, a flight of their Dry Creek Valley zinfandel releases was in order beginning with the jammy 2013 Truett-Hurst “Luci” Zinfandel ($35), named for Lucifer, the

Truett-Hurst "Luci" Zinfandel 2012

Truett-Hurst “Luci” Zinfandel 2012

property’s lone black goat, clearly expressing the richest texture and body with delightful  blackberry overtones.  The lighter 2013 Truett-Hurst “Rattler Rock” Zinfandel ($33) provides a different alternative with loads of cherry, pepper and very soft tannins. I now have both options in my cellar.

The single-vineyard 2013 Truett-Hurst Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel ($35) is still young, but has much going on with nice layered flavors.  The rich texture, spice and lingering finish are all indications that this

Adirondack chairs along the river at Truett-Hurst

Adirondack chairs along the river at Truett-Hurst

wine will be a “gem” in a few years.

The winery’s two pinot noir releases, from different micro-climates within the nearby Russian River Valley, also offer the consumer distinct styles of the varietal. Probably named after the friendly beast that I petted on my walk, the lighter Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir “White Sheep” ($40), from the nearby Deer

Creek area in west Russian River Valley, has pleasant spice and raspberry flavors.  From the heart of the valley, the full-bodied Truett-Hurst Pinot Noir “Black Sheep” ($40),  has an expressive nose and loads of cinnamon, vanilla and berry flavors, fully balanced.  It’s difficult to compete in one of the world’s

Truett-Hurst "White Sheep" Pinot Noir

Truett-Hurst “White Sheep” Pinot Noir

finest pinot noir markets, but these reasonably priced options are recommended.

An unusual blend of syrah (75%) and zinfandel (25%), the 2013 Truett-Hurst “Dragon Fly” Red Blend ($35) represents the new Dry Creek Valley persona, innovation with zinfandel ever-present. The wine is still young, but nice hints of vanilla with plenty of oak project a very promising future.  We finished our tasting with a nice cabernet from prestigious Rutherford in the Napa Valley.  The reasonably priced 2012 Hurst Family Collection “Osprey” Cabernet Sauvignon NV ($52) has soft, balanced flavors and tannins, a true value.

The grounds surrounding the tasting room/winery have several picnic areas for small or large groups, live music on Saturdays, an herb garden, trails, goats, grape vines and a flowing river.  The Truett Hurst Winery is a place to relax, but get serious about enjoying good wine.

DRY CREEK VINEYARDS

Following an M.I.T. education and some time in the work force, David Stare made his

Dry Creek Vineyards Founder David Spare

Dry Creek Vineyards Founder David Spare

way to California in the 1960s, founding Dry Creek Vineyards in IMG_13441972 and, eventually, providing the leadership for the re-emergence of the Dry Creek Valley as a prime wine region.  Today, with all their history and prominence, they are still producing high quality wines at favorable prices.

Ironically, our tasting began with the 2014 Dry Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc ($12) from Clarksburg, near the Sacramento Delta and far from the Dry Creek Valley. This re-emerging varietal, produced in stainless steel, has a good, crisp minerality, tropical fruit flavors, a long finish and a fabulous price.  Everyone should have at least one chenin blanc in their cellar.

Vineyards at Dry Creek

Vineyards at Dry Creek

The flight of three sauvignon blanc releases is yet another reminder of how fine wines can bring you to another level, vetoing anything you have previously enjoyed.  In the 1970s, Dry Creek Vineyards followed Robert Mondavi’s lead, re-naming their sauvignon

blanc releases Fume Blanc’  The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Fume’ Blanc is the sauvignon blanc varietal from the Russian River Valley where, apparently, there is more leaf growth, hence canopy, to protect the grapes from wind, fog and heat.  The winery’s description, “the palate repeats vibrant aromatic themes” is apparent with the crisp, citric aromas and flavors.

The next wine originates from the first Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the Dry Creek Valley, decades ago.  The 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($18), awarded 90-pt by Wine Enthusiast, expresses a ripe melon on-the-nose, adding soft citrus and tropical flavors aided by small amounts of a unique clone,

foreshadowing the next wine.

Once you have tasted the 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Sauvignon  Blanc Musque’ Taylor Vineyard ($25), you can’t go back. Take the previous wine, overlay a

2012 Taylor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Musque

2012 Taylor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Musque

very rich, creamy mouthfeel with many layers including hints of zesty orange peel, and

suddenly, the “musque” is the only white wine you need or desire. Highly recommended!

Claimed to be the first “old vine” designation in California, the flagship 2013 Dry Creek Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel ($30), from 80-120 year old estate vines, is composed of 23% petite sirah, adding to its richness and deep berry flavors, earning a 90-p

2012 Dry Creek Vineyards "Old Vine" Zinfandel

2012 Dry Creek Vineyards “Old Vine” Zinfandel

t rating from Robert Parker.

