385 Notes & 501 Scores on Sonoma Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
These Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tastings were primarily conducted in Sonoma over the course of two visits (one for ten days, one for three days). My ten-day visit was thorough, covering eight hundred and four miles (1,294 km) and 39 winery appointments. Sonoma may feel quaint while strolling the Healdsburg Square, but the reality is that it isn’t small with 480,000 acres (194,250 ha). I also reviewed wines in New York City and London. These reviews are exclusively for finished, bottled wines tasted in 2014 and 2015.
A list of all 501 scores by score and by alphabetical order of producer are at the bottom of the page.
Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
The 2013 Freestone Hill suffered from impressively low yields due to poor flower set. However, here the vine’s plight is our delight. This bottling is lovely, especially if your tastes lean toward Burgundian styles. This wine’s raging, delightfully mouthwatering acidity takes center stage while the lightly drying tannins timidly step out of the wings mid-palate. Despite the rapier-like structure, there is incredible juiciness that entices from the tip of the tongue through the very long finish. Goldfield always finds tarragon nuances here coming from this chilly site’s variable ripeness. The wine’s over-riding, multi-dimensional flavors include masses of ripe blueberries and black cherries along with strains of cigar box and charred meat.
Kosta Browne 2011 Chardonnay One-Sixteen Russian River Valley
14.5%; kostabrowne.com; $58
Rather than the typical crescendo from modest to great, this tasting began with a wine that rocked my world. Primarily barrel-fermented (41% new), this head-turner is round and richly fruited yet it feels surprisingly lighter bodied than its 14.5% alcohol wine might suggest. It tastes of lemon peel, muskmelon, hay, flan and Brazil nut. Michael Browne told me Chardonnay is his favorite grape and that here he wants to make a wine akin to Montrachet. Just seconds before, I had written, “This is quite Montrachet-like”. So, there you have it.
Peter Michael 2011 Chardonnay Ma Belle-Fille Sonoma County
14.9%; www.petermichaelwinery.com; $80
This vineyard is perched high (between 1,700-1,900 feet / 518-579 meters) above Knights Valley in eastern Sonoma. Sitting above the fog line, it receives the most sun on the estate, so it ripens the earliest. Those lusciously ripe grapes deliver seduction in a glass. This dense, complex and classy Chardonnay has notes of Calvados, hazelnut, chamomile tea and piecrust. It is sumptuous but not heavy, thanks to its surprisingly zingy acidity. Its harmonious integration is a work of art.
Auteur 2011 Chardonnay Durell Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.auteurwines.com; $41
It isn’t hard to admire this wine’s exuberant energy. Bold and overt on the nose, it shows tropical notes of passion fruit and pineapple. The wine best shows its bewitching array of aromas at a slightly warmer temperature. The succulent mid-palate is deftly framed by perky acidity, which brings the wine to a solid finish.
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Burnside Road Emerson Block Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $42
My visit to Balletto was probably the most eye-opening of my ten-day tour. I’d never heard of the enterprise, and after having tasted the wines, I was genuinely surprised. The wines are impressively good, and they offer great value. This later-picked one has rich red fruit that easily absorbs its new oak, increasing its layers of complexity. This big-boned wine has thirst-quenching acidity that gives it brightness, freshness and easy drinkability. While the wine may live a long while, I think it’s just too good in the next few years to wait to pop the cork.
Dunstan 2011 Pinot Noir Durell Sonoma County
14.5%; www.dunstanwines.com; $55
Dunstan was an abbot, bishop, archbishop and eventually a saint in England. Surely a wine named for him must be as noble! However, this wine poses a bit of a contradiction. It is elegant overall – even stately – yet it initially whacks the palate with its focused flavor. Allspice, mulberries, plums and fallen leaves take center stage. It also has dazzling acidity, dense fruit concentration and slightly warm alcohol.
Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Pinot Noir Emerald Ridge Dutton Ranch Green Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
Dan Goldfield called this wine’s grainy texture “quintessential Green Valley tannins”. The hands of Goldfield and Dutton, who began their winery with a handshake in a vineyard in 1998, delivered a marvelous wine from the gentle, 2012 growing season. This wine was closed on the nose, but within half an hour, the pomegranate, boysenberry, dark chocolate and forest floor were oozing from the glass. The vivacious acidity and firm tannins never allowed the wine to fully loosen up. However, they will in time and there’s no rush to pop this cork.
Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Russian River Valley
13.7%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
Freestone Hill sits in the chilly, southwestern corner of the Russian River Valley. Given its challenging climatic conditions, it is only bottled as a single vineyard wine when all cylinders are firing in a vintage. In 2012, its gorgeous fruit purity, long-haul structure and non-stop finish make it darn impressive and even imposing. Aromatically, it’s hedonistic with its cacophony of exotic spice notes and masses of black fruits.
Kosta Browne 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.5%; kostabrowne.com; $64
Browne says that in Sonoma, aromatics and flavor “will be there, so it’s all about mouthfeel.” As a palate taster, I particularly appreciate texture. I also admire this wine’s brilliant harmony. Its structure is seamless thanks to the support of its velvety tannins and balanced acidity setting the frame for the wine’s generous body. Composed from several sources, each lends distinct flavors. The leading fruits of Damson plum, fresh fig and boysenberry hail from southern Sonoma near the Petaluma Gap. They are followed by a distinct red raspberry note hailing from the northern Walala Vineyard, located near Annapolis.
Kosta Browne 2012 Pinot Noir Kanzler Sonoma Coast
14.6%; kostabrowne.com; $84
The cold Kanzler site hosts the latest ripening fruit in the Kosta Browne collection. Its hodge-podge of clones has been made as a single vineyard since 2002. This wine’s rainbow of red, blue and black fruits blend beautifully with damp earth, asphalt and lit cigar. It is profoundly complex yet so tasty that it can be hard to study its nuances. But, it would be a shame not to notice the long finish and brilliant balance that give this wine a heavenly impression.
Peter Michael 2011 Chardonnay Mon Plaisir Sonoma County
14.8%; www.petermichaelwinery.com; $80
This is the original Peter Michael Chardonnay. The fruit has come from different sources over the years, but as of 2010, the fruit comes entirely from the winery’s Knights Valley estate. This vintage shows restrained fruit flavors but offers a plethora of hazelnuts, walnut pith, baby’s breath, sweet cream and ginger. Its impressive alcohol is deftly integrated, and there’s plenty of lifting acidity, especially on the very long finish.
Three Sticks 2011 Pinot Noir Silver Eagle Russian River Valley
15.5%; threestickswines.com; $60
Jon Van Staaveren made this seductive, irresistible, delicious, and age-worthy Pinot Noir packed with dark red cherry fruit. The suave mouthfeel both caresses with baby powder-fine tannins and refreshes with mouthwatering acidity. Van Staaveren artfully integrated 50% new oak and deftly balanced – actually, almost hid – the eye-poppingly high alcohol. Whatever the number, I would have guessed no more than 14.5% abv.
Wren Hop 2011 Pinot Noir Winter's Demise Green Valley
14.2%; www.wrenhop.com; $62
This wine is a revved-up sex machine. Contradictorily, its fruit is so pure as to be chaste. The wine drips with succulent blackberries and Marasca cherries lifted by peat fire smoke then grounded by flinty minerality. The 100% new French oak is impeccably managed, adding nuances of coffee grinds and cocoa powder. The wine’s fine balance juggles mouth-tugging acidity with rich body and gossamer tannins. It’s a dizzying performance.
Auteur 2011 Chardonnay Hyde Carneros
14.1%; www.auteurwines.com; $45
Winemaker Kenneth Juhasz finds this vintage more opulent than usual – surprising considering the overall chilliness of the growing season. Indeed, it has some mid-palate plumpness and richly flavorful notes of butterscotch and hazelnut. However, the wine is far from heavy thanks in part to its very low 3.2 pH. Suave and complex, this wine’s style is firmly planted between the Old and New Worlds.
Auteur 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
4.5%; www.auteurwines.com; $48
This wine is a charmer, beckoning with its mulberries, bramble fruits, sweet spice and warm earth. A small portion of whole cluster really makes the nose pop! The lingering finish is surprising considering this is made from younger vines in chilly locations at opposing ends of the appellation, in Annapolis and the Petaluma Gap.
Barbed Oak 2012 Chardonnay Oak Vineyard “Untouched by Oak” Bennett Valley
13.8%; www.barbedoakvineyard.com; $28
Oyster shell, crushed limestone, Parmigiano Reggiano and chicken broth waft from the glass, making this small production, 100-case wine smell remarkably like Chablis. Bennett Valley’s higher elevation contributes to this medium-bodied wine’s piercing acidity. Considering how much I appreciated this bottling, it’s a shame the oaked Chardonnay wasn’t available to taste as well. Both are made from the same, estate-grown fruit by the in-demand, Sonoma winemaking guru, John Raytek.
Barbed Oak 2012 Pinot Noir Whole Cluster Estate Grown Bennett Valley
12.9%; www.barbedoakvineyard.com; $44
There isn’t such a tree as a Barbed Oak. Rather, this name combines the names of owners, Barbara and Ed, and nods to the old oak trees on the property. This sultry Pinot Noir offers lifted aromas of cracked twig, nutmeg and black raspberries. The flavors expand into açai, boysenberry and sloe. Though decidedly medium in body, this tremendously elegant wine shows considerable concentration. Lilting acidity and lightly chewy tannins extend the flavors into the long finish.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Block 15 Russian River Valley
13.5%; Closed; $55
This is a hulk showing the power of its broad, muscled shoulders. This characteristic gives it immediate distinction in a region that mostly makes voluptuous Pinot Noir. This one tastes of beef jerky, soy and candied red fruits. This is the second vintage of this two-vineyard blend, whose name is destined to change soon. That would be helpful, as it confusingly doesn’t come from one block named 15!
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Bucher Russian River Valley
14.2%; Closed; $58
This is pure Pommard clone planted in 1999. Pommard is Donatiello’s favorite because it always gets good flavor development despite the fact that it tends to ripen early. This wine sees approximately one-quarter whole cluster and 25% new oak, which together turn up earth and spice notes. Sweetened cranberries, lingonberry jam and tart rhubarb abound.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Wind Horse Russian River Valley
14.7%; Closed; $72
Wind Horse sits in the southwestern corner of the Russian River appellation, which is highly influenced by the Petaluma Gap. Because of its cool growing conditions, this is the first time this wine has been made since 2009, and there are only 48 cases of it! It is lip-smacking with high acidity and leathery tannins enveloping its tobacco-tinged, forest fruited core.
Cattleya 2012 Chardonnay Pratt Russian River Valley
14.5%; cattelyawines.com; $70
Bibiana Gonzalez Rave has an enthusiasm that could permeate a pitch black, dank solitary confinement cell with radiating joy. Her wines do the same. Born in Columbia, she somehow decided to become a winemaker at age 14. The rest is liquid history…and this liquid will move fast, especially with only 88 cases of this wine produced. It’s a pale-colored, restrained and mineral Chardonnay with hay, crunchy yellow apple and Crenshaw melon. Perky acidity and pure, concentrated fruit take this wine into a generous, focused finish. Don’t miss this rising star’s wines!
Clary Ranch 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.3%; www.claryranch.com; $50
Impressively vibrant both in fruit character and acidity, this wine still shows youthful power eight years on. Crunchy blackberries and sweet licorice stretch from the bouquet into the persistent finish. The Petaluma Gap’s fresh climate gives this wine its pronounced structural tension.
Donum 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.thedonumestate.com; $87
Given the harvest season was testy with two serious rains in 2011, Moller-Racke said, “We felt like heros for letting this hang.” The resulting wine is impeccably balanced, exuding with fragrance and dangerously sippable. There are loads of black cherries and black plums, a whiff of cola and a serious dose of baking spice. The mouthwatering finish easily gives the flavors good length.
Dunstan 2011 Chardonnay Durell Sonoma County
13.3%; www.dunstanwines.com; $45
This wine is rich yet not flamboyant. Perhaps this is due partially to the whole cluster pressing of its 100% Wente clone fruit. Regardless, this golden-hued wine shows exuberant minerality along with baskets of ripe citrus and sweet peaches. Its marked acidity gives it vitality for today and longevity for tomorrow.
Dutton-Goldfield 2003 Chardonnay Rued Green Valley
13.9%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $NA
Goldfield very generously pulled the last bottle of this wine from his personal cellar. The wine was dense, succulent and profound. This is in good part thanks to the fact only one-third of the typical crop came through on the vines in this vintage. While I think the wine still has some time on its hands, Goldfield feels it is ready to go. It’s unfiltered and Goldfield says wines with haze take on bitterness with age. (Learn something new everyday!)
Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $40
Each vineyard block used in this wine is vinified separately to optimize blending options. Each fruit parcel underwent a long cold soak and a rather aggressive punchdown scheme. The wine has a gleaming, magenta core. It smells like fresh cherries garnishing a molten chocolate cake, and it’s irresistible. The integrated and smooth mouthfeel entices as much as the flavors. The suave tannins and fresh acidity combine to melt into the background.
Flowers 2011 Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Block 16 Sonoma Coast
12.8%; www.flowerswinery.com; $60
Named for the trading point between the Kashaya Indians and Russian fur traders, the Camp Meeting Ridge vineyard sits between 1,150 and 1,400 feet (350 and 427 meters.) It has only six to 18 inches (15-46 cm) of topsoil, so the vines dig quickly and deeply into metamorphic rock. The Block 16 has a smoky nose laden with mulberries and black plums. Compared to Block 11, this has more opulent fruit, lightly plumping glycerol and softer tannins.
Freeman 2012 Pinot Noir Akiko's Cuvée Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.freemanwinery.com; $55
In their very early days, Akiko and Ken Freeman upsized from a 500- to a 6,000-case permit after they sold out their production thanks to Sideways. Akiko’s Cuvée is the result of a competition between these two and their winemaker that begins with a barrel selection of all their vineyards. So far, Akiko has always won. Her 2012 selection is an explosion of succulent blueberries and baking spice enveloped by gentle tannins and silky acidity.
Gary Farrell 2012 Pinot Noir Hallberg Dijon Clones Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $60
This combo of 677 and 777 clones provides joy in a glass. Its overt and hedonistic fruit character is one step removed from over-ripe, giving the wine just enough freshness to pull-off its dramatically complex flavors with ease. Bustling acidity and fine-grained tannins keep the focus on the lingering finish.
Hirsch 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve Sonoma Coast
13.1%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
The pride and joy of this far “West of West” Sonoma winery, this Pinot Noir is carefully selected from the winery’s best barrels. The fruit is sourced from Hirsch’s 72 acres of Pacific-view vineyards. The 2012 shows exceptionally good ripeness for this seriously chilly site. Roasted cherries, roses and incense give this massively flavorful wine an exotic twist.
Kistler 2011 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $89
Generally speaking, I find better balance in the Kistler Pinot Noirs than Chardonnays. While this one is succulently fruity with peak-of-season black cherries and plums along with licorice and dried wheat bread crumbs, it has tugging tannins and balancing acidity to keep it properly framed. Its sensuous texture is as compelling as its layers of lightly developed flavors. This wine is destined strictly for USA restaurants.
Kistler 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $74
This wine’s exuberant fruit is a blend of pomegranate, bramble and blackberry. It’s doused with sweet spice and charred oak, and the combined flavors create a beautiful symphony. Its exuberance is contagious, and its supple tannins and fresh acidity give it just enough definition to age well for almost a decade to benefit.
Kosta Browne 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.4%; kostabrowne.com; $58
This wine starts with crunchy, red fruit top notes, follows with blueberry mid-tones and finishes with black plum under currents. Developing bouquet aromas of Portobello mushrooms, autumn leaves and tobacco wrapper are mixed in, too. Its concentrated viscosity coats the palate and its vibrant acidity and crunchy tannins pull through a long finish. There is something noble and Italianate about this bottling.
Kosta Browne 2007 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley
14.7%; kostabrowne.com; $125
This wine is at its autumn. There’s browning at its core, and there’s fallen leaves and mushroom popping through the fruit on the nose. But, it’s not time to give up on it just yet. Stewed cherries, cardamom and pan-seared meat juices offer enticing complexity and plenty of depth to show there is room for additional, beneficial development.
Littorai 2012 Chardonnay Mays Canyon Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.littorai.com; $70
These vines planted in the early 1990s are farmed by Porter-Bass on a very cold and rocky, north-facing site. Its lemony acidity and mid-weight body give it lots of structural verve. There’s a tiny bit of glycerol that keeps it from feeling austere. The rather reserved palate offers white peaches, yellow plums, chalk, brioche and blanched almond.
Littorai 2009 Pinot Noir B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.littorai.com; $NA
From an easier year - climatically speaking - with more generous yields, it may be surprising that this wine is the most delightful of the four Thieriot reds I tasted. After all, that defies the mantra that struggling vines make more interesting wines. The smoothness of the tannins, the fleshiness of the fruit and the generosity of acidic support give the mouthfeel impeccable balance. It all melds brilliantly into a creamy core of pure black fruit with licorice highlights. Not to be missed, if you can find it.
Littorai 2012 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.littorai.com; $NA
This is Littorai’s tenth bottling of this wine made from fruit sourced at Porter Bass’ Mays Canyon vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Today, everything is grown under Demeter-certified biodynamic practices. Its palate is restrained and even a bit backwards now. Its tugging texture is reinforced by nervous acidity. Give this a bit of time to allow the blackberries, underbrush and fresh sage to unfold additional flavors.
Littorai 2011 Pinot Noir Platt Sonoma Coast
13.1%; www.littorai.com; $125
This vineyard sits at the same elevation as The Pivot but on the other side of the ridge. It’s similarly dark in fruit flavors, especially boysenberry, sloe and fig. However, this vineyard yields fruit that is less steely in structure and not so turbo-charged in flavor power. Instead, it delivers a luscious core that is gallantly balanced by high-pitched acidity and generous, beautifully sculpted tannins.
Littorai 2011 Pinot Noir The Haven Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.littorai.com; $90
This southwest-facing vineyard sits in a redwood gully just a few miles north of the B.A. Thieriot vineyard. Briar, bramble and purple fruit sing from the glass, and as with almost all the Littorai wines, there’s no obvious new oak use. The wine’s structure is streamlined and polished, and its bewitching intensity gives it significant length.
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Quail Hill Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.lynmarestate.com; $59
This amped-up, body-builder-esque wine is unabashedly Russian River. It could almost sport an “RRV” tattoo. It teems with baking spices, black figs and blueberries bubbling in a hot-out-of-the-oven cobbler. While the palate is round, excellent acidic freshness and a whiff of lifting mintiness keep everything aligned. The finish isn’t shy and hangs around a while. This is the Lynmar’s largest bottling, but it’s still only 2,360 cases.
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Quail Hill Block 10 Russian River Valley
14.8%; www.lynmarestate.com; $70
This smaller piece of the Quail Hill vineyard produces only 309 cases. It is much more deeply colored than the larger Quail Hill bottling. It is very much an American Pinot Noir drinkers’ wine, given its pronounced, dark color. Its aromas are effusive, its flavors run deeply ripe and its tannins are demanding. Finley said, “It’s the big boy of the 2012 vintage.” Indeed, it is a Pinot Noir that could appease a Cab drinker.
Martinelli 2011 Chardonnay Three Sisters Vineyard Sea Ridge Meadow Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $63
Released in February 2015, this wine was entirely barrel fermented with 65% of it spending ten months in new, French oak. Its exuberant nose features yellow cake with baking spices and Key lime zest-spiked sweet cream. On the palate apples and wild thyme emerge from the demurely medium-bodied core. The result is a tantalizing drinkability. Don’t hesitate to snap up a few bottles if you see them. Only 70 cases were made due to the tough climatic conditions, i.e. chilly throughout the growing season. Usually, they commercialize around 175!
Martinelli 2011 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley
14.8%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $53
It’s a funny thing to arrive on the Martinellis’ doorstep and not taste their widely-celebrated Zins. And, given Zin’s reputation for zany, spicy fruit, it’s pretty hard to imagine this family’s Chardonnays could be so reserved. This particular one smells of sea breeze and tastes of straw, talcum powder and pine needles. Smidgeons of clementine and papaya step in on the palate to further expand this wine’s complex expression.
Martinelli 2012 Pinot Noir Bondi Home Ranch Water Trough Green Valley
15.5%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $45
The Water Trough vineyard is named for a horse trough that about a century ago sat beside the dirt road that is just steps away from today’s vineyard. This deeply fruited wine shows mulberries, boysenberries and black cherries. It has a lifting hint of leafiness, too, which seems typical of Martinelli Pinot Noir. The broad mid-palate is shored up by bracing acidity and streamlined tannins. Impressively, the 15.5% alcohol is very well integrated.
Patz & Hall 2012 Pinot Noir Jenkins Ranch Sonoma Coast
15.4%; www.patzhall.com; $60
Founded in 1988, Patz & Hall is highly-regarded for its small lot Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays hailing from some of the most celebrated appellations from all over California. In this fine example, intensely ripe black plums, blueberries and boysenberries jump from the glass. The palate is chock full of baking spice, bay leaf and bacon. Svelte tannins and crisp acidity frame the plump, sensuous and weighty palate. Its power is majestic and its balance is precise. I never would have guessed this was 15.4%. N.B. The winery’s production is entirely vegan starting with the 2012 vintage.
Peay 2012 Pinot Noir Pomarium Sonoma Coast
13.7%; peayvineyards.com; $60
Nick Peay said, “Our style is somewhere between Burgundy and California. The major difference is that we’re not on limestone. The second big factor is that it’s cold here in July and August, but it’s warm in Burgundy.” (Frankly, Burgundy’s warmth and chill factors vacillate a lot, even in mid- to late-summer.) As such, Peay doesn’t use whole cluster; the “jalapeño” of stems isn’t a character he, his brother and his sister-in-law like. This pale and crisp but dense and muscular wine delivers black plum skin, blackberries, licorice and forest floor.
Peter Michael 2011 Chardonnay Belle Côte Sonoma County
14.3%; petermichaelwinery.com; $80
This is the last Chardonnay to be picked at this estate, so it’s not surprising that it tends to be the lushest. Indeed, its overt and tropical nose screams of mango, pineapple, lychee and guava. Though grown on volcanic soil, its exotic fruit dominance squashes any notes of minerality. It is so smooth, honeyed and creamy that each sip feels like a guilty pleasure.
Peter Michael 2011 Pinot Noir Ma Danseuse Sonoma County
13.9%; petermichaelwinery.com; $110
This is the first Pinot Noir picked at this estate, but it is far from lean in character. With its 60-degree slope (a tractor once bit the dust there), its fruit soaks in the sunshine. Black cherries and dark chocolate dominate the flavors, but with air, violet notes emerge along with licorice and verbena. Svelte tannins and medium acidity give this well-concentrated wine just enough structure to hold on for a decade, possibly longer.
Ram's Gate 2012 Pinot Noir Bush Crispo Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $70
Visiting this beautiful winery feels more like arriving at a SoHo House private club than at a production facility and visitors’ center. Overall, I’m more a fan of Pinot Noir than Chardonnay from this property, but nothing can taste bad in a setting this chic. The Bush Crispo Pinot Noir boasts thyme and mint notes – ostensibly from the eucalyptus grove down the road – that give it lovely lift. Mulberry fruit meets sweet spice while cigar wrapper steeps in a savory broth. It’s a complex mess of the very best and most intriguing kind.
Red Car 2012 Pinot Noir Platt Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.redcarwine.com; $68
Carroll Kemp’s hip and quirky tasting room belies his rural Arkansas roots but gels perfectly with his pre-winemaking, Hollywood producer days. Long since dedicated to winemaking, he declared in response to my question about winemaking philosophy, “It’s the thousands of decisions in vineyards over a decade that allow you to be hands-off in the winery.” In this wine, that mantra manifests in euphorically youthful aromas and remarkably intense flavor concentration knit together by perky energy. Its panoply of flavors includes blueberry, red plum, cinnamon, evergreen, charcoal and toasted almond.
Schug 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Carneros
13.5%; schugwinery.com; $45
Schug has made an “Estate” Pinot Noir longer than its Chardonnay. Winemaker Mike Cox said he is “trying to do something more Californian” with this fruit from 24-year-old vines. Perhaps there’s a bit more upfront sweetness, but it hardly competes with some of Sonoma’s hulkier examples. The round mid-palate gives highly concentrated flavors of boysenberry, bramble, underbrush and char that persist on the finish.
Sens3s 2013 Chardonnay B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.8%; www.senseswines.com; $65
This wine is the quirky combo of 3s: three childhood pals who grew up in Occidental now make three styles of wine (white, rosé and red) to appeal to the three senses of wine (sight, scent, sip.) Though their adventure began in 2011, this is their first single vineyard Chardonnay. All their other wines are unfined and unfiltered, save the rosé. This bottling has an interesting sweet and savory combination of sauteed apples juxtaposed by roasted onions. Nuttiness and allspice accent the medium-plus body that nicely rounds out the mid-palate.
