Though overcast yesterday, and still a slight wintry edge apparent in the shadows of a Northern California afternoon, it was a gorgeous and tasty day.
We started in downtown Sonoma at the cooperative Sonoma Enoteca, which features boutique wines and the anticipated mid-range pricing, and a modest $5 fee for 6 tastes. The tasting counter was in the center of a large room surrounded by wine- and cheese-themed wares. Outside, the usual heavy weekend traffic and bustle of tourists such as ourselves lent the Sonoma square a hectic sense of urgency which can be contrasted with its mellow weekday attitude. I look forward to visiting on a less busy day.
We shared 3 tastings. I marked a 2008 Grieve Sauvignon Blanc, as it had a really fresh peach finish. The Favero Vineyards 2005 Sangiovese from its Sonoma Estate was also outstanding, but the highlight was Trios’ 2006 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel – it was described as redolent with baking spices but I distinctly tasted basil. The Trios was moderately priced at $30, and Sonoma Enoteca offers a 10% discount on all featured wines when purchased by the case.
A fortuitous missed turn on the road out of town led us to the delightful Cline Cellars. Here we enjoyed economical tastings – $1 apiece for reserves, gratis for the remainder.
We tried several of the reserves and favorites included the 07 Big Break Zinfandel and 07 Small Berry Mourvedre, both from Contra Costa County vineyards.
The 2007 Cashmere, a blend if Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, sounded great but felt flat. The 07 Cool Climate Syrah, however, was really good. My favorite here, though, was the 2008 California Viognier – outstanding flavor, which reminded me of an old favorite: the 95 Rabbit Ridge viognier from the Heartbreak Hill vineyard.
Wine prices were surprisingly low. I was quite tempted to purchase a case of the viognier.
Cline is a sprawling estate, surrounded by weeping willows and peppered with charming little ponds. The working winery building is modern and not particularly attractive, but as we strolled the grounds we encountered pretty stone outbuildings, stretches of lawn, and a pair of miniature Sicilian donkeys serenely chewing their mash who politely endured the caresses of a slightly tipsy ilegirl.
Our next stop was Nicholson Ranch, with a capacious Arts and Crafts Revival tasting room. The winery sits atop a hill, overlooking the Valley of the Moon, lush and green after weeks of winter rains. Tastings here were handled like wine flights: 3 sets of selections at $5, 10 and 15 respectively. We purchased one of each and shared. Some nice dry crackers were a good touch
Notable to me were the 2007 Estate Chardonnay, and a 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir. My favorite at this winery however was the 2005 Las Madras Syrah; we all tasted the more expensive 2006 vintage, and agreed the 05 had the nicer balance of sugar.
We rounded out the afternoon with a stop at the landmark Domaine Carneros. I’d driven past this place dozens of times over the years, finding its impressive facade well … impressive. It was great fun to stop here, and we enjoyed some yummy chocolate confections along with a small cheese plate. The wines were quite good, too. I particularly liked the 2003 Late Disgorged Sparkling Wine, which despite the unappealing name was extraordinary. A pinot for which I unfortunately failed to note vintage was also a standout. Prices here were moderate, and the setting was posh in comparison to the other tasting rooms.
I know so little about wines; I know what my taste buds like, and I know a good value. The day was very educational, and I enjoyed the effort of paying attention, detecting flavors, a perfume, a hint of something that raised the wine’s value to the level of delicious.