The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) and the 2011 Cabernet Merlot ($25) are actually blends similar to those from the left and right banks of Bordeaux,

Dry Creek Vineyards

Dry Creek Vineyards

each featuring the addition of malbec, cabernet franc and petite verdot.  Both wines had balanced, smooth, rich flavors, high ratings and a reasonable price.

The grounds and tasting room at Dry Creek Vineyards are befitting a patriarch with ivy-covered walls and picnic facilities amid lush landscaping. More importantly, they haven’t sacrificed quality as their business and reputation has grown.

Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley are located 60-90 minutes north of San Francisco along the Redwood Highway.  There are also two flights per day from LAX to the Santa Rosa Regional Airport, less than 10 miles from the heart of Healdsburg.

Once you arrive, options for lodging and dining are plentiful and varied. For a special experience, I recommend the Hotel Healdsburg on the downtown plaza or the stately Casa Madrona property a few minutes from town.  Healdsburg restaurants range from good burgers and salads to the full-on “foodie” experience at Dry Creek

Hotel Healdsburg

Hotel Healdsburg

Restaurant or Barndiva, not to exclude the Dry Creek General Store, a popular stop for lunch while touring the vineyards.

The abundance of nearby Dry Creek Valley wineries including, among others, Mazzocco, 32 Winds, Manzanita Creek, Kokomo and, of course, Truett-Hurst and Dry Creek Vineyards sets the stage for your next perfect Sonoma wine country sojourn.


New Whites of Spring

 

In addition to longer days, spring in most places means enjoying being outside in the early evening, appreciating the sunset with a nice white wine.  Although chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are among my favorites to enjoy with or without food, today is about breaking out of the box and investing some time exploring alternative whites whose only negative feature is that very few people are aware of them.  The fact is that with little effort and some curiosity, one can find captivating white wines that may just “float your boat.”   What follows are some suggested full-flavored varietals that can change the discussion at any gathering or dinner.

Gruner Veltliner

Admittedly, most of the Gruner Veltliner that I have stumbled on appeared on some

Gruner Veltliner vine

Gruner Veltliner vine

restaurant wine list when I’m in exploration mode.  Mostly grown in Austria where it accounts for more than one-third of the country’s production, Gruner (“Green”) Veltliner, while not abundant in the States, is grown in Oregon, Washington State, the Fingerlakes region of New York and in many diverse regions of California including the Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey County and Napa Valley.

While known for citrus and stone fruit flavors, crispness and minerality is what sets it apart from other white wines. Enjoy it with seafood, shellfish, triple crème cheeses like Brillat-Savarin as well those hard aged like Mimolette.

Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner from Napa Valley

Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner from Napa Valley

From Napa Valley’s Von Strasser Winery, the first producer of Gruner Veltliner in California, the 2010 Von Strasser Gruner Veltliner Diamond Mountain District ($35), fermented in stainless steel, remains very popular with a nice, tart minerality and green apple flavors, earning a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator magazine.

While traveling through the northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I enjoyed a 2010 Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Gruner Veltliner ($24) from one of their most respected winemakers. The efflorescent savory flavors of herbs and white pepper truly express the vibrancy of the varietal and the current 2013 vintage, available now, has received good reviews.

Noted for the production of many alternative whites like chenin blanc, viognier, verdelho, the Clarksburg AVA in the Central

2010 Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner Clasrksburg

2010 Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner Clasrksburg

Valley near the Sacramento Delta also produces gruner veltliner such as the affordable 2009 Dancing Coyote Clarksburg Gruner Veltliner ($12), reviewed as a very drinkable wine for the price.

Semillon

Most people have heard of the great Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot-based red blends from the Bordeaux region of France, but  what about the white varietals?  Bordeaux white blends consist of two grapes, sauvignon blanc and semillon, known for its exposure to botyrtis cinerea, the “noble rot,” to create the world-famous Sauternes dessert wines. Single varietal semillon is widely produced in Australia where exposure to warmer temperatures push the floral and fruit flavors forward.  While semillon production is rare in California, my favorites, once again, emanate from diverse regions.

2012 Foresight Semillon Anderson Valley

2012 Foresight Semillon Anderson Valley

Last year, I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 Foresight Charles Vineyard Semillon ($28) from the Anderson Valley region and purchased two bottles.  Very rare in the Valley, this wine expresses toasty, creamy qualities, enhancing the floral and mineral facets that please the palate.

It seems repetitive to continually applaud wines from Bonny Doon Cellars, but they keep sending me excellent releases.  Half way through the writing of this prose, I received two bottles of something winemaker Randall Grahm calls the 2014 Bonny Doon “Thanks, Semillon” ($24), a single-varietal from a Yountville vineyard in the Napa Valley.  Opening the Gary Taxali labeled wine for research, we found melon, fig and lime on the nose with nice floral,

2014 Bonny Doon "Thanks Semillon"

2014 Bonny Doon “Thanks Semillon”

citrus flavors and lingering minerality throughout the finish.  Another gem that renews my passion to remain a D.E.W.N. member forever.