Sens3s 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Sonoma County
13.4%; www.senseswines.com; $45
This is hands-down one of the most exciting, delectable, gulpable, joyful, don’t-let-it-end Pinot Noirs from Sonoma that I think I’ve ever tasted. It is moderate in complexity and medium-minus finish, suggesting it’s ready to gulp up in its irresistible youth, given its layers of blackberries, black cherries, licorice and exotic spice. For a Sonoma wine, it’s impressively restrained in its moderate glycerol impression. The medium acidity is impeccably integrated, and there’s not a trace of obvious new oak.
Small Vines 2012 Pinot Noir Baranoff Russian River Valley
13.4%; smallvines.com; $72
Paul Sloan farms high-density vineyards to give his wines concentration and depth without high alcohol. If you ever feel like geeking out on viticulture, Paul’s your guy. This Baranoff is the juiciest of his wines, really showing its Russian River Valley roots. It has a lovely purple hue, low-intensity tannins, polished acidity and a serious finish of bramble, loganberry and asphalt.
Small Vines 2012 Pinot Noir MK Sonoma Coast
13.6%; smallvines.com; $72
The Sloans make only 150 cases of this wine each vintage, dedicated to vineyard owner Matt Keller. It comes from fruit planted in 1999, when the Sloans were just starting out “with a pick-up truck and a shovel.” This incredibly pure wine smells of lilac and lavender, blackberries and Marasca cherries, soy and mushrooms. Its focused palate provides fine and firm tannin and marked acidity.
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.sojourncellars.com; $48
Craig Haserot claims his style is middle of the road. “We’re not Patz & Hall, and we’re not Kutch.” I agree, and the result is a line-up of bewitching wines that satisfies just about every palate. This one is my fave of the ones I tasted. Its chiseled and poised palate shows finessed tannins and mouthwatering acidity while its fragrant nose spouts stimulating notes of roses and bright red fruit. Derived from volcanic soil in the heart of the Petaluma Gap, fermented with 15% whole clusters and 50% aged in new French oak, surely what matters most is its delectability.
Soliste 2010 Pinot Noir Sonatera Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.soliste.com; $85
Soliste farms in a mono-clone culture in an effort to better sense their terroir. This is Dijon 777 from the T-Block of Sonatera Vineyard near Sebastopol. Usually clone 777 is deeply colored, but this wine is impressively pale. It’s a feisty one in structure with crackling acidity and fine-grained, tugging tannins. Though moderate in alcohol, the wine feels full-ish in body. The medium-plus finish tastes of black cherries, blackberries, bramble and allspice.
Three Sticks 2013 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.threestickswines.com; $60
Rich, round and dynamic on a palate packed with juiciness, this is – as always – a super sexy wine. Boysenberries and baked red plums are highlighted with licorice and cinnamon stick. The sassy, invigorating acidity is surprising in such a hefty, big-bodied Pinot Noir. It finishes with almost imperceptible, powdery, even talc-like, tannins.
Williams-Selyem 2011 Pinot Noir Block 10 Mass SelectionEstate Russian River Valley
13.7%; www.williamsselyem.com; $85
Every 18thvine in this vineyard is a different clone. To amp up the complexity further, the wine was fermented with native yeasts and the use of 35% whole cluster. Its result is a delightful, exotic whirlwind of red and black fruit flavors laced with cola and North African spices. The palate feels like silk edged in taffeta tannins. This is the fourth vintage this wine has been produced, and the bottling is sold only at the winery.
Williams-Selyem 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Russian River Valley
13.9%; www.williamsselyem.com; $100
Decadently perfumed, this showstopper offers intensely pure boysenberry and mulberry fruit. The oak flavor here is not insignificant with plenty of milk chocolate, candied walnut and maple syrup flavors, but there’s plenty of fruit to absorb them. The tannins are suave and mouthcoating, and the medium acidity is seamlessly integrated. Unusually for just 13.9%, the alcohol is slightly noticeable and warm on the finish.
Wren Hop 2011 Pinot Noir Wisdom & Chaos Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.wrenhop.com; $62
This wine shows its cool vintage edge in its splintery tannins. Combined with pronounced acidity, the wine turns out a slightly bitter finish. But like great amaro, this is quite pleasant. There’s plenty of ripe black cherry, pithy pomegranate and lingonberry syrup to give the right amount of fruit sweetness required for graceful balance. This is entirely estate fruit, and it’s only the favorite bits that the owners select.
Zepaltas 2012 Pinot Noir Nunes Russian River Valley
13.5%; Closed; $48
This is big, ballsy and overt with a slightly jammy nose. Its fruit comes from a dry-farmed riverbed and shows a touch of fig and cola along with lots of ripe blueberry. Its acidity is exuberant and its tannins are über-fine. The overall effect is bright and joyous with a hint of mid-palate chewiness and a solid finish.
Auteur 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.auteurwines.com; $32
This Wente clone, blended wine is sourced from three primo vineyards: Dutton Ranch in Green Valley, Durrell in Sonoma Coast and Sangiacomo in Carneros. As with the other Auteur Chardonnays, this wine has a mid-weight suppleness and juicy fruit character reined in by lightning bolt acidity. The high-toned fruit flavors of green apple, honeydew and white peach allow a light kiss of oak to surface on the medium finish.
Balletto 2012 Chardonnay Sexton Hill Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $38
John Balletto declared, “I’m Italian. I want this business to be here in 100 years.” He has amassed 600 acres of land since 1995 and ramped his production up from 400 cases in 2001 to 18,000 today. I’d say that looks like a legacy in the making. While we continue to watch this producer, we can sip this distinguished beauty whose deep yellow color is immediately eye-catching. It’s a charmer that tastes of toasted nuts, nougat and exotic fruits. Its creamy texture and baking spice lift remind me of my grandmother’s tapioca.
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Cider Ridge Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $42
This “solar panel” of a vineyard sits just over ten miles from the Pacific, so while it easily delivers ripe fruit, it does so with enough acidic and tannic crunch to keep the palate perky. This is an exuberant bottling crammed with copious quantities of red and blue fruits. The finish is a bit shorter than the wine’s well-concentrated fruit would suggest, possibly because of the super-young vine age. This is the first harvest off these vines, which gave third leaf fruit in 2012. What an impressive start!
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Winery Block Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $42
This wine smells like a freshly opened jar of maraschino cherries. More red fruit nuances, like rhubarb, red pear, cranberry and lingonberry, pop on the palate. Made entirely from Occidental Vineyard fruit grown in sandy loam, Balletto feels he has something “dramatically different from other Russian River fruit”. I whole-heartedly agree. Rather than sweet cola, dark color and heavy weight, this wine shows effortless prettiness, graciously bright fruits and considerable balance.
Banshee 2012 Pinot Noir Marine Layer Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.bansheewines.com; $55
This bottling has an impressively expressive and elegant nose loaded with roses, red cranberries and raspberries. If somewhat meager in color, it certainly is not in structure. Firm tannins and direct acidity hem in this wine’s juicy core. Co-founder and winemaker Noah Dorrance (the business was sold in 2018 to Bill Foley) says the issue with the vineyard isn’t the ripening; it’s the fruit set. There’s so little fruit – and such small fruit – that the wine tends to be a bit mean on the palate early on.
Banshee 2012 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.bansheewines.com; $60
Packed with red plums and sprinkled with sweet spice, this west Sonoma vineyard is planted to 115, 667 and 777. Dorrance likes the 777 for its monolithic structure and the 667 for its notes of hibiscus, tea and red fruit. For a patently pure wine –fruit wise– on the palate, I was surprised to see smoky oak notes turn up on the finish. Happily, they weren’t detracting and, if anything, seemed to keep the finish humming longer.
Barbed Oak 2012 Pinot Noir Zara's Block Estate Grown Bennett Valley
12.9%; www.barbedoakvineyard.com; $38
This heirloom clone blend of Swan and Calera offers tremendous value. Thanks in part to its 15% whole cluster fermentation, it delivers exuberant fragrances of spice, incense, boysenberry and pomegranate. Its medium body is tightly knit with crackling acidity and streamlined tannins.
C. Donatiello 2011 Chardonnay Maddie's Russian River Valley
14.3%; Closed; $38
This is my personal favorite of Donatiello’s Chardonnays. Restrained in fruit character, it shows just-ripe orchards fruits with delicate spice accents. Though there’s only 25% new oak, it is still a bit obvious given the fruit’s reticent character. However, it will integrate well in short order. Besides, it’s already a highly attractive package.
C. Donatiello 2011 Chardonnay Peters Russian River Valley
13.2%; Closed; $35
The Peters vineyard, like many others in the neighborhood, was formerly an apple orchard. Surprisingly, this wine’s restrained nose converts into a core of butter-driven flavor on the palate. A touch of tannin, a toss of spice and a nuance of dried fruits lift the whole package. There’s a decadent succulence to the palate that mingles enticingly with the wine’s delightfully caressing texture, too.
C. Donatiello 2012 Chardonnay Rowan's Russian River Valley
14.3%; Closed; $38
Only 102 cases of this Clone 4, 20-year-old-vine wine were made. An equally matched powerful body and overt leesy flavor vie with its pungent acidity. Owner Donatiello tends to like this wine four years post-vintage. Moreover, if you like a bit of tertiary character in your wines, you’ll surely like this in its autumn years.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.6%; Closed; $40
This is true-to-type Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It shows immediate allure, but it doesn’t give everything upfront. There’s a patchwork of discreet flavors and a smoky, sultriness, too. Black cherries, pomegranate, veal broth and dry earth all work into this tantalizing mix.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Old Vines Russian River Valley
13.6%; Closed; $60
This dynamo of Hervey, Tina Marie and Wind Horse fruit doesn’t disappoint. The vines average 28-years-old, and their fruits saturate the palate. The attack is two-fold. First, the compact fruit delivers an intense, mouth-coating film; then, exuberant acidity rushes in with refreshment. Oodles of raspberry, cola and chocolate permeate well into the generous finish.
CIRQ 2011 Pinot Noir Treehouse Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.cirq.com; $100
The Treehouse Vineyard sits at 750 feet (229 meters), well above the fog line. If neither the catchy label nor the allure of the carefully anointed blend of clones 23, Swan, 37, Pommard and Calera entice you, the flavors surely will. They begin gently with a classic touch of Russian River cola, edge into an extra toss of sweet spice then follow through with indulgently ripe blueberry cobbler. This is a robust Pinot Noir that is highly typical of Russian River. Burgundy snobs, at bay!
Clouds Rest 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.cloudrest.com; $35
This winery gets its name from the spot in the vineyard where the clouds stop and “rest” on their journey from the Pacific into the Petaluma Gap. This wine beckons with is precise, forward nose of crisp yellow apples and tangerine peel. It also shows a Pinot Gris-like tinge of earthiness and wet wool. The perky, mouth-watering acidity brilliantly balances its Alsace-like viscosity and leesiness.
Cobb 2009 Pinot Noir Coastlands Sonoma Coast
13%; www.cobbwines.com; $70
Planted in 1989, the Coastlands vineyard is home to some of the oldest vines on the Sonoma Coast. It sits just four miles from the Pacific. That being the case, this wine boasts surprisingly ripe fruit, tasting of figs and black raisins. However, other nuances give it lift – green tea, cedar and jasmine. The bright acidity emphasizes the slightly clumsy tannins, but the 35% new French oak is smartly integrated. A bit knees and elbows now, this vintage’s bottling is for those who prefer more unctuous Pinot Noir.
Cobb 2009 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Sonoma Coast
13%; www.cobbwines.com; $70
Rice-Spivak’s loam and volcanic ash soils reside near Sebastopol. This vineyard is the furthest inland of winemaker Ross Cobb’s sources. Cobb likes to use more whole cluster here (25% in this vintage) to counteract its higher ripeness levels. Its initial aromas reflect this fermentation technique with their pungent, earthy and branchy top notes that overtake the fruit character. The palate comes through with red plum, cherry and mulberry, all of which linger on the finish. The medium-plus acidity is well-integrated, yet the structure is slightly awkward. Overall, there’s lots of class, and I hope the wine just needs time, despite it being six years old.
Donum 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Grown Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.thedonumestate.com; $72
Big, dark and brooding, this intensely black-fruited wine has just enough mid-palate polish to make it accessible today. However, there’s serious concentration here, so it would be a shame to deprive it of further development. Moller-Racke says its richness comes from 667 and its sophistication from 115. She applied 80% new French oak here, and the wine’s dense fruit swallows it almost without a trace.
Donum 2010 Pinot Noir West Slope Estate Grown Carneros
14.5%; www.thedonumestate.com; $85
This wine takes you on a roller coaster ride. It smells of maraschino cherries, lilac, baked red plums, sweet spice…and taco seasoning. It’s a crazy mix of sweet and savory notes, and it’s incredibly cool. The tannins are suave and the acidity is lilting. Resist for a few years, if you can.
