Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

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stevetimko
 
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Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #1  Postby stevetimko » September 8th 2012, 10:36pm

I did a couple of days of tasting in Sonoma County and I guess I came away with two ideas: The 2008 syrahs rock and there's at least a couple of people making nice, restrained zinfandels.
Several of the best wines I tasted were 2008 syrahs. Sadly, most of them were out of my price point. Part of the reason they may have been tasting so well was because they were among the older wines I tasted and perhaps benefited from bottle development.

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Red Car
Probably the best wine I tasted on the trip was the 2008 Red Car 22 syrah. This is named in honor of a deceased co-founder of Red Car. It is from the Vivio Vineyard, which Red Car's web site says is between Bennett Valley and the Petaluma Gap. This is fairly European in style with darker fruits and olives showing through and a nice overall balance to the wine. Excellent finish. At $50 a bottle, it's definitely fairly priced but too much for me. There was a special offer of a third discount if you bought six bottles. I was looking at that hard and long but I've got too much wine stuffed in my storage lockers. I may regret this. The other Red Car wines were generally good. They had a chardonnay for $35 that had nice acidity and not much oak. Again looking at the price, that's within a pitching wedge of Varner Amphitheater, my favorite California Chardonnay, so I passed.
Red Car is pretty much cater corner to Merry Edwards. The tasting room is nice there and the staff is friendly. None of the wines screamed “buy me.”

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Grapes at Lynmar
Lynmar
Just up Frei Road is Lynmar. And again the stand out wine was a 2008 syrah reserve. Again, darker fruits and nice balance. It didn't quite have the nose of the Red Car and was maybe more of a California syrah than the Red Car. But it was also quite nice. They had a 2010 Laguna Ridge chardonnay for $20 that was a pretty good value. If I didn't have the wine locker bulging with bottles I would have bought. Generally, the Lynmar pinots were good, too. I didn't get that streak of RC Colas that showed up in so many of the other pinots. The 2009 Quail Hill Vineyard was way too oaky. I don't get the sense that oak will resolve with age.

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Acorn Winery
I don't even remember how I came to schedule a tasting at Acorn Winery north of Healdsburg I think I was looking around for something different and saw that they grow a lot of weird grapes and decided they were a place I wanted to try. TomHill has noted that the zinfandel in their Alegria vineyard was once owned, or under contract, to Ridge. Probably their flagship wine is the Medly, made up of 55 grapes , about a third of it zinfandel and about a quarter cabernet franc. I tasted it and it was nice but also not distinctive. By the way, they grow their cab franc on a trellis with canopay management to get it lots of sun early. I didn't taste the green meanies from pyrazine in this wine.
I loved their 2008 Axiom syrah and bought some. Again, it was more restrained. Like the Lynmar, more California than Europe. Dark fruits. Nice nose. Some tobacco.Nice finish. I think it will improve with a few years aging.

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Cowan Cellars
Jim Cowan was nice enough to meet me for lunch and try a couple of his wines. The good news is that he has a syrah he will finally release. The 2010 Bennett Valley Moaveni Vineyard is pretty much what you'd expect a Cowan wine to be. Single-digit alcohol (joking. Actually something like 12.7 percent. Or maybe in the 13s. I can't remember.). Black olives. Meaty. Nice balance. Good finish. Jim hit a home run with this one. The one Jim opened was showing well now. I imagine it will improve with age. The 2011 Cowan Cellars rose is showing well, too. From mourvedre, Jim may hold it until next spring before releasing it. It has nice body Good balance. Some watermelon flavors. Not a lot of fruit. But perfect for summer.


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Andy Nalle
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Nalle Winery
I went to Scopa in Healdsburg for dinner on winemaker night and pouring wines was Andy Nalle, son of Nalle founders Doug and Lee Nalle. I've tried other lower alcohol zins before. Unless they're classic older zins from Ridge, Lytton Springs or Ravenswood, I haven't liked them. Nalle's zin was different. It was 13.6 percent alcohol I got tobacco, which I don't recall getting in zinfandel before, and nice black fruits on the nose and palates. Modern low alcohol zins seem uninteresting but this had some nice complexity. It went well with my steak. The Nalle ZinFUNdel rose was light with lots of fruit. Maybe not the body of a serious rose but a long ways from white zinfandel.

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Limerick Lane
My tasting here got off to bad start. They started me with a rose which the tasting room guy admitted started out as a white Rhone – a project from the new owner – which they couldn't get right. So they threw some syrah into it and called it rose.
Their youngest, least expensive zinfandel was all wrong too. Weird flavors and spiky acidity.
But Limerick Lane hit its stride with the zins named for the years the blocks were planted. All had alcohol less than 15 percent. The 2009 1970 was more pleasant than good. Nothing offensive. Nice black fruits. For me, the best was the next, the 1934 block. This was a field blend and I think the other grapes added some complexity. It had dark fruits, a nice nose and an excellent finish. The other grapes added some structure. I think this would age nicely. It's fairly priced at $42 a bottle, but that's too much for my bank account.
The last zin was the 2009 1910 block. This had some nice black fruit flavors, but the nose and finish didn't seem to match the 1934 block.
My tasting at Limerick Lane included a cameo by Morgan Twain-Peterson, who zipped through the tasting room with a look that said, “Out of my way, dammit! There's zin to be measured!”