California’s best example of a white Bordeaux blend, half semillon and sauvignon blanc, is the 2012 St. Supery “Virtu” from their Dollarhide Estate Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Sur lie maturation leads to a toasted creaminess and vibrant flavors of lime, fig and pear. St. Supery Winery offers fine wines on a beautiful property outside of St. Helena and should be included in your next visit to the area.

Semillon pairs well with gruyere or camembert cheeses.  Of course, if you

St. Supery "Virtu" Napa Valley

St. Supery “Virtu” Napa Valley

want to go “heavenly,” treat yourself to a French Sauternes paired with a southern Oregon Rogue River Blue with honey.

Riesling

The simplest description of riesling is a combination of fruit and mineral and, maybe, some petrol added in.  My exposure to the elements of a fine German riesling came several years ago when I tasted a 1996 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese ($17) and experienced the successful marriage of full fruit flavors with a soft minerality, often described as “petrol.”

The riesling grape is “terroir expressive,” adapting and

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese

demonstrating different personalities in Germany, Alsace, South Australia, California, New York and Washington State.  In its origin Germany, styles generally differ from the Kabinett lighter style to the fully ripened Spatlese. 

High quality riesling from Germany and South Australia can be easily found at outlets or online.  Very nice riesling from the Fingerlakes region of New York are also recommended, taking a bit more research. However, there is readily available riesling from California and Washington State that can meet the standards of those most serious about wine.

Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica”

Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Late Harvest Riesling from Washington State

Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Late Harvest Riesling from Washington State

series of riesling wines from Chateau St. Michelle in Washington offers the best value to price ratio of any releases in the US. Many outlets stock various vintages of the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Riesling ($22) that expresses many characteristics previously described.  Although this wine can satisfy most palates, those seeking something special can explore the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Gold Riesling ($30) or, for those above my pay grade, the Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Single Berry Select Riesling ($200), boasting a 97-point rating from Wine Advocate magazine.  If your curiosity is still not quenched, full self-indulgence can be found in the 2013 Chateau St. Michelle Ethos Reserve Late Harvest Riesling ($40), dessert in a bottle.

Defined as the “absolute embodiment of springtime,” the 2013 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has No Riesling” ($16) is always a personal favorite as well

Bonny Doon "The Heart Has No Riesling"

Bonny Doon “The Heart Has No Riesling”

as the 2011 Thomas Fogarty Riesling “Skyline,” ($15.5) both from Central Coast vineyards. For a luscious cheese pairing, California “Humboldt Fog” or French “Morbier” are both available at fine grocery outlets.

Rhone Wines

Red and white blends from the southern Rhone Valley are renown throughout the world.  Chateaunef-du-Pape, Gigondas and other

Thomas Fogarty Winery above the Silicon Valley

Thomas Fogarty Winery above the Silicon Valley

appellations in the region produce arguably some of the world’s finest wines. Their reputation allows first-rate restaurants, such as The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma to offer an extensive wine list of exclusively Rhone varietals. Southern Rhone Valley winegrowers prohibit any single-varietal wines and regulate which grapes can be grown including marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc and viognier,  known as part of a blend, not their individuality.

Avoiding costs and limited availability of those from the Rhone Valley, we Californians are blessed that the greatest blends and wines outside of the Rhone Valley are never more than a day’s drive.  The Paso Robles region, centrally located, with their New Rhone Rangers, can produced more exceptional Rhone-style wines than most of us can experience in a lifetime.  Here are a few recommended wines that are easily available in the region.

Many agree that the Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” White Wine ($16), an equal

2010 Barrel 27 "High On The Hog" Rhone blend

2010 Barrel 27 “High On The Hog” Rhone blend

blend of roussanne, viognier and grenache blanc, is one of the best values among Paso Rhone blends.  Nice expressions of stone fruits, spice and floral notes are encased in a rich texture.

Tablas Creek Winery, a patriarch of Rhone wines in the region, offers a diversity of single varietal Rhones, including grenache blanc, viognier and roussanne.  Nevertheless, the Tablas Creek Cotes du Tablas Blanc ($27) and Espirit de Tablas Blanc

Tablas Creek Winery Espirit de Tablas Blanc

Tablas Creek Winery Espirit de Tablas Blanc

($45) are always, according to the experts, among the best blends in the region.

From yet another westside vineyard, the Adelaida “Version” White Anna’s Vineyard ($35), vintage to vintage, is a noteworthy Rhone blend with aromas and full flavors of honeydew melon and pear.

After finding your favorite chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, you will feel

Adelaida "Version" White Rhone Blend

Adelaida “Version” White Rhone Blend

that’s your the wine forever.  Unless you have explored others varietals, you will never really know. Just think, you may discover that you are a gruner veltliner person.


Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films Of 2014

 

This past year in film was filled with high expectations.  There were some disappointments, a few good biographical films from England, exceptional ensemble casts, and a film twelve years in the making. The word, “subjective” is proudly displayed in the title because, by nature, I am a very impressionable person, guided by who I am with, what I had to eat or drink and whatever mood that results.  Sitting in a dark theater watching credits, trying to embrace what I just watched, Karen’s interpretation of the film, Calvary confirmed what I was feeling.  Released in August, no other stood up to the power of this film.

#1 – Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Maybe it was the modern, intimate Volant Theater in Austin, Texas, maybe the spring rolls and beer that I carried into the

"Calvary"

“Calvary”

small house, but the little heralded Irish film, Calvary moved me like no other film in 2014.  From the startling opening line to the last scene, this is a bold film delivered by Brendan Gleeson’s brilliant portrayal of a priest in remote northern Ireland,  A creatively aberrant screenplay and a topical issue of these times, the plot is unveiled in the opening scene with a threat that is consuming throughout as the story reveals a wave of eccentric characters that could all be the ultimate antagonist.  The priest’s connection with his confused daughter reveals much depth and integrity to Gleeson’s innocent character as he confronts peril connected to the issue of child abuse within the Catholic church.  It may not be for the timid, but Calvary delivers realism through good writing, exceptional film-making and deserves to be called one of the best films of 2014.

#2 – Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Inarritu)

My expectations for Birdman were high.  A dark comedy and Michael Keaton always seems to be a good marriage.  The

"Birdman"

“Birdman”

cast, with names like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis begs the question, “Why did so many fine actors choose this film?”  because it clearly could not be for the money.  Lastly, director Alejandro Inarritu usually rides the fence between mysticism and reality.  In a biographical twist, Keaton portrays yesterday’s celebrity superhero who puts his heart, soul and legend into producing his own play, based on an obscure novel.  The future of his career, his relationships, his self-worth is on the line while he fights off the pressures of a scattered past.  Norton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the obnoxious, narcissistic co-star and Emma Stone’s character balances compassion and confusion.  So, just throw caution in the wind and enjoy the film that would get my vote.

#3-A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)

From a John Carre’ novel on international espionage, A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his

"A Most Wanted Man"

“A Most Wanted Man”

last role, as a crusty, veteran German spy obsessed with the capture of an illegal with ties to a terrorist organization.  A reluctant collaboration with an American CIA agent, played by Robin Wright leads to much intrigue and suspense with an unexpected twist at the end.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was so seamless that I fully foresaw an Oscar nomination.  Unfortunately, an early release date may have resulted in the film and performance being overlooked.

#4-Boyhood (Richard Linklater) 

There has never been another film like Boyhood.  Taking 12 years to make a film with two

"Boyhood"

“Boyhood”

important child characters is always a risk.  However, I was most intrigued with the physical, emotional and maturational changes in the adult characters, namely Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both deserving of their nominations.  Overall, this is a story of survival and, in my two-hour snapshot, I felt like a 12-year friend of the family.  Director Richard Linklater created the groundbreaking experiment and it worked.  It would be unfortunate to make him wait another 12 years for an Oscar.

#5-The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

What’s not to like about Wes Anderson films, quirky stories developed around quirky characters that seem to attract the best actors in the world.  Although The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a

brilliant screenplay and great performances, led by Ralph Fiennes, what sets it apart, for me, was the extraordinary

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

cinematography.  This was a beautiful film to watch and, not since the French film, Amelie, have colors played such a significant role in the enjoyment of a movie. Let’s all root for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to win Oscar.

#6 – The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)

c1b0f1b5-e79e-3356-b613-d9f422a10379

“The Theory of Everything”

The idea of a mathematician developing a machine that breaks the German “enigma” code, literally ending WWII, later to be persecuted by the same government he served for being homosexual would make a compelling screenplay.  Actually, it is a true story that needed to be told.   Benedict Cumberbatch does indeed deliver a gifted performance as Alan Turing, the man who actually did break the code and was later prosecuted for his sexuality.  Kiera Knightly’s character as a young female mathematician living with the glass ceiling for woman in the 40’s, added good chemistry.

#7 – The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

The second big British biopic featured Eddie Redmayne’s staggering portrayal of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking during his famous research and struggles with the onset of ALS disease.  While

"The Theory of Everything"

“The Theory of Everything”

Redmayne’s performance makes him an Oscar frontrunner, I found Felicity Jone’s role of Jane Wilde Hawking to be a major force in the film and she deserves her nomination.  The Theory of Everything had everything from beautiful cinematography to compelling drama.

#8 – American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)

The focus of this film was the man, the human being that was Chris Kyle and what led to his role

"American Sniper"

“American Sniper”

and legend as a famous sniper.  That being said, Bradley Cooper does an admiral job delineating the man who saw himself as a protector.  The film contains realism that is, at times, hard to watch, but any judgements on the controversial subject were left to the viewer, as it should be. Clint Eastwood’s low-key, efficient style makes this film work.

#9 – Gone Girl (David Fincher)

I liked Gone Girl, I even liked the ending.  Having not read the book, I found it to be a classic thriller, unique in its own way, with a rememberable performance by Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the lovely young wife who becomes something else.  Who would have thought.