Dutton-Goldfield 2011 Chardonnay Rued Green Valley
13.7%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $55
This wine shows sexy tropical fruits of mango, papaya and banana drizzled with honey. It also shows some serious new oak use through its vanilla, caramel and gingerbread accents. Given how the wine’s medium-plus body and light viscosity are buffered by judicious acidity, this will be hard to resist at any age. Not only is this vineyard named Rued, but the clone planted here is, too. Post-tasting, I was pleased to learn that it is known for its exotic qualities. Welcome reverb.
Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Pinot Noir Fox Den Green Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
This vineyard sits on the west side of Green Valley, putting it above the fog line and about 500 feet higher than the winery’s Emerald Ridge fruit. It’s also on poorer soil. Thanks to these chilly conditions, this wine always shows feisty acidity. In this vintage it’s even a bit clunky, but that should subside thanks to the wine’s overall finesse. On the palate, the wine’s tannins start off smooth then bring on a pleasant, well-steeped tea sort of drying sensation. It smells of Bing cherries, licorice and cocoa, and while far too young, could be enjoyed today.
Dutton-Goldfield 2007 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $NA
This wine’s deep crimson color sports light flecks of brick. Its fragrances are also transitioning into tertiary characters, namely crushed autumn leaves, dusty earth and iron. The considerable breadth of flavors include strawberry jam, pomegranate reduction and hard spice. The suave tannins – partially created by the vintage’s long hang time – seem to melt right into the wine’s full body.
Failla 2013 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley
13.9%; www.faillawines.com; $48
Ehren Jordan started buying from this source in 1999. It’s usually good to have a long-term contract with grape growers as seasons can be more or less forgiving and knowing your partner makes a big difference in how you source your fruit. Enticing with fresh its fruits, this wine dances the line between crunchy red berries and blueberries.
Flowers 2011 Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast
12.6%; www.flowerswinery.com; $58
All Flowers’ vines are now farmed organically and biodynamically. This older block was planted in 1991. Its fruit was harvested at night then fermented in 100% French oak, of which 45% was new. That oak comes across as a bit lavish in this cool vintage, despite the wine’s tingling acidity and vibrant citrus notes. However, its oaky richness and round palate make this a perfect wine for lovers of more unctuous Chardonnays.
Flowers 2012 Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.flowerswinery.com; $80
Two miles in from the Pacific, this wines hails from a ridge where Russian traders and local Indians used to meet. It’s unusually forward and ballsy for the winery’s style as well as for a wine from the extreme coast. Still, it’s got some acidic sass to even out its weighty, ripe apple succulence and decadent flavors of flaky, well-done piecrust.
Flowers 2011 Chardonnay Moon Select Sonoma Coast
12.4%; www.flowerswinery.com; $100
This winery calls the Moon Select the “essential” Flowers Chardonnay. This vintage has an electric yellow color, scintillating acidity, light body, silky texture and a hint of walnut pith-like tannin on the finish. It’s a bit awkward now, but it has the concentration to come through in a year or so. It’s packed with yellow tree fruits and spring flowers.
Flowers 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.flowerswinery.com; $49
I adored this wine’s rose-driven fragrance, lightly tart red berries and anise and fresh herb highlights. The pronounced acidity and gently framing tannins give this wine tension and a touch of sinew. With only 23% French oak, the fruit – a blend of sourced and estate clusters - really shines through.
Flowers 2011 Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Block 11 Sonoma Coast
12%; wwww.flowerswinery.com; $100
This wine is made entirely from Calera clone farmed on a north-facing slope. This plus its cool vintage explain its incredibly low alcohol. This 100% whole cluster fermentation resulted in a wine with distinct pine and cedar top notes. Red and blue fruits mingle with graphite and cigar humidor. The very moderate-bodied palate is vigorous with crackling acidity and sculpted tannins, which will give this smartly concentrated wine plenty of time to evolve to benefit.
Fort Ross 2010 Pinot Noir Symposium Fort Ross-Seaview
14.5%; www.fortrossvineyard.com; $42
The Fort Ross vineyard is on the leading ridge coming in from the Pacific Ocean. Somewhat surprisingly, it is surrounded by temperate rain forests, so it never freezes here. Also a surprise is the 5% pinotage included. Perhaps that is what gives the wine its tarry, lightly rustic tinge. The nicely supple palate is framed by crisp tannin and pronounced acidity that prop-up the blackberries, rust and green olive flavors.
Freeman 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.freemanwinery.com; $45
Quite simply, this is a fun drink. It is compiled from eight vineyard sights spread across Sonoma Coast. Akiko Freeman mentioned it is deeper in color than usual, partially derived from its five-day cold soak. Its fragrances include potpourri, bacon, cola and red cherries. Velvety tannins and vivacious acidity make it easy to sip.
Freeman 2012 Pinot Noir Gloria Estate Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.freemanwinery.com; $54
This is the Freemans’ first estate Pinot Noir, which was named for the hurricane that brought the two of them together. They have five clones covering eight acres that are organically farmed. This bottling tastes of ripe blueberries, black cherries and cinnamon toast. Pleasantly plump, this wine has nice weight and ample flavor density.
Freeman 2012 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.freemanwinery.com; $52
This fruit comes from the carefully tended vineyard of Sonoma’s first female grapegrower, Marcy Keefer. It is composed of four clones, two of which were new to the wine in 2011. The blend has a big nose but a rather restrained palate. It smells of red currants, ripe strawberries, fresh fig and baking spice. Akiko feels this will be at its drinking prime five years from vintage, and its lightly grippy tannins will definitely give it the structure to go well beyond. A fan of aged Pinot Noir, I like to think of it much longer into its “career”.
Gary Farrell 2011 Pinot Noir Hallberg Dijon Clones Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $60
These vines are rooted in the Green Valley sub-AVA where serious maritime influences keep the ripening process chugging along at a steady – if slow – pace. The wine is richly perfumed and profoundly tannic. Winemaker Theresa Heredia thinks it needs six to nine months to settle down. In the interim, its dried herbs, raspberries, lingonberrires, tar and game certainly would do justice to a nice pot of braised meats.
Gary Farrell 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $45
Compared to the more unctuous and exotic 2011 version, this wine shows poise and restraint. Its fruit is dazzlingly pure with gobs of blueberries, blackberries and bramble. There’s crunchy tannin and marked acidity – likely hailing from the Green Valley portion of this cuvée’s fruit – to extend the fruit’s copious complexity into a medium-plus finish.
gros ventre 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.3%; www.grosventrecellars.com; $53
The winery’s name means French for “big belly”, but the wines themselves don’t feel overtly big, despite their 14%+ alcohol. This one is framed by fine, dry tannins that tug at the palate like over-steeped tea. This definitely makes it a food wine. Its deep maroon and slightly cloudy appearance attest to being unfiltered and unfined. It’s loaded with blackberry, black plum, licorice, peat and meat broth. The moderate finish brings on a dash of vanilla bean and a splash of cola.
Hanzell 2011 Chardonnay Hanzell Sonoma Valley
14.5%; www.hanzell.com; $78
Two-thirds of Hanzell’s property, which Estate Educator Zakk Murphy says is “air-conditioned by the Petaluma Gap”, is planted to Chardonnay. This bottling is plump with peaches, mirabelles, lime zest and minerals. It shows a subtle viscosity with finessed acidity and a medium-plus finish.
Hirsch 2012 Pinot Noir East Ridge Sonoma Coast
13%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
This wine comes from a barrel selection of the winery’s oldest blocks on the “East Ridge”. It’s made of a mix of clones, including heritage clones Mount Eden, Swan and Pommard along with Dijon 114. This bottling has a lovely blueberry fruit maturity that can be absent in leaner years. In 2012, the wine’s supple yet structuring presence gives it immediate like-ability.
Hirsch 2012 Pinot Noir San Andreas Fault Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $60
As ever, this cherry-colored wine is lilting and cheeky with its tart berry acidity dancing across the mid-weight palate. Its lightly granular tannins enhance this agile wine’s mild grip. A bit like the geologic cacaphony from which it is derived, this wine feels a bit unsettled now, though it’s certainly not due to any perception of new oak. Give it a few years to stretch out and show its greater potential for complexity.
Hirsch 2011 Pinot Noir West Ridge Sonoma Coast
12.8%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
From a west-facing slope, as the name suggests, this wine shows more ripeness and flavor than the other Hirsch Pinot Noirs in this vintage despite the paradoxically fact that it is the lowest in alcohol. Damson plums and spice box form the wine’s mid-palate core. The crunchy acidity emphasizes the lightly bitter tannins on the finish, so reserve this bottling for the table.
Inman 2009 Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Russian River Valley
13.4%; www.inmanfamilywines.com; $68
This wine’s pronounced black notes include black plum, briar patch and licorice. There’s also lilting watermelon and rose petal highlights. Medium in body, dusty in tannin and cleansing in acidity, this wine offers a complete package. This is the first year Inman used whole clusters in her ferment, approximately 20%.
Iron Horse 2004 LD Brut Green Valley
13.5%; www.ironhorsevineyards.com; $89
This LD (late disgorged) tête de cuvée spent eight years on its lees. Despite this, the yellow apple and Asian pear fruit remain almost obstinately overt. There is a nicely balancing, yeast roll-like savoriness that lingers on the considerable finish. Winemaker David Munksgard carefully harvests larger berries – which he prefers for bubbly - for this 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is serious fizz that needs time to open up. Try serving it in glasses rather than flutes.
Joseph Phelps 2011 Pinot Noir Pastorale Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.josephphelps.com/sonoma-coast/; $75
This deeply maroon-colored wine has a brooding nose. It’s packed with peat, forest floor, boysenberry, blackberry and black currant. Monolithic in structure given its tight-grained tannins and strikingly high acidity, this wine isn’t even close to ready. Since it has serious depth of concentration yet to unfold, that’s a very good thing.
Keller 2011 Chardonnay La Cruz Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.kellerestate.com; $38
This is a stately wine that starts with a subdued, mineral-driven nose. Surprisingly, that’s followed by a boisterous palate of succulent nectarines, pluots and Poire William pears. Sensuous yet well-mannered, this is a fine example of the restraint of the Petaluma Gap coupled with the hand of the laid-back but sophisticated Ana Keller.
Keller 2011 Chardonnay Oro de Plata Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.kellerestate.com; $33
This no malo, neutral oak-aged wine from vines planted in 1989 can easily please both the American- and Euro-inclined palates. This is primarily thanks to the densely concentrated flavors of Wente clone fruit. This bottling shows crushed stone minerality, joyously pure fruit and an extended, fruit-filled finish. Bottoms up! (PS When this super-cool climate fruit doesn’t fully ripen for still wine, Domaine Carneros buys it for sparkling wines.)
Keller 2011 Pinot Noir La Cruz Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.kellerestate.com; $45
This wine hails from the original vine plantation on the Keller’s 650-acre Petaluma ranch. Hugely floral with red cherry and tart plums, this gorgeously acidic wine has crisp tannins, medium-plus body and no shortage of sex appeal. The balance is so sublime that it hardly seems this wine weighs in above 13.5% abv.
Kistler 2012 Chardonnay McCrea Sonoma Mountain
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $130
This wine has a come-hither, deep yellow color that borders on neon. Massively juicy with an abundance of tropical and orchard fruit, there is also a underlying toasted nut savoriness that contributes complexity. In Labitzke’s words, this wine – and the other Kistler Chardonnays – “come off more like Meursault than other Burgundy villages.”
Kistler 2011 Chardonnay Trenton Road House Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $140
Surprisingly, this rather cloudy wine has an overall subdued approach to fruit. It has a buttery nose backed-up by roasted walnuts and spice cake. Though smartly structured, there is an underlying decadence from the combination of the wine’s moderate glycerol and soft acidity. It is already developing tertiary notes of mushroom, especially on the finish.
Kutch 2013 Pinot Noir Bohan Sonoma Coast
12.3%; www.kutchwines.com; $49
Pale ruby in color, this wine offers a faintly earthy nose that then loads on the red plums and itty-bitty field strawberries. Its light spice on the finish doesn’t seem to be oak influenced. Its showstopper mid-palate deliciousness is neither palate-covering nor cloying. In essence, this is grace in a glass, and its distinctive aura may well linger in your mind for weeks to come.
Kutch 2012 Pinot Noir Falstaff Sonoma Coast
12.9%; www.kutchwines.com; $59
This was the first bottle Kutch opened after having bottled it two days prior. That’s something many winemakers wouldn’t dare do due to “bottle shock”. Wow, I am so glad he did. This wine’s audaciously pure blueberries, faintly mouth-coating viscosity and discreetly structuring tannin formed a complete package at a stage when wines are usually disjointed. Kudos!
