Mike and I just returned from a short trip to Sonoma and Lake counties, where we (OK, I) did a fair amount of wine tasting. As usual, I’m going to include my notes, which I think I will divide into wine-growing region (if I can, at least) – even though we may have hit the same region on different days. Our first day was a straight forward drive through Sonoma County, ending with a couple of tastings in Healdsburg.
As with wines in Sonoma county in general, we found that even the smallest winery had items other than wines for sale, ranging from t-shirts and hats, to wine implements and foods. We didn’t buy anything. We also found that pours at most wineries were pretty generous – be careful or you’ll get tipsy quickly. In general, I tried to limit how many wines I’d try. Finally, pretty much every winery had a picnic area, though some were of course prettier than others.
We started at Roche Carneros Estate Winery, which is very close to Sears Point, a track where Mike used to race motorcycles. It brought him back memories :-).
The winery is simple, but nice. From the outside there are good views of golden hills and valleys. The tasteful tasting room inside is decorated with colorful and fun posters. The server was very affable, but there were a lot of people so it was a bit slow. Wine tastings are complimentary for regular wines and cost $5 for reserve wines. We went with the free tasting.
I tasted the 2003 Carneros Estate Merlot ($26), the 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), the 2004 Carneros Syrah ($26), the 2006 Tamarix (a rose table wine) ($10) and another wine I didn’t specify on my notes. I found most of them to be good wines, with medium bodies and little oak (I love oak). They were well balanced, but not spectacular wines. I thought that by in large they were overpriced. We didn’t buy anything.
We followed with Cline Cellars, where we’d been years before with my father. The property consists of a southern style home with a wrap around veranda and a simple front garden. Throughout the property, however, there are 6 ponds surrounded by stone walls and filled with fish ( you can buy fish food and see them come out to the surface). There are also cages with chickens, doves and pheasants. It was quite relaxing to walk around, specially by the shaded ponds. There aren’t really places to seat outside the veranda, however. It’s a winery I’d recommend visiting. Tastings are complimentary for 5 wines (from a larger menu).
We tasted the 2007 Gewurztraminer ($16), the 2007 Cashmere (mostly grenache with syrah & mourvedre – $21), the 2006 Ancient Vines Carignane (a new grape for me – $16), the 2006 Ancient Vines Mourverdre – $18) and the 2007 Ancient Vines Zinfandel ($18). In general, we liked the wines and thought they were well priced for what they were. Mike was particularly fond of the Cashmere, which I found smooth and well balanced. But we bought the Mourvedre, a velvety and chocolaty wine. It had a different taste from most wines we’ve drunk, and was therefore intriguing. Now I need to figure out what to pair it with (the servers had no suggestions).
We went to Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, which is right across the street. This is an impressive large building with a stone facade. Inside, it’s divided into an olive oil tasting room, and a wine tasting room. They also have a large store area. If you are looking for olive oil soap, here is the place to find it.
We tasted all the olive oils and in general we were not impressed. Most of them had very mild flavors, and could not compare to those of Stonehouse. If you want good olive oil, go there instead.
The wines, on the other hand, were quite good. The Arneis ($22) was lemony and easy to drink, while the Dolcetto ($22) had a bold beginning and hints of tobacco, vanilla and oak. I found the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) to be “unforgiving” (my notes). It was very strong and tanic, had a bold beginning and was well balanced. I actually thought it was well priced, but too rich for my wallet. The 2005 Valeriano ($48), a meritage, is also bold and confident, and one of the best wines I drank during the trip.
Tastings were complimentary, and there were 16 wines available for tasting. In all, I found them to be very refined and adults. The winery is definitely worth a visit. Wines are available for sale at the winery and Andronicos.
After lunch at Sunflower in Sonoma, we continued our wine tasting down the Valley. Our first stop was Wellington Vinyards, a modest winery on a back road. While the tasting room had a view of its barrel room, don’t come here for the atmosphere. I did like the fact that the winery operates fully on solar power. It produces about 8,000 cases a year, so it’s pretty small.