"Gone Girl"

“Gone Girl”

#10 – Rosewater (John Stewart)

I give the nod to Rosewater, John Stewart’s first venture into film, due to the timely topic and Gael Garcia Bernal’s riveting performance as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who

"Rosewater"

“Rosewater”

was detained for over 100 days in an Iranian prison because of a satirical  interview on Stewart’s, “The Daily Show.”  The film has some flaws, but the interchange between the Bahari character and the interrogator was worth the price of admission.

If you can find them, “Me And My Moulton” and “Boogaloo and Graham” are highly recommended in the Animated Short and Live Short categories.  Enjoy the movies!

 


The Auteur of Sonoma

 

10152641_697451416983141_339819465455328866_n

Winemaker Kenneth Juhasz

The French word for author, “auteur” is used in the film industry to describe when a film fully reflects the creative and imaginative perceptions of one person.  Auteur Winery, home to some of the truly fine wines available for tasting on the Sonoma Square, reflects the passion and meticulous energy of Kenneth Juhasz, whose efforts in creating high quality cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir has earned him recognition as a “winemaker who has made a difference” from Wine Spectator magazine.  Kenneth owns Auteur with his wife, Laura, sourcing grapes from some of Sonoma and Napa County’s outstanding vineyards to create his exceptional wines.

Juhasz has a hands-on approach at all stages of winemaking resulting in a prodigious collection of low production, high quality wines that are becoming more recognized.  I was introduced to Auteur a few years ago and enjoyed the wines tasted, but with the expanding market and choices, lost contact.  Eager to re-visit the experience, we made arrangements for a tasting of 2012 releases.

Among many options near the Sonoma Square, Auteur Winery and Sojourn Cellars offer the best environment for an informative and personalized tasting, all for $25.00 per person.  Located in a quaint cottage on First Street, a few doors from Sondra Bernstein’s “The Girl and the Fig” restaurant, the Auteur tasting room provides a very comfortable setting for a comprehensive tasting that leaves one with the impression of a more refined wine acumen.  Today, we are joined by my son, his fiancee and our host, Bobbi Cohen, to discover the different nuances of each vineyard producing the fruit for their chardonnay and pinot noir.

We began tasting the coastal influenced chardonnay, some from Napa County’s Carneros region and the others from the Sonoma Coast.  Like many modern auteur_greenacres_chard_12winemakers, Juhasz does not own a vineyard, so selection of those from which to source grapes is an essential part of the production process.  The 2012 Auteur Carneros Green Acres Chardonnay ($42), receiving a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, lived up to its reviews with expressive fruit and a crisp acidity. Stone fruit and green apple flavors with an extended finish will definitely get your attention.

10268623_697451180316498_8354893611371958406_n

Auteur cottage tasting room

Once again from the Carneros region, the 2012 Auteur Carneros Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay ($45)closely resembled a Burgundian wine with crisp, complex flavors and a nice, rich minerality. Robert Parker labeled it a “California grand cru,” reviewing the wine at 94-points.

I have, in my cellar, at least three different wines from the Durell Vineyard at the Sonoma coast, all of them standing out, all with a similar opulence. The 2012 Auteur Durell Vineyard Chardonnay ($45) is no exception. A rich, creamy mouthfeel with ripe flavors of peach, pear, melon and spice has led to ratings in the mid-nineties.  For me, this was the one to take home.

Actually originating from vineyards in Green Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Coastauteur_durell_chard_12 appellations, the 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($32) is a terrific wine and outstanding value. The Durell, Dutton and Green Acre Vineyards all contribute to fresh fruit-forward flavors, a rich minerality, a lingering finish and a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator.

The warm, relaxed setting of the cottage made the perfect environs to discover the nuances of this varietal from different micro-climates.  There is truly a chardonnay here for all palates.  With ideal climate conditions for the 2012 vintage, many experts feel these white wines can age several years in the bottle.

We anticipate that repetition of this process with Auteur’s pinot noir releases will be equally rewarding. Having previously tasted a past vintage of the Manchester Ridge, we were prepared to compare the subtleties  of four diverse pinot noir vineyards. Autuer’s pinot vineyards are a bit more eclectic in that they are represented by Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as well as the Sonoma Coast.

A popular wine, the 2012 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir ($45) comes auteur_manchesterridgepn_12from a coastal vineyard 2,000 feet above sea level.  Described as a “discontinuous AVA,” it is composed of varying ridges and pinnacles overlooking the Sonoma coast.  This wine can be simply summed up as a flavorful combination of berries, herbs and spice.  Consisting of two Dijon clones, it is co-fermented in 50% new French oak for added richness.  After receiving a 91-point rating, demand increased and the 2012 vintage is sold out. I suggest you put a reminder of future vintages in your “tickler file.”