Kutch 2013 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch Sonoma Coast
12.2%; www.kutchwines.com; $59
This could be one of my desert island wines. It packs in massively youthful fruit that verges on gluttonous in both its richness and its purity. While its fruit is still a bit wound-up and could use some time, it is perfectly accessible now. Though only 12.2% in alcohol, it feels properly medium in body. I’d like a crystal ball to see past its baby fat. It surely will be great, and perhaps I’m even underrating it in this youthful stage!
LaFollette 2011 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Sonoma Coast
12.8%; lafollettewines.com/; $40
This fruit comes from the largest non-wine-producing grower in the region, the Sangiacomo family. It’s a spicy, floral wine with crunchy raspberries and just-ripe blueberries that melt into creamy acidity countered by light tannic tugs. It all melds seamlessly on the medium-plus finish.
LaRue 2012 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Sonoma Coast
12.6%; www.laruewines.com; $70
Released late, in March 2015, this overtly fragrant wine smells of rose buds. Its red raspberries, lingonberries and dried cranberries are accented by notes of fallen branches and dusty earth. The bustling acidity heightens the feel of the somewhat unruly tannins but lengthens the flavors into a considerably long finish.
Littorai 2012 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.litorrai.com; $70
Veteran grapegrower Charlie Heintz planted the vines for this wine to the east of Occidental in 1994. This boisterously acidic bottling is lightly herbal with green apples and chamomile. There is a lemon pith tinge that contributes a touch of tannin on the finish. Food is a must with this wine.
Littorai 2013 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Sonoma Coast
13.8%; www.litorrai.com; $NA
This nutty, leesy, cheesy wine has an overt nose, but it is not at all about fruit flavors, despite the wine’s youth. In comparison to the 2012, it’s far richer in generous texture and voluptuousness. The long finish brings in – at last - sweet tangerine and passion fruit.
Littorai 2012 Pinot Noir The Pivot Sonoma Coast
13.6%; www.litorrai.com; $125
This Pinot Noir is surprisingly demanding. Dry tannins along with firm acidity rather strictly structure its ripe core. Its fruit is decidedly black: blackberries, black currants, black plums and damp forest floor. It could use some bottle age before it “pivots” into a more amicable drinking stage.
Lynmar 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.lynmarestate.com; $40
Lemon curd, muskmelon, nectarine hay and light oak toast are this wine’s highlights. There’s an almost proud California ripeness that the poised acidity that tries to tame. Winemaker Shane Finley said, “We get a lot of horsepower in Chardonnay around here.” No joke! It’s drinking beautifully now, so why wait?
Lynmar 2012 Chardonnay Quail Hill Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.lynmarestate.com; $55
Rudd Selection fruit is the highlight of this wine. The original cuttings were brought to Lynmar in the early 1980s, so now there is a good portion of old vine fruit. The wine is impressively aromatic with sweet peach, vibrant mandarin and honeysuckle. There’s cheeky lift in this full-bodied wine despite some minimal love handles. Sweet caramel comes through on the finish.
MacPhail 2012 Pinot Noir Vagon Rouge Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.macphailwine.com; $65
In its third vintage, following bottlings of the 2007 and 2009, this is a small, five-barrel cuvée. In this vintage, 50% of the clusters had seedless and tiny berries. This gave a tender and moist wine tasting of dried branch, peat and game. Its tannins are slightly gritty and its acidity is well-delineated. Purchase quantities are limited, so head to the tasting room with friends if you want to buy more than four bottles!
Martinelli 2011 Chardonnay Charles Ranch Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $48
This impressively savory palate will convince even the most dedicated European wine drinkers that the New World deserves exploration. This wine’s drastically cool-climate fruit grows next to the Three Sisters vineyard in what is now the Fort Ross-Seaview appellation. The wine’s pure tree fruit shows a dash of mushrooms and digestive cracker. There’s much to explore in this bottle, so let it evolve in a decanter for an hour. Serving a bit warmer than usual would be ideal, too.
Martinelli 2011 Chardonnay Lolita Ranch Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $60
This Chardonnay is more fruit-driven than the others in the Martinelli stable. It also shows a bit of the vanilla-ness and toastiness of new oak along with a stabilizing walnut pith phenolic note the others don’t exhibit. Its fruit comes from a decidedly steep, 50° slope. The Martinellis commented that it’s not just wine imbibers who like this fruit; wildlife nibbles it straight off the vine.
Martinelli 2011 Chardonnay Martinelli Road Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $48
This vineyard, situated in a lower, chillier area, was planted in 1990. Its concentration is heady and its long length proves it is a top wine. However, it’s rather tied up now in its combination of leesy concentration, Loire-like minerality and sweet hazelnut intensity. There’s plenty of body and balance to keep this wine moving forward – and in the right direction.
Martinelli 2013 Pinot Noir Zio Tony Ranch Grace Nicole Russian River Valley
15.1%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $70
This deeply-colored and dynamic Pinot Noir smells of cola, blueberries and baking spice. It is full-bodied though not heavy, despite its 15%+ alcohol and gossamer tannins, thanks to its refreshing acidity and innate energy. Yet again, winemaker Brian Kvamme manages to find impressive balance at high alcohol levels. Bravo!
Patz & Hall 2011 Chardonnay Hyde Carneros
14.2%; www.patzhall.com; $58
This delicious Chardonnay comes from Larry Hyde’s carefully refined version of Wente, a shot berry clone that may have been sourced from Meursault. Patz says there is so much natural acidity in this fruit that it needsto go through malolactic fermentation. Even so, the remaining medium-plus acidity gives this wine proper tension. Unlike the other Chardonnays from Patz & Hall, here the nose is restrained with more leesiness than fruit. On the palate, there’s a salty nuttiness combined with baked apples that is undeniably morish. This wine is aged a year in bottle before release.
Patz & Hall 2011 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.patzhall.com; $60
This Chardonnay showcases impressive purity. It tastes of baked apples, browned piecrust and buttered popcorn. Good acidic lift bolsters the full body, and the wine’s texture is so decadent it feels like sweet cream. Most winemakers claim a blend of clones makes the best wine, so this 100% Dijon 76 wine is an exception. It slightly edges out the Hyde as the most complete. Patz would like to keep this wine in bottle 18 months before release.
Patz & Hall 2012 Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.patzhall.com; $70
This chilly vineyard site is one of the last Patz & Hall harvests every vintage. You can see the long hang time in the wine’s smells of roasted summer fruits and grilled meat. The palate is supercharged with a mouthcoating viscosity that gives it a slightly sweet edge. The medium acidity weaves in a softness that is pleasant today but may reduce the wine’s lifespan.
Paul Hobbs 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
14.2%; paulhobbs.com; $45
This is a true mix of “heritage” clones with its Wente, Bato, Calera, Mt. Eden and Robert Young base combined with a dash of Dijon 115. Scintillating in its deep yellow color with crystalline clarity, this wine falls somewhere between the Old World and California with its mouthwatering acidity, medium-plus body and über-varietal Chardonnay flavors and mouthfeel. There’s just a touch of brioche along with a caress of butteriness, both of which extend into the medium-plus finish.
Paul Hobbs 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.4%; paulhobbs.com; $50
This is quintessential Russian River Pinot Noir. The oak turns up on the lightly spicy and chocolate-dusted nose, but only enhances rather than interferes with the fruit. Full of blueberries and boysenberries, this is a highly gulpable heart-throb. Beware: You’ll finish the bottle before you’d like to!
Paul Hobbs 2011 Pinot Noir Katherine Lindsay Estate Russian River Valley
14.2%; paulhobbs.com; $90
This wine is a tribute to Hobb’s great-grandmother, who helped established the Hobbs family farm in upstate New York. Generous in silky tannins and curvaceous in ripe fruits, there’s a sturdiness of powerful black fruit highlighted by an underlying earthiness that is surely somehow reminiscent of the vibrant personality of a female farmer.
Peay 2012 Pinot Noir Scallop Shelf Sonoma Coast
13.7%; peayvineyards.com; $58
This effusively fragrant nose delivers a wide diversity of aromas, starting with spring flowers, blueberries, cherries and damp earth. On the palate it segues into licorice and popping-ripe plums. Juicy with a medium body, this Pinot has caressing tannins and marked, mouthwatering acidity. I love this wine’s decidedly feminine character and super long finish.
Peirson Meyer 2011 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.peirsonmeyer.com; $55
This is a surprisingly tropical Chardonnay given its chilly vintage. It smells of mango and honeysuckle and tastes of a ripe yellow pears and jackfruit. There is note-worthy harmony of full body and high alcohol thanks to the wine’s concentrated, chiseled acidity. This was native yeast fermented in French oak barrels (50% new), and only 110 cases were made.
Peter Michael 2011 Chardonnay La Carrière Sonoma County
15.2%; www.petermichaelwinery.com; $80
This is another high alcohol Peter Michael Chardonnay, and this one doesn’t carry it quite so well. It’s a bit warm, despite the cool year. The palate is accordingly ripe, round and soft with medium, integrated acidity. Its nose is exotic and forward with notes of lemon curd, yellow grapefruit and fresh fig. If the other Chardonnays from this winery are Grand Cru, this is more of a very good Premier Cru. That written, it’s still pretty terrific.
Peter Michael 2011 Pinot Noir Le Caprice Sonoma County
14.1%; www.petermichaelwinery.com; $110
This incredibly mineral wine delivers raspberry coulis, strawberry preserves and rhubarb tart. This comes from very steep, east-facing slopes, which contribute zinging acidity and crunchy tannins. Winemaker Nicolas Morlet feels the wine is showing a bit more tannin than he’d like now, so it could use some time to settle down.
Pfendler 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Sonoma Coast
13.7%; pfendlervineyards.com; $45
This wine is pleasantly palate refreshing with crunchy red currants and tart lingonberries. Between its compelling aromas and spot-on balance, it is fun yet super-finessed. This is the 19thvintage of this wine, and I assure you that, by now, the estate has gotten it all right.
Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir La Neblina Sonoma Coast
13.4%; radiocoteau.com; $55
“La Neblina” means “fog”, and this name’s inspiration is the blankets of droplets that roll in off the Pacific Ocean every day. Crafted from organically grown, cool climate fruit, this wine brims with strawberries, baked rhubarb and red plums. The 25% new French oak is so seamlessly – almost primly - integrated that it is almost unnoticeable. This wine’s stark purity really does seem to be “broadcasting from the hillside” as the winery’s name indicates.
Ram's Gate 2011 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $70
One hundred ninety-four cases of this Pinot Noir, composed of co-fermented Swan and 777, were produced. The philosophy behind Ram’s Gate is to relax and enjoy the good life in fine Sonoma style. You don’t have to surrounded by its private club-like décor to feel that way. Every drop of this deeply fruited wine highlighted by lavender bushes and singed orange peel tries to deliver you one sip closer to the ultimate lap of luxury.
Ramey 2011 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $40
This overarching Russian River bottling contains fruit from most of the region’s best sites. While the nose is quite subdued, the palate brings on the entertainment. This tastes of oatmeal, crystalized ginger, nougat and nectarine. There’s plenty of acidity to allow this to work well at the table or to throw back alone. The exceedingly long finish shows the pedigree of its varied vineyard sources.
Ramey 2011 Chardonnay Platt Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $60
Ramey said, “2011 wasn’t cool. It was cold.” Platt is the last vineyard he harvests and there’s certainly nothing lush about this wine’s flavors. There’s plenty of body, however, and its palate is impressively expansive. It’s as though Ramey was farming for texture rather than flavor. Still, there’s maximum deliciousness here in the wine’s honeyed oatmeal, rising yeast rolls, dried apricot and Brazil nut flavors.
Ramey 2010 Chardonnay Ritchie Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $60
Ramey picks his Chardonnay in the low 14% potential alcohol range, which is where he says “…good Burgundy comes in in a hot vintage.” This 38-year-old vineyard certainly delivers classy fruit. There’s a palate full of raw oatmeal, sweet walnut, warm milk, marzipan and roasted yellow apples. The wine is exuberant – both in flavor and in structure, and there’s a surprising yet welcome touch of tannin on the solid finish.
Ramey 2012 Chardonnay Woolsey Road Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $60
The Martinelli family planted this vineyard to David Ramey’s specifications – for clone, rootstock and spacing – in 2007. So, this is young vine fruit; however, it shows impressively well. It is a combination of two barrels – one new, one used – and it definitely shows its sweet oak spice along with lots of pit fruit juiciness. The medium finish seems to promise that future vintages will only get better.
Red Car 2011 Pinot Noir Zephyr Sonoma Coast
12.9%; www.redcarwine.com; $68
Foremost in Kemp’s mind is the “one giant refrigerator” that defines Sonoma – the Pacific Ocean. In 2011, there even seemed to be a back-up generator in Mother Nature’s reluctance to deliver warmth and sunshine. The fact this wine is grown at 525 feet/160 meters didn’t help. It did, however, deliver smaller berries with thicker skins that provided the wine with concentrated flavors but little weight. The fruit smells of branch-covered forest floor and black currants. Overall, it is firmly sculpted and utterly irresistible.