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Justin Lattanzio

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Vinoteca
The overall best tasting of the trip was at Vinoteca. Owner Justin Lattanzio has 20 people making wine next door at Vinify (including Jim Cowan) and markets wines from six of them at Vinoteca. They're all small production. Lattanzio poured some of his own wine and the 2009 Lattanzio pinot from the WE Bottoms vineyard was the best pinot I tasted on the trip. I bought some. I was surprised to see the mediocre tasting notes on CellarTracker! as I entered the wine into inventory. It had an excellent nose and nice spices and dark cherry on the palate. I didn't get the stemminess mentioned in the CellarTracker! notes.
Another nice wine was the Frostwatch Kismet. This is a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon. The fact that I like it could be an indictment of the wine, since I usually don't like sauvignon blanc. Like the other domestic sauvignon blanc I like from Gray Stack, this wine is from Bennett Valley. This is not over the top with the grassiness or cat pee. The green flavors tend to be pleasant rather than overwhelming.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #2  Postby stevetimko » September 9th 2012, 7:42pm

Wow, my notes are so perfect no one wants to argue with them.
I realized I left out Unti.
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Some interesting things at Unti. Their grenache is now a full-blown Southern Rhone style as they have blended in 12 percent syrah and 12 percent mourvedre. It tasted interesting in the tasting room but I get the sense it will be much more interesting in a few years. Their zinfandel is blended with petite sirah and barbera. I don't know how long they've been doing this. It's also one to stash away for a couple of years..
Unti has also added several new Italian varietals. I didn't take note of all of them. They grafted over syrah to put them in. A 2005 Unti syrah I had last year or the year before was singing. Unti does interesting stuff and they're worth your attention if you've never tried them.

Also, I did a tasting at Ridge Vineyards. They had a 2010 carignane as part of their Advanced Tasting Program. I bought two bottles of that. But otherwise this was probably the weakest Ridge tasting I've ever had. The zins were pretty meh and the 2007 syrah was monolithic. Of course, there were no Geyserville or Lytton Springs bottlings in the tastings.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #3  Postby danupdike » September 10th 2012, 11:22am

stevetimko wrote:Also, I did a tasting at Ridge Vineyards. They had a 2010 carignane as part of their Advanced Tasting Program. I bought two bottles of that.


Got a bottle of that as a gift. Were they pouring any 2009 Lytton Petite Sirah?
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #4  Postby stevetimko » September 10th 2012, 11:48am

danupdike wrote:
stevetimko wrote:Also, I did a tasting at Ridge Vineyards. They had a 2010 carignane as part of their Advanced Tasting Program. I bought two bottles of that.


Got a bottle of that as a gift. Were they pouring any 2009 Lytton Petite Sirah?


Not in the tasting I had. It started with the carignane, then switched to zins from vineyards whose names I didn't recognize. It was supposed to finish with a merlot but they were nice enough to let me substitute the syrah.

Give the carignane a few years. It's got nice acid at its core.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #5  Postby PeterJ » October 26th 2012, 1:18pm

Acorn has been a favorite of mine for years. The Nachbaurs are good people and the vineyard was planted by the Rafanelli family more than 60 years ago (I think). Bill Nachbaur will tell you that he does use all those weird grapes, sometimes in making wine vinegar too.

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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #6  Postby Eric Rayburn » October 26th 2012, 3:41pm

Big Unti fan here. Have been for years. I think their syrah is way under the radar and I'm bummed to hear they are grafting over it. Their barbera is nice as well.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #7  Postby Brian Tuite » October 26th 2012, 4:23pm

What about the Baker Lane pictured at Vinoteca? That Syrah is quite nice.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #8  Postby M. Dildine » October 26th 2012, 7:33pm

Nicely done Steve. The one I'm most familiar with is Nalle. Their "Henderlong" is one of the most freakishly fine old vine Zins I know.
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Re: Some notes from my Sonoma County tastings

Post #9  Postby stevetimko » October 27th 2012, 6:51pm

Brian Tuite wrote:What about the Baker Lane pictured at Vinoteca? That Syrah is quite nice.

Like I said, it was the best tasting. I liked several of the wines and I would have bought more if money and storage were not an issue.
Thanks to everyone else for the nice words.

Mike:
I'd be interested in checking out that Nalle.
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