Organically farmed and clearly the most savory of the current releases, the 2012 Auteur Savoy Pinot Noir ($45) comes from an Anderson Valley vineyard, acclaimed for the past two decades.  An exceptional bouquet and concentrated, layered flavors result in a special wine, limited only by small production and high demand.  Another 90-point rating, another sell-out leads to anticipation of the spring release.

IMG_1095

Host Bobbi Cohen led the tasting

There has been much written about the 2012 vintage of Oregon pinot noir, describing it as the best in years.  Add the Yamhill Carlton AVA Shea Vineyard that has produced many luscious pinot’s over the years and the 2012 Auteur Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a wine that deserves attention.  Wonderfully aromatic and balancing a multitude of flavors, it warrants the accolades it has garnered and can be cellared for a few years to fully blossom.

Our last wine, the only multi-vineyard pinot noir of the tasting, was blessed with inviting aromas and a surprisingly complex array of savory and concentrated fruit flavors.  The 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42) offers an eloquent bouquet and complex fruit and spice on the palate. An excellent wine for the price and boasting mid-nineties ratings, it became the one for me.

With no shortage of high quality chardonnay and pinot noir in Sonoma County, Auteur Winery is a pleasant find and their wines can stand up to any, deserving the attention of those who are serious.  The winery establishes a mailing list to inform interested consumers of new releases that are all available on-line.  With growing popularity, four of the fall wines that we tasted are now sold out, emphasizing the need to network.

1613859_697451380316478_6471096889845669972_nWith an abundance of vineyards and wineries in Sonoma County, some care must be taken when selecting wines.  Auteur wines has the accolades and will soon to be discovered by fine palates everywhere.


Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014

 

In the world of wine, 2014 will forever be remembered as a premier year for Portuguese releases.  In fact, it is not about the year 2014, but the 2011 vintage in northern Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  Exceptionally warm, dry temperatures in 2011 pushed the fruit forward, resulting in robust, yet pristine ports and tables wines, so much so that it landed three wines in the top five, averaging 98pts on Wine Spectator magazine’s most exciting wines of 2014 list including the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 (99pt/$89)as the top wine of the year.

2014 WS Wine of the Year

2014 WS Wine of the Year

I always anticipate Wine Spectator’s annual list that emerges from a  laborious process beginning with some 20,000 wines tasted by their staff throughout the year, hard work but someone has to do it. Their criteria are quality (only wines rate 90+ are considered), cost ( is it a reasonable value for the price) and accessibility (how many cases were produced).

From the wines tasted throughout the year, approximately 5,000 met the 90pt+ criteria and moved on to the blind taste test. Next, those extremely high-priced or low produced wines are eliminated.  Finally, numerous votes are taken after and during intense discussion, allowing the panel to be subjective in defending their wine’s special characteristics such as unique region, varietal, etc.  The final product is a list of the year’s Top 100 exciting releases.

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 is no stranger to the list, slipping into the top twenty in 2010 with the perfect 100 pt rating for the 2007 vintage. It originates from the Cima Corgo region along the Douro River near the village of Pinhão, known for

Portugal's Douro Valley

Portugal’s Douro Valley

higher temperatures, lower rainfall and premier grapes.  The Symington family, the region’s largest land owner with 2,400 acres, oversees all vineyards and production including the 2011 vintage of native varietals, touriga franca (40%), touriga nacional (36%), souzão (10%) and a few mixed-grape plantings.

Wine writer Jancis Robinson compared the relationship of the main varietals with that of Bordeaux’s Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Touriga franca adds the exceptional flavor, touriga nacional the power and souzão the color.  Managing Editor Kim Marcus chronicles the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 as simply “the best of the best of a great vintage,” with a reference to the other fine Douro River Valley wines on the 2014 list.

At the cusp of yet another top rated release, the Symington family, in partnership with Bruno Prats, created the #2 Prats and Symington Douro Chyseia 2011 (97pt/$55), another red wine hailed for the flair and capacity of Douro’s 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

vintage.  From the upper Douro valley, the #4 Qunita Do Vale Meao Douro 2011 (97pt/$76) continues the regions dominance with a red table wine with, as Marcus described, “plenty of cream and spice notes.”

Aside from the strong showing from Portugal, the “Big 3,” Italy (19), France (14) and California (19) contributed 52% of the wines. California was represented by nine different varietals, with pinot noir and chardonnay topping the list including the #11 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2011 (95pt/$60), a perennial addition and always one of the best among the varietal. Fermented in mostly new oak with full mall-lactic fermentation, sur lie for 10 months makes my mouth water for this creamy, California classic.  There has been much discussion this year 134876lregarding chardonnay from Napa’s Peter Michael. His #20 Peter Michael Chardonnay Knights Valley Ma Belle-Fille 2012 (95pt/$90)remains one of 2014’s best although at a bit higher price.

Among the California pinot noir, I was pleased to see current releases of two favorites make the list, especially the #8 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2012 (94pt/$40) The Greg Brewer-Steve Clifton partnership has produced pinot noir from this appellation for two decades.  As Brewer also serves as the winemaker at Melville Winery, I has recently enjoyed wines from his distinctive style of whole-cluster fermentation sans new oak.  This wine is competitively priced and, from

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

all accounts, is deserving of its new status.