Reuling 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14%; reulingvineyard.com; $70
This wine has a big, sultry and complex nose of marionberry, Damson plum and blueberry pie filling. However, its high acidity and medium body lend impressive lightness given the 14% alcohol. Though not the bulkiest wine on the market, it manages its oak pedigree very well. It spent ten months in 100% Remond cooperage, 40% of which was new, and every bit is very well integrated.
Reuling 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; reulingvineyard.com; $70
This, too, sees 40% new oak, and none of it shows upfront. Kudos to winemaker Matt Taylor for his deft hand in the cellar. What the wine does taste of is blueberries, mulberries, used tealeaves and cigar humidor. For a riper year, this is impressively more tannic than the 2011, too. While not the most complex wine around, it sure does deliver pleasure.
Schug 2011 Chardonnay Estate Carneros
14.5%; schugwinery.com; $40
This wine is lightly tropical with notes of mango and pineapple, likely due in part to its significant portion of Musqué clone. Though generously fruity on the attack, this wine’s medium finish turns savory with a light leesiness. As with the other Schug Chardonnays, it feels smooth and moderately lean on the palate despite the high abv. Cox likes this bottling with some age on it.
Schug 2011 Chardonnay Heritage Reserve Carneros
14%; schugwinery.com; $35
This wine was lightly reduced and reserved when I tasted it. However, the texture was compelling and rather Burgundian with its mouth-tugging finish. Its perky acidity and generous fruit density should give it an unusually long life (for Sonoma) in the bottle.
Sens3s 2013 Pinot Noir Hillcrest Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.senseswines.com; $55
One hundred cases of this single vineyard were made in this early vintage from this young winery. This wine has lots of sex appeal with cherry preserves, blueberry pie and woodsy earthiness on the lingering finish. Co-founder Chris Streiter says lots of people prefer this now to the Sonoma Coast bottling, but it is so impressively dense with flavor potential, that I cringe at the thought of drinking this wine so early.
Small Vines 2012 Pinot Noir Estate Cuvée Sonoma County
13.6%; smallvines.com; $55
This four-vineyard blend sees 25% whole cluster and 30% new French oak. Blueberries and peat weave into its predominantly red and crunchy fruit. This wine is well-suited to the table thanks to its bracing acidity and lightly grippy tannins. There’s just a touch of love handles in the mid-palate to keep the wine from feeling too lean.
Sojourn 2012 Chardonnay Durell Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.sojourncellars.com; $48
Craig Haserot likes to age his Chardonnays at least a year in bottle and emphasizes the importance of mouthfeel, which I particularly appreciate as a palate taster versus a “noser”. This bottling is enticingly custardy. Durell is a warmer, later-picked site that produces old vine Wente fruit bearing exotic ripeness. The 40% new oak gives the wine lifted clove aromas. The sensuous texture is irresistible, so beware that the bottle may empty quicker than expected!
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Silver Eagle Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.sojourncellars.com; $59
Craig Haserot prefers an even longer lead-time for Pinot Noirs than Chardonnays: 18-24 months in bottle are ideal for the former. This is an exotic wine with a rather viscous palate, massive spice rack notes and buckets of mulberries. From the western edge of the Sonoma Coast, this broad-shouldered wine bears no resemblance to some of the more meager bottlings from the shoreline.
Soliste 2011 Pinot Noir Nouveau Monde Sonoma Coast
12.9%; soliste.com; $85
Super pale, this light-bodied, lowish alcohol Pinot Noir was fermented with 21% whole cluster (a quick nod to its pale color). This is the seventh bottling of the Nouveau Monde, which comes from a plot near chilly Petaluma but that is 20 miles further inland, so presumably a bit sunnier. In sum, this wine possesses a vaugely succulent mid-palate boosted by its integrated yet vibrant acidity and glossy tannins. Flavor-wise, it tastes of black cherry and licorice. Its glossy tannins seem to pull the flavors into a medium finish. All the more, it’s quite Chambolle-like.
Three Sticks 2013 Chardonnay One Sky Sonoma Mountain
14.8%; www.threestickswines.com; $50
This wine is sexy and seductive with almost overwhelming aromas of banana muffin dusted with cinnamon and drizzled with caramel. The heady concentration comes from the use of Wente clone Chardonnay grown on an eastern-facing site around 1,000 feet in elevation. From site to winemaking to glass, this wine sings of layered complexity.
Three Sticks 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14%; www.threestickswines.com; $60
Sourced from just north of Sebastopol, this silky, viscous bottling seems to carry little weight thanks to its lifting but suavely integrated acidity. Each glass spews a profusion of flavors. Black cherries and black raspberries are highlights. The creamy tannins and round mouthfeel keep you going back for more, as does the solidly long finish with layered youthfulness. The fruit isn’t subtle, but that’s forgivable as it is impressive and balanced, save the slightly warm finish. Though aged for 16 months in French oak, 40% new, it’s hard to suss it out in this wine’s integrated complexity.
Williams-Selyem 2011 Pinot Noir Allen Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.williamsselyem.com; $82
This blend of Pommard and 115 from an early 1970s planting has a gorgeous nose of blueberries, red cherry pie filling, roses, cola and forest floor. Its cool vintage tannins are a bit rocky, so it could use some time in the bottle to relax. Its excellent concentration should allow many layers to unfold in due time.
Wren Hop 2012 Chardonnay Needle's Eye Sonoma Coast
14.4%; www.wrenhop.com; $48
This Wente clone wine hails from the brisk, high elevation Bennett Valley. Brilliantly pure, it smells like top-notch Calvados. With 14.4% alcohol, it’s got sexy curves but plenty of go-get’em, acidic vibrance, too. The integration is spot-on and it helps the iodine and fresh mushroom finish continue well past the bottom of the bottle. 100% new oak?! I never would have guessed.
Wren Hop 2010 Chardonnay Rebels & Martyrs Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.wrenhop.com; $48
Showing restraint on the nose, this wine smells like a warm barn at summer’s end that is packed with hay for the winter months. This character dominates this otherwise impressively subtle wine. Winemaker Russell Bevan has said, “I want the environment of new French oak, not the imprint.” He certainly achieved restraint here – in more ways than one. It’s hard to put a finger on what’s going on in this wine, a bit like it’s impossible to know exactly what happened between the wren, the Vikings and the Irish. But, it’s worth trying by pulling the cork.
Zepaltas 2012 Pinot Noir W.E. Bottoms Russian River Valley
13.3%; Closed; $55
This wine comes from an organically farmed vineyard on top of Harrison Grade between Occidental and Graton. It’s a very pale, if scintillating, magenta. In fact, it is so pale that rosés can be as dark! Winemaker Ryan Zepalatas felt he was really in tune with his vineyards in 2012 and knew just when to pick. “It was a bit of a perfect storm,” he said. He used 33% whole clusters and 25% new oak. The resulting wine smells of mulberry and boysenberries and has a perfect structural symmetry of banging acidity and barely perceptible tannins.
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Burnside Road Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $42
As someone said during the tasting, “Small changes of season make big changes in the finished wine. It’s logarithmic.” Here, the growing season (and careful farming) produced a highly focused and pure wine that smells of smashed black cherries dumped on a damp forest floor. Rich in glycerol and texture with sculpted tannins and invigorating acidity, this sensuous wine is a lot of fun to sip. Impressively, there are no obvious wood markers even though the wine sees 100% new barrels.
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Sexton Hill Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $42
Winemaker Anthony Beckman said, “This wine is more pepper spice than perfume spice.” It’s also much richer in fruit and color than most of the other Pinots from this house. There’s also a touch of viscosity to plump up this full-bodied wine’s mid-palate. From the tantalizing magenta color to the strapping tannins through the lingering finish, there’s something for everyone in this briar patch of a Pinot Noir.
Banshee 2010 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.bansheewines.com; $60
This first vintage of Tina Marie is labeled Russian River Valley, but going forward it will be labeled Sonoma Coast. Co-founder and winemaker Noah Dorrance wants to dial back on this bottling’s fruit expression. Indeed, version 1.0 is a boldly juicy, plumply round wine that is a decidedly classic expression of Russian River. Wild blackberries lead the taster from the nose to the medium finish.
C. Donatiello 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
14.2%; Closed; $25
What an exotic wine! Banana, pineapple, coconut and ripe orchard fruit dominate this wine. Non-fruit tones unfold gently: there’s chicken bouillon, chalk and white pepper. The broad palate, layered glycerol and full body are ably balanced with mouthwatering acidity. This is a “classic” California Chardonnay in flavor that has more of a “new” California balance.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
13.4%; Closed; $40
Bramble, mulberry, pomegranate and tobacco lead from head to tail on this wine. It is delightfully balanced between its very medium body, its vibrant acidity and its corralled tannins. This is a poster-child Russian River Pinot, and it’s an excellent value, too.
Cattleya 2012 Pinot Noir Donum Carneros
14.5%; cattleyawines.com; $85
Unlike many in Sonoma, Bibiana Gonzalez-Rave has no fear of whole cluster ferments, and with this fruit from 30-year-old vines, she uses 45% stems. She’s also big on cold soak (seven days here), and she’s willing to risk the wait for native yeast to kick in. The result? A red plum-driven wine with hints of fresh button mushrooms that has startling acidic focus and a dense fruit core. The finish is surprisingly moderate for older vine fruit, but it might just be that the wine is still overly wound-up in its youth.
Ceritas 2013 Pinot Noir Elliott Monopole Sonoma Coast
12.5%; www.ceritaswines.com; $55
The wife and husband, vineyard and cellar team Phoebe Bass and John Raytek have been guiding the Ceritas wines for a decade in 2015. They aim to capture their wines’ sites. This wine has no qualms. It’s bold on the palate and finishes long. It delivers sweet blackberries, plump plums and lassos of licorice. Its perky acidity and lightly firm tannins give it serious negotiation power at the table. Tasting it, it seems they did capture this wine’s origin: a perch on one of Sonoma’s westernmost, rugged ridges.
Charles Heintz 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.heintzvineyards.com; $48
His family has farmed Sonoma soil for over 100 years, but Charles – better known as Charlie - is the first to make wine. This wine shows come-hither allure between its refreshing acidity, lenient tannins and mid-palate sweetness. It is made entirely of Heintz’s favorite clone, Swan. He received it from Tom Dehlinger, who got it from Swan, who brought it from France. Heintz says its brings a Chambolle-ness to Sonoma’s terroir.
Cobb 2008 Pinot Noir Jack Hill Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.cobbwines.com/; $70
Jack Hill is nestled into the woods in the Freestone Valley area of western Sonoma. Though this wine is well into its first decade, it’s not yet showing any streak of tertiary color in its pale, cherry red core. However, its nose is starting to show development in the form of fallen leaves and fresh tobacco. It should be coming into its prime soon, delivering a panopoly of well-concentrated aromas all the way through the long finish.
Davis Bynum 2011 Pinot Noir Jane's Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.davisbynum.com; $35
Davis Bynum was a Russian River pioneer. For as well-known as the valley is today, it is hard to believe it was only 40 years ago that the first plantings began to show up the hillsides there. This wine’s magnanimous nose offers black plums, black cherries, leather, peat and gunpowder. It’s sultry yet engaging from start to finish. It tugs on the palate with its lightly grippy tannins and poking acidity. It all works, and it will improve as the bottling settles into its own skin.
Donum 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Grown Carneros
14.3%; www.thedonumestate.com; $70
This wine’s forward and generous nose smells of roses and lilac up front, but then works into wet wool and funk on the back palate. Its mostly soft and silky texture is hemmed-in by dusty tannins. The relaxed acidity stays in the wings, offering the most discreet support.
Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $35
This is a sparkling bright yet dark yellow wine. Its lightly glossy, silky texture and generous mid-palate charm with ease. The citrusy, mouthwatering acidity pulls the yellow apples, ripe nectarines and cinnamon spice (the latter thanks to the 40% new French oak) into a pleasantly lingering finish.
Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Chardonnay Rued Dutton Ranch Green Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $55
This is a giving wine thanks to its generosity of texture that is properly - if discreetly - balanced between pleasant fruit ripeness and leesy texture. It is irresistible now, yet it would be best served in terms of complexity development with time. Baked apple, sweet spice rack, toasty baguette crust and roasted almonds plump the palate with their flavorful generosity.
Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Chardonnay Walker Hill Dutton Ranch Green Valley
14.1%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $50
This wine strikes a complete contrast to the Rued. It’s light on its feet, frisky in its acidity and gentle in its mid-weight palate feel. There are lots of rising yeast rolls, toasted bread crust, cardamom and clove-spiked apples. It’s a highly drinkable cuvée given its brisk acidity, and it neither skimps nor overdoes it on the palate weight. This is precisely what makes it a great Green Valley Chardonnay example.
Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Pinot Noir Emerald Ridge Dutton Ranch Green Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
As often happens with Green Valley Pinot Noir, I find this one is a bit feline. It preens and shows its prissy side then bites you with its brisk acidic finish. That sort of snap (for the wine, that is) has its fans, and I am one. Fruit-wise this wine bristles with red currants, crunchy raspberries and roses. Its generous finish adds intriguing leather scents that expand its complexity.
Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Pinot Noir Fox Den Green Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $58
Though usually one of the last parcels to be brought in, this vineyard always delivers some of the winery’s highest Pinot Noir acidities. This vintage is no exception. The wine has plenty of nervous tension to align its heaps of black cherries and blueberries. The nuances come in whispers of sagebrush, decomposing pinecones and whole cloves.
Dutton-Goldfield 2011 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.duttongoldfield.com; $60
This vintage’s bottling of Freestone Hill truly combines the New with the Old World. It begins with lush boysenberry, blueberry and mulberry fruits. Then, it segues into an earthy, flinty darkness. From start to finish, there is good acidic tension along with mouth-cleansing tannins.
Evening Land 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.eveninglandvineyards.com; $35
Pale lemon pulp in color with a shiny appearance, this wine starts with a lightly leesy and buttery nose. The palate brings on spice rack and vanilla extract coupled with yellow plum and pear. Elegant, savory and streamlined between very little baby fat and supporting acidity, this is a Chardonnay that just might convert back an ABC-er (that is, someone who asks for “Anything But Chardonnay”.)
Evening Land 2012 Pinot Noir Occidental Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.eveninglandvineyards.com; $120
This cuvée is bold and forward on the nose with black cherries, black plums and licorice. The palate moves into highly ripe territory with fig tones. There’s spice cake complexity topped with quince jam notes. The palate is lightly viscous with some mouth-coating glycerol. There seems to be pent-up energy, so try to exercise some restraint in popping the cork straight away.
Failla 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.faillawines.com; $34
Super pale in color, this Pinot Noir seems equally delicate on the attack. It’s lightly fruited with forest berries and shows a touch of brushy herbs and anise. Its over-arching texture is suave, glossy and generously fruited. While solidly medium in alcohol, this wine has the mouthfeel to appeal both to purists and hedonists alike.
Flowers 2011 Pinot Noir Moon Select Sonoma Coast
12.4%; www.flowerswinery.com; $115
This is easy-listening Pinot Noir. It is incredibly fresh in fruit with blueberries, sweet raspberries and lush red plums. The palate feels lightly glossy with extract and smooth with sculpted tannins. The crisp acidity integrates seamlessly. If price isn’t a concern, this bottling is sure to please.
Flowers 2011 Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Sonoma Coast
13%; www.flowerswinery.com; $65
The Sea View Ridge Vineyard is perched higher than Camp Meeting Ridge – between 1,400 and 1,875 feet (427-572 meters.) It is also one ridge closer to the Pacific. This color-poor wine saw only 10% whole clusters in the fermenter, which is probably a good thing considering it is already browning at the rim. The wine offers high-toned red cherry and rhubarb flavors doused with the milk chocolate of 30% new French oak. It’s a bit awkward, but its good length suggests it has time to sort things out.
Fort Ross 2009 Pinot Noir Fort Ross Fort Ross-Seaview
14.1%; www.fortrossvineyard.com; $48
This is the winery’s most important Pinot Noir and the one they start with when blending. Again, there is seriously deep maroon color. This vintage has a brooding nose of black plums, Assam tea, dried branches and peat. The medium acidity and caressing tannins are thoroughly integrated, making this a definite crowd-pleaser.
Fort Ross 2010 Pinot Noir Fort Ross Fort Ross-Seaview
14.5%; www.fortrossvineyard.com; $50
Deep crimson at the core, this wine has a tiny and pale maroon rim. The palate is a bit warm, which is surprising for such a chilly year. Otherwise, it is smartly balanced with a bright red plum and black cherry core of fruit, exuberant spice and nice overall balance. Drink up in the next few years as it doesn’t have the staying power for longer-term cellaring.
Freeman 2011 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
13.7%; www.freemanwinery.com; $44
Russian River Pinot Noir can be aggressively fruit-driven, so I particularly enjoyed the elegance of this one. It smells of fallen leaves, leather and maraschino cherries. Less crunchy than its Sonoma Coast counterpart in this vintage, its medium body has slightly better balance. Its finish also lasts longer.
Freeman 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.freemanwinery.com; $45
Hugely aromatic and massively flavorful, this is a veritable cornucopia of licorice, lavender, tealeaves, ganache and boysenberry. Indeed, this is quite pale compared to its 2012 counterpart, and its palate feel is quite different, too. Powdery tannins and racy acidity give this lower alcohol wine (for Sonoma) firm structure.
Freeman 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.freemanwinery.com; $44
This wine’s off-the-charts acidity attests to a good portion of the fruit coming from the Green Valley portion of Russian River. It also gives the wine a medium body feel, despite its higher alcohol. There’s a bit of whole cluster spice along with plenty of lingonberry, mulberry, cola and cocoa. Svelte, integrated and highly drinkable, this is a great food wine.
Gary Farrell 2012 Chardonnay Rochioli Russian River Valley
13.6%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $50
While some of Heredia’s 2012s are in a transitional phase with regard to style, this one is decidedly not. It is super fine and mineral, laced with white pepper and bay leaf and decidedly Burgundian. I met Theresa while we worked the 2006 harvest together in Meursault, and this reminds me of some of the wines we tended to together in barrel.
Gary Farrell 2012 Chardonnay Rochioli-Allen Russian River Valley
13.8%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $50
This daffodil-colored wine mimics Old World Chardonnay like its straight Rochioli sibling. It’s lightly tart with lemony brightness, but its significant butteriness keeps the palate from feeling bitter. Banana peel, pluot, anise and gingerbread spice give the wine depth and length.
Gary Farrell 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Selection Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $35
This blend from Rochioli, Allen and Olivet Lane vineyards delivers tremendously clean fruit that creates a mouth-filling mid-palate. There’s a light glycerol that swaddles the wine, but it does so without sacrificing the uplifting acidity. Heredia changed the coopers and toast for 2012, her first full vintage at the estate. The result is a more restrained wine than the 2011, but it is still a style that I suspect is in transition.
Gehricke 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Los Carneros
14%; www.gehrickewines.com; $40
A reasonable – by Sonoma standards for Pinot Noir – 1,050 cases were produced in Gehricke’s inaugural vintage. Gentle and soft on the palate with a delicate roundness, this has a velvet-lined palate. It is rich yet neither heavy nor decadent. It’s packed with boysenberries, ripe red plums and blueberries that are laced with sweet spice. Its color is a genuine Pinot Noir color: you can see through its middle yet it isn’t anemic and rosé-like as some of the cool kids prefer.
Gloria Ferrer NV Blanc de Blancs Carneros
12.5%; www.gloriaferrer.com; $22
One of the best values in California sparkling wine, this thoroughly pleasing wine over-delivers. Its cornucopia of applesauce and baking spice is highlighted by white flowers. Its more obvious fruit makes it a touch less elegant than Blanc de Noirs, but its nicely creamy texture and zippy acidity are irresistible.
Hanzell 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley
14.5%; www.hanzell.com; $85
This wine’s impressively pale color belies its strident vigor. It tastes of açai, pomegranate and quince paste. Its vaguely creamy and full-bodied mid-palate elongates into a lightly acidic and lingering finish. It drinks well young, but if you choose to open it early, do give it the justice of a few hours of decanting.
Hirsch 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $60
Less than four acres of Chardonnay - all from Joe Rochioli cuttings - are planted at Hirsch, which produced 760 cases in this vintage. Only in its seventh vintage, this fruit was first purchased by Williams-Selyem then by Kistler before being directed into the estate label. This bottling is lightly cloudy and subtly perfumed. It smells of tangerine peel, bay leaf, bamboo and cotton bud. Decant this wine a few hours before serving or you won’t see its many layers unfold!
Hirsch 2011 Pinot Noir East Ridge Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
This fruit is farmed on slopes varying from 15 to 35 degrees. At least the views are great for the vineyard crews! This wine is – like the others in this family – impressively pale, but its magenta hue is certainly lovely. Its red fruit is generous and punchy, melding well with the lean and racy body framed by grippy tannins and surprisingly firm acidity. Give it some time in bottle.
Inman 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
11.6%; www.inmanfamilywines.com; $35
Kathleen Inman buys this fruit from Jim Pratt’s Occidental vineyard. Eschewing tropicality in her whites, she claims her Chardonnays are “lemon curd” in style. Indeed, this super crisp and pristine clean wine tastes of lemon pulp, digestive cracker and straw. Its perky and prominent acidity dominates the mouthfeel and gives – along with the low alcohol – a searingly fresh and light-bodied wine.
Kistler 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $65
Somewhat surprisingly, the Kistler Pinot Noirs are less expensive than the Chardonnays because they are not vineyard designates. Were I to invest for my cellar, this would be the bottling I’d buy. It is stuffed with pomegranate, crunchy cherries and tangy raspberries. Gingerbread, fennel and incense stimulate additional interest. Granted, its acidity is less lively than the 2011, but there’s still enough definition here to either enjoy now or age to benefit.
Kutch 2013 Pinot Noir Falstaff Sonoma Coast
12.3%; kutchwines.com; $59
Incredibly graceful, this wine has copious raspberries and cherries laced with anise and rose petals. There’s not a trace of noticeable new oak, just sheer Pinot Noir deliciousness. This wine is dangerously drinkable now, thanks to its lively acidity and medium body, though aging will serve it well. Falstaff is just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean, and its cool climate tends to produce the tiniest clusters brought in at Kutch.
Kutch 2012 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch Sonoma Coast
12.9%; kutchwines.com; $59
This wine is big in fruit essence and strikingly generous in color for a 12.9% abv bottling. There are blueberries and black currants a-plenty along with a whiff of spice and some texturally tantalizing CO2. Though it drinks well now, it could use some time to settle into its skin.
LaFollette 2011 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Sonoma Coast
12.8%; www.lafollettewines.com; $40
This fruit is whole cluster pressed into barrel without settling. Winemaker Greg LaFollette marvels that “I’m accused of not practicing safe winemaking.” Whatever the local winemaking principles may be, this wine fully delivers. It’s got a ton of golden raisins, bruised apples, bright acidity and a hint of tannin to carry through its decidedly medium body well into its lingering finish.
LaFollette 2012 Pinot Noir Cuvée Barlow Sonoma County
14.5%; www.lafollettewines.com; $58
This lightly viscous, finely delineated, brightly acidic, lightly tannic and full-bodied wine is darkly fruited and seriously meaty. All of these characteristics are typical of the DuNah and van der Kamp vineyards, which each contribute 50% of the bottling’s fruit. Only 159 cases were made of this inaugural cuvée.
Lioco 2012 Chardonnay Estero Russian River Valley
13.5%; www.liocowine.com; $35
This is a new wine in the Lioco portfolio, and it seems winemaker John Raytek was finding his way with this fruit when comparing this bottling to the 2013. The 2012 fruit is compelling but the structure feels a bit hard. There are lots of leesy tannins trying to focus the juicy, round palate. Sweet pear, mirabelles and grated hard spices offer a nice array of flavor, though I’d never peg the Russian River as its source given its highly reticent character.
Lioco 2013 Chardonnay Estero Russian River Valley
12.5%; www.liocowine.com; $35
This polished and silky beauty is rearing right out of the gate, but she’s definitely got the legs to go the distance. Smelling alluringly of crushed rocks, yellow grapefruit pith and Brazil nuts, this wine dares the taster not to return to the glass. There’s a talc-like texture on the lingering finish that nicely gels with the vivacious acidity.
Littorai 2012 Chardonnay B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.6%; www.litorrai.com; $70
This vineyard overlooks Bodega Bay and the Petaluma Gap, making it a chilly site that tends to be picked toward the end of harvest. You can smell this in its citrusy, lemon-lime top notes. The tangy palate adds hay, anise and ginger to the mix. This pale straw wine’s very medium body makes it a great refresher.
Littorai 2006 Pinot Noir B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.litorrai.com; $NA
This year afforded a bumper crop with loads of hanging fruit. Then suddenly, the canopies started to collapse from thirst in July. The wine is laced with brown nuances, smells of autumn leaves and is approaching its peak. That’s not to say it is finished, especially considering its lovely red raspberry core and terrific palate perfectly balance. Still, it’s time to start popping the corks.