I wasn’t too happy with the 2006 Estate Marsanne ($18) – a new wine for me -, which was light but sort of bitter and acidic, and not quite there. The 2004 Zinfandel ($24), on the other hand, was nice though tasted young – still, I’d buy it (though I didn’t). The 2004 Merlot ($18) reminded me of the type of cabs we buy, it was hearty and somewhat oaky, with dark fruit undertones. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, was tannic but not as hearty. It also had no oak (did I already say I love oak?). meanwhile the 2004 Victory, a Bordeaux blend, had a medium to full body and medium tannins, and was easy to drink, though it also lacked oak.
In all, I found the wines at Wellington to be solid and adult, but not spectacular or different enough. There is a $5 tasting fee, refundable with purchase.
Our next stop was Loxton, another small winery ran by an Australian that produces about 3,300 cases a year. Tastings are in a (French) barrel-filled room, and when we went, the tasting room was quite busy. Tastings are free.
I found the wines here to be very fruity and somewhat acidic. We bought a bottle of the Red Table Wine ($14), which has an explosion of food but seems somewhat unfinished. Mike liked it, though, and the winemaker thinks it’d go well with a BBQ.
The other wines were significantly more expensive, but not necessarily better. The 2005 Hillside Vineyard Zinfandel ($25) was very fruity and upfront and demanded being paired with food. The 2004 England Crest Vineyards Syrah ($28) shared its characteristics while the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was well balanced and had a medium body (apparently brought on by its 30% Syrah component). It’d be good with meat.
Though the server at Loxton had discouraged us from going to Landmark, alleging that their white wines were good, but their red wines were lacking, we decided to give it a try anyway. It was a good decision, because we were quite happy with their wines.
Tastings cost $5 for 3 set wines or $10 for 3 set reserve wines. You get to keep the glass (this was the only winery we visited in Sonoma/Lake County where this was the case).
The winery is quite large, with a beautiful internal patio set with tables and chairs. The tasting room is large and elegant, and features sofas and a large fireplace. They have free wagon rides on Saturdays, and the place can be rented for weddings.
We started with their 2006 Overlook Chardonnay ($27), a blend of grapes from 2 different vineyards. We found it to be fruity and open, with light oak, but expensive. It was also served up too warm to be refreshing. The 2006 Grand Detour Pinot Noir ($35) was exactly what a wine should be. It was balanced without being sharp, drinkable on its own or with food, and just plain nice. I’d buy it if I bought wines in that price range. Their 2005 Steel Plow Syrah ($27) was probably the best Syrah I’ve ever had (I’m not a big fan of syrahs). It was also well balanced and adult, with no sharp edges and had slightly earthy flavors.
Our last winery in the Sonoma Valley was Kaz. It was also the most fun of the wineries. It’s very small, at 1500 cases a year, it’s the smallest winery in the area. The tasting room is presided by Kaz himself, who is a total character. It’s a family operation, Kaz’s son, an artist, creates the labels for the wine, and all of them think of strange names for their grapey creations. There is a tasting fee of $5, which is not refundable from purchases. The wines are fully organic.
In general, I liked Kaz’s wines, but I found that they were too expensive, both for my pocketbook and for what they were. I understand how a small boutique winery must charge those prices to survive, but they are beyond me.
I did like the 2005 Hooligans ($36), a grenache. It was a great wine, fruity with hints of peaches, full and inviting. The 2005 Sarah Nadar ($26), is 100% Zinfandel, and was also fruity but with a milder body. It was well balanced and just plain tasty. Their NV Kazoruge ($20) is a red table wine with too much acid and too little fruit to impress me, specially at that price. The 2005 Red Said Fred ($44) was considerably better, with more body and better balance. It was just good. Finally, the 2007 Sweet Madeline ($30) is a late harvest chardonnay, somewhere in between a late harvest wine and a port. I found it too alcoholic for my taste. Mike liked it, but didn’t love it. He did like the port ($30), but then again, he always does.