I have enjoyed, over the years, pinot noir from winemakers statewide who have sourced their grapes from Garys’ and Rosella’s Vineyard in the highly regarded Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. Roar Wines is a special project of Gary and Rosella Franscioni to produce limited amounts of fine pinot noir, syrah and cool-climate chardonnay in their “Highlands” vineyards.  There is much excitement at ROAR these days with the #71 ROAR Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard 2012 (93pt/$52), earning deserved recognition as they have produced fine wines like this for years. My friend, David, a long-time ROAR aficionado, has two bottles, one of which will be shared at our next fork ’n cork gathering.

Launched by ideal weather, the 2012 Oregon vintage was excellent and #17 Soter Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Mineral Springs Ranch 2012 was the highest ranked pinot noir on the list.  If you have a preference for pinot noir, pay close attention to the 2012 vintage in Oregon.

Three special California wines should be noted, first for their accomplishments and also for their story. The magazine

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

recognized a blend from 120-year old vines in the Sonoma Valley, done in an old-style of winemaking.  The #15 The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012 (95pt/$42), a blend primarily of zinfandel and carignane has a “yummy” review and releases at a reasonable price.  As one who enjoys the juice of grenache, the #52 Herman Story Grenache California On the Road 2011 (93 pt/$42), from north Santa Barbara County sounds intriguing.

Finally, as a sports fan, I have delighted in watching the skills of former Heisman Trophy winner, current

all-Pro NFL defensive back Charles Woodson. I have also heard some buzz about the #58 Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010 (93pt/$112), but did not make the connection.  It seems that Mr. Woodson has

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

secured a vineyard in north Napa Valley, found the right partners/winemakers and turned a hobby into one of the highest ranked California cabernet sauvignon on this year’s list.

Internationally, 15% of the wine’s on the 2014 list were produced below the equator. Australia contributed six wines, two in the top five.  The #2 Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012 (95pt/$75), no stranger to the list, is defined for the same richness as past vintages I have tasted. Chardonnay from the westerly Margaret River appellation is renown, but the magazine was most impressed with the #5Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Arts Series 2011 (96pt/$89), making it the highest ranked in the varietal.  The #16 Two Hands

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2012 (95pt/$69), once again made the list, confirming it’s place as one of the fine wines produced by the Aussies with a superb 2014 release.

Ten percent of the 2014 list are wines from South America, namely malbec from the Uco Valley/Mendoza region of Argentina and red wines from the Colchaqua Valley in Chile.  On my radar since the 2005 vintage was named Wine Spectator’s 2008 wine of the year, the #42 Lapostolle Clos Apalta Limited Release Colchagua Valley 2010 (94/$89) has remained a first-class wine since Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle began the project in the late nineties.  This wine has a fascinating story and it’s own state-of-the-art facilities.  The #19 Luca Malbec Uco Valley 2012 (93pt/$32) seems to be a wine that is available and at a moderate price.

Of course, we could not discuss any list without acknowledging the wonderful wines from Italy and France, who contributed 19 and 14 wines respectively, mostly from the famed Tuscany, Piedmont, Bordeaux and Rhone Valley regions.

When the region has a good vintage, the #7 Clos Des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape 2012 (97pt/$135), from the

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Rhone Valley, is usually ranked in the top ten.  Likewise with the #14 Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Falccianello 2011 (95pt/$120) Having had the pleasure of tasting earlier vintages of each, assuredly, they are very special wines, though a bit above my pay-grade.  For the money and based upon the magazines descriptions, let me discover a bottle of #6 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico San Lorenzo Gran Selezione 2010 (95pt/$52).

So, congratulations to Portugal, Australia, Chile and Argentina for helping to define the unique 2014 list.  Their wines, including releases from South Africa, will continue to emerge and, when a vintage comes together, will compete with all great wines throughout the world.  As for California, we continue our place among the world’s great appellations and, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, great wines are ours to explore.

 

 

 


Sojourn Cellars of Sonoma

 

I was first introduced to wines from Sonoma’s Sojourn Cellars a few years ago at a 2013 “Pinotfest” event in Pasadena. After tasting pinot noir selections, a representative asked, in a soft voice, if I was ready to try their “dark pinot,”  which turned out to be my introduction the 2009 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Home Ranch Vineyard($48)that I described to be as opulent and complex as many of the $100 Napa Valley cabernets. I have continued to participate with Sojourn Cellars and they have since added chardonnay 5260fb3d201bed141bf51ae469e98f84to their menu of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. While picking up my Fall order at the quaint tasting224b9c459364583836464098455c8656 room off the historic Sonoma Square, I arranged to taste the new releases and discover more of their history.

Sojourn Cellars literally emerged from two men who met playing tennis, bonding over the game and fine Burgundy. Former Dot-Com exec Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley, formerly of

Arrowhead Winery, partnered to pursue their passion for pinot noir and, more interestingly, their desire to produce small bottling of cabernet sauvignon through sources at a few of Napa Valley’s prestigious vineyards.  Their first cabernet sauvignon release was 2001, followed by the 2003 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard.  They now produce nine different single-vineyard pinot noir wines, four img_sojourn cabernet sauvignon and, in 2011, released their first chardonnay.  Today, their annual total production ranges from 6,000-8,000 cases, concentrating on new vineyards to expand their profile with the three varietals.

Sojourn has “by appointment only” tastings most days and it is an ideal setting and format for small groups serious (or not) about good wine.  Today, I met up with Tasting Salon Manager Sarah Congress to taste new wines, including some that I was picking up.

Having concentrated on their pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, my first opportunity to taste some of their chardonnay releases was at hand, a varietal that has recently grown in my modest inventory. All four wines are cool-climate “chards” from the Sonoma coast appellation.

Carefully chosen clones from three prominent Sonoma Coast vineyards contribute to the crispy 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($38), spending eight months in oak barrels, 30% new.  Pressed 2009sojurnwhole cluster, this vintage has soft stone fruit and apple flavors with a nice acidity that earned a 90 pt. rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

From the same vineyard as their outstanding pinot noir, the 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sangiacamo Vineyard ($45), also pressed whole cluster, delivers pleasant melon and citrus on the nose and a splendid minerality to the palate.  It has a rich fruit character and mouthfeel and a 91 pt. rating from Parker.

Based upon the reputation of the vineyards, I purchased two new single-vineyard chardonnay in my Fall allotment. About to taste them, I can now determine if my instincts were true.

 

The Durrell Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast appellation, has sourced grapes to some of the finest chardonnay producers in California. The inaugural release 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard ($48) was pressed whole-cluster with full malolactic fermentation before resting sir lie in 40% new French oak barrels, bearing the opulent touch of a classic California chardonnay.

With only 175 cases produced, the début 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($45) has all the fine qualities expected from this cool-climate, low-yield vineyard that manages large variations in temperature that produce complex aromas and flavors of melon, tropical fruit through a lush texture.  I savored both wines and I’m feeling good about my instincts.17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa

Much of Sojourn’s pinot noir comes from cool-climate vineyards along the Sonoma Coast that, along with the Russian River Valley, constantly yield some of the world’s best. The next four wines of our tasting were from vineyards within these appellations that turns out so many world-class pinot noir releases.

The most classic, and possibly my favorite, the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Rogers Creek Vineyard ($59),comes from an elevated vineyard in the Sonoma coastal hills above the Petaluma Gap.  Nice vanilla and cinnamon on the nose foreshadowed dark fruit and hints of spice through the finish.

In the remote hills, above the Sonoma coastline lies a low-yield vineyard, known for years of quality farming that is the source for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard ($59), a wine with pepper on the nose, concentrated fruit flavors and a silky texture that extends throughout the finish.  The grapes are di-stemmed prior to open-top fermentation and are highly influenced by thirsty new oak.

A right turn at the intersection of River and Wohler Roads drops you into the heart of the renown Russian 105299994c0c65f4e63f2ef883ab6845River Valley appellation near Forestville.  Less than one-half mile ahead is the origin vineyard for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard ($48). A bit austere, this wine has more earthy qualities with nice expressions of fruit and spice that should “open-up” with an hour or more decanting.

Yet another vineyard in the coastal hills, surrounded by redwoods, produces, according to winemaker Erich Bradley, “The best fruit I have ever tasted.” Since I was taking home a bottle of the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($59), his 17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa statement caught my attention.  As advertised, I found it to be the most aromatic of the pinots with nice tannins, cherry dominant flavors and texture, drinkable today, yet rewarding patience.  Not being able to taste the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard ($54), their original, most elegant and highly rated wine, was a disappointment, but left me someone to discover on our next visit.

Enthusiasm for Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir is also shared by the experts.  The PinotReport, a Sonoma-based newsletter has consistently rated Sojourn’s pinot’s from 92-96 points. In a crowded arena of big high-end pinot producers, Sojourn can certainly compete in both quality and cost.

Next, we moved to a couple of reasonably priced Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines including the sold-photo_springmountainout 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Georges III Rutherford that was fruit-forward  with hints of blueberry and cocoa on the finish.

The 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District ($59), from the hills above the town of St. Helena, was a very nice surprise with complex aromas and flavors of vanilla, cassis to accompany the dark fruit that has, to employ an overused term, a nice, long finish.

All and all, the Sojourn Cellars tasting experience is extraordinary.  A picture perfect setting, a personalized Sojourn-Cellars-Sonoma-Tasting-Salon2tasting, at tables with proper glasses and, of course, the previously described fine wines are in store for any group of wine lover’s. The opportunity to add a nice meal on the Square makes the day a sojourn not to be missed.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.