Littorai 2012 Pinot Noir B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.litorrai.com; $150
This wine shows a fantastic equilibrium of broad (unusual for Pinot Noir) but round tannin, zippy acidity and a moist mid-palate. Its blueberry, mulberry and plum core is surrounded by cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and damp cigar. Eight barrels were made in this vintage, quite a relief quantity-wise after only three in both 2010 and 2011.
Littorai 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.littorai.com; $42
This incredibly pale wine has an alluring magenta hue. If seemingly short on color, it certainly isn’t on flavor. There’s a bounty of blackberries and black plums. Elegant and refreshing, the tugging tannins definitely make this feel more like red wine than rosé, though it does feel a bit like a ghost of a red wine.
Lutum 2013 Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast
14.17%; lutumwines.com; $60
Lutum means “soil” in Latin. This bright yellow Chardonnay has a lifted and youthful nose of crisp yellow apples and peach flesh along with hints of earth and nougat. Vibrant acidity zings the palate, easily hiding the wine’s fairly generous alcohol. The intriguing finish continues to unfold on the palate. This is a wine to savor and contemplate.
Lutum 2013 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast
13.9%; lutumwines.com; $60
Pale blue-inflected ruby in color, this wine has an ethereal nose of gardenias, freshly-plucked mushrooms, fabric softener perfume and ripe cherries. Its palate is initially silky and sophisticated then converts into some surprising tension on the palate that makes it an excellent food wine. Only 12 barrels were produced, so this is a particularly smartly priced wine for such a rarity.
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.lynmarestate.com; $40
This wine has an effusive nose of cola, cherry Jolly Rancher, coconut, bramble and black cherry. Its plush tannin, round palate and perky raspberry-esque acidity give just the right amount of balance to moderate this full-bodied wine. This bottling is a veritable spice rack of vineyards, clones and coopers. Sometimes more is…more!
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Jenkins Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.lynmarestate.com; $70
This vineyard is just below the fog line. It’s planted to Dijon clones and has been in the ground for about 15 years. This bottling’s fruit tastes of wild berries and bramble. It’s got lively acidity to perk up its full body and sweet tannins to ease into a serious finish.
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Terra de Promissio Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.lynmarestate.com; $70
This wine is made from a duo of 115 and 777 and is this winery’s lone Sonoma Coast wine. And, the winery’s signature does come through here, as the wine seems more of an inland than a Petaluma Gap wine. The wine is bursting with baking spice, loaded with forest fruit, perky with acidity and gentle with tannins.
MacPhail 2011 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch Green Valley
14.5%; www.macphailwine.com; $49
James MacPhail calls his style “personal” because he makes wine on such a small scale. It’s also personal because his wines become a part of others’ tables and are shared with their family and friends. Finally, 35% of his sales are direct to the final consumer! This one is sure to keep everyone gathered happy. Boldly aromatic and vibrantly colored, this wine boasts exuberantly ripe, lightly roasted fruit accented by cracked white pepper. The wine’s playful sensuality is edged with poised acidity and pillowy tannins.
MacPhail 2010 Pinot Noir Pratt Sonoma Coast
14.3%; www.macphailwine.com; $49
This wine, like most of the MacPhail wines, is native yeast fermented then stirred (battonage) in barrel to enrich the palate texture. Its generous alcohol gives it some flesh, too. This Pinot Noir is redolent with baking and savory spices, wild raspberries and pomegranate seeds. Not a one for the long haul, this is one of the first to drink up if you buy a selection of the MacPhail wines.
MacPhail 2011 Pinot Noir The Flyer Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.macphailwine.com; $59
This impressively dark Pinot Noir has a crimson tone. Unusually, MacPhail co-fermented several clones – amongst them Swan, Mount Eden and Calera. Usually he only does that for Chardonnay. This year’s fruit is from Susanna’s Vineyard, and it is the first wine made from this fruit. It’s all red: red cherries, sweetened cranberries and roses. Its pronounced acidity and integrated oak slide into a nicely compact finish.
Martinelli 2010 Chardonnay Three Sisters Sea Ridge Meadow Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $63
This wine will be labeled Fort Ross-Seaview starting with the 2013 vintage. The vineyard is planted “right after the speed bump on Bohan Dillon road”, way up on the ridge. It does taste like its comes from a cooler spot. This medium-bodied wine has chipper acidity with plenty of mid-palate concentration and ripe flavors to carry its mostly reserved, non-fruit flavors of straw, almond and aloe into a pleasant finish.
Martinelli 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
15.5%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $45
Super pale in color, there’s some brown streaking in this wine’s core. However, its fruit is still fresh. It smells of wild thyme, underbrush, braised cranberries and baked rhubarb. The wine’s tannins gently nudge the palate, while its pronounced acidity brings on mouthwatering balance. This fairly firm wine is best paired with food.
Martinelli 2012 Pinot Noir Bella Vigna Russian River Valley
14.9%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $40
This wine’s feminine name proves its ilk. It is floral and fragrant on the nose and even a bit prim on the palate. It has a lightly tugging leafiness that freshens its broad palate. Its lingering finish should further develop to benefit, thanks in particular to the wine’s grippy tannins. In a few years the almost aggressive red fruit should smooth out. As with all the Martinelli Pinots, this sees exclusively François Frères oak.
Martinelli 2012 Pinot Noir Blue Slide Ridge Sonoma Coast
15.2%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $95
This fruit comes from the extreme Sonoma Coast, the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. This label only reflects Sonoma Coast, however, as the wine was bottled before the AVA was approved. Perhaps the next vintage’s label should also say “Grand Cru”; after all, Helen Turley’s father said that for Pinot Noir it is precisely that. Whatever the words on the paper, this exuberantly fruit-driven wine speaks for itself. It loganberries, black currants, mocha and musk create a dynamic explosion of flavor. The alcohol surfaces as a touch warm on the lingering finish.
Martinelli 2012 Pinot Noir Zio Tony Ranch Grace Nicole Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $70
The Martinellis are thankful for the generous quantities of the 2012 crop. However, the quantities are relative. Nothing is sacrificed to quality here. Still, there are some knees and elbows sticking out: there’s a touch of stemminess, a bit of alcoholic warmth and a lightly sticky mouth-coating viscosity. Nonetheless, there’s enough overall balance and crowd-pleasing qualities to make this a winner for most palates.
Peay 2012 Chardonnay Estate Sonoma Coast
13.4%; peayvineyards.com; $52
This wine’s cloudy appearance reminds me of the fog of the Sonoma Coast and its restrained nose reminds me of the chill there. There’s something discreet and mysterious about both. The wine reluctantly offers beeswax, straw, bamboo, yellow tomato and lime. Its medium body has a textured, linen-like tannic touch that is accentuated by the wine’s roaring acidity.
Peay 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.8%; peayvineyards.com; $45
Made predominantly from purchased fruit off Campbell and Occidental ranches, this includes a portion of estate fruit, too. Its nose is forward and exuberant with black plums, Rainier cherries and crunchy blueberries dusted with fresh-grated sweet spices. There is approachable juiciness juxtaposed by refined and chic structure.
Peay 2013 Pinot Noir Pomarium Sonoma Coast
13.5%; peayvineyards.com; $56
Though deeply colored, this wine is still translucent. Its forward fragrances include cola, blackberry, Portobello mushrooms and balsamic. The palate is as bold and expressive as the nose. The well-managed tannins have a pleasant bit of plum skin bitterness along with obvious oak notes on the dry finish.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Chardonnay Sullivan Russian River Valley
14.2%; peirsonmeyer.com; $44
This is one of those wines that I often speak of – one that I can rate well, even if I personally cannot imagine drinking half a glass myself. It starts off nice enough with a surprisingly floral nose. But following on, the palate offers unusual notes of walnut pith, banana and sweet cream. Almost brazenly round on the palate, it finishes pleasantly dry, giving it good traction for certain foods (à la corn or sweet potato chowders, lobster rolls and crab crakes). This is Robbie Meyer’s first vintage of this single vineyard.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.2%; peirsonmeyer.com; $38
Sumptuous in its pungency of aromas and flavors, this wine is a showstopper. It boasts Marasca cherries, cinnamon stick and Fig Newton on the nose. The palate throws out vanilla bean, cassis and dried leaves. Exotic and moreish, this wine’s engaging and beguiling, velvety texture and slightly curvy love handles are gently bolstered by medium-plus acidity.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Pinot Noir Bateman Sonoma Coast
14.2%; peirsonmeyer.com; $60
Concentrated, sensuous and polished, this single vineyard bottling is sheer delight and likely best appreciated with rich food. Bring on the roasted meats and game; this is no meager, wanton Pinot Noir. From its thick, sultry black core emerges aromas and flavors of smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, incense, black cherry preserves and simmered figs.
Pfendler 2012 Chardonnay Estate Grown Sonoma Coast
14.2%; pfendlervineyards.com; $38
This is decadent California Chardonnay. It smells of butter, vanilla extract and spiced heavy cream, the combination of which tastes a bit like liquid crème brulée. Though heady in aroma and body, the wine has solidly invigorating acidity to lengthen the flavors into a considerable finish.
Radio-Coteau 2013 Pinot Noir Alberigi Russian River Valley
13.5%; radiocoteau.com; $70
This 12-year-old Sebastapol planting hosts three clones (777, 115 and 114) in Sonoma’s classic Goldridge soils. They combine to offer firmness in structure and savoriness on the palate. The rather gruff palate feel makes it seem more demanding than the other Pinots in this portfolio; however, it is no less attractive. There’s nice black fruit plumpness to mitigate this wine’s tugging textures.
Ram's Gate 2010 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Carneros
14.5%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $62
This wine is pure Wente clone, and it shows all the concentration typical of that prized fruit source. Golden Delicious apples, Poire William, cinnamon, ginger and rum cask make for an exotic combination. I’d prefer to drink Burgundy for the price point and I am not a huge fan of the flamboyant style, but this will be loved by many a wine sipper.
Ram's Gate 2011 Pinot Noir Ulises Valdez Diablo Russian River Valley
14.9%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $70
I was told at Ram’s Gate that this hodge-podge of clones aged in two-thirds new wood is site- rather than clone-driven. I’ve heard elsewhere that this wine’s turbo-charged character comes from its owner, Ulises. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. What I do know is that this wine has concentration, persistence and balance. The vague glycerol gives it a satisfying touch of sweetness, but its lightly chewy tannins keep the crunchy red fruits in line.
Ramey 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $40
This is the fourth year this wine has been composed mostly of fruit grown on Martinelli’s Charles Ranch along with some Ritchie, Platt and Hyde Robert Young. This is a sultry Chardonnay. It’s gamey and smoky with roasted fowl notes - all characters attributable to the wine’s upbringing in 27% new French and Hungarian oak. Though 14.5% in alcohol, the wine feels brisk on the palate thanks to its penetrating acidity. Hedonism lurks beneath the surface of this cool vintage wine.
Red Car 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.7%; redcarwine.com; $35
Kemp likes to pick his Chardonnay at 21° Brix. His focus is acid, not sugar. He then whole cluster presses the fruit to deliver the freshest possible flavors. In this wine, that means fresh-squeezed lemon, hay, crushed rocks and bay leaves. Impeccably clean and über-pure, this is truly lovely New World Chardonnay.
Red Car 20121 Chardonnay Ritchie Sonoma Coast
13.5%; redcarwine.com; $58
Made from some of the oldest Wente clone Chardonnay planted on the Sonoma Coast, this is the winery’s third vintage with this fruit. It delivers a rounded mouthfeel, medium weight and caressing acidity. Its sappy palate tastes of candied lemon peel, ginger, custard and nougat.
Red Car 2011 Chardonnay Zephyr Sonoma Coast
13.9%; redcarwine.com; $65
I loved this wine’s wispy-dried-paint-on-canvas label. (Alas, with the 2012 vintage, the label changed. It’s cool, too, though.) The 2011 shows well-ripened - though still discreet thanks to the chilly growing season - fruit with assertive mid-palate density. There is a decided leesiness to the wine when it is first opened, but that drifts off in an hour of so. I like this wine with the cheese course.
Red Car 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.7%; redcarwine.com; $40
Kemp feels that 2012 is early and easy drinking. There’s plenty of succulent fruit here right out of the gate: boysenberry, Damson plum, mulberry and blueberry. There’s a delightful, mouth-coating quality that helps the finish linger and allows its spicy notes to fully extend into the medium-plus finish.
Red Car 2012 Pinot Noir Falstaff Sonoma Coast
13.6%; redcarwine.com; $68
Sourced from the Sebastopol Hills, this wine is decidedly big and rich. It smells of oven-roasted fig, stewed berries and chocolate-dipped churros. It is a crowd pleaser for sure, and it is also more reminiscent of Kemp’s older, more hedonistically-styled wines than his more recent releases.
Reuling 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14%; reulingvineyard.com; $70
Winemaker Matt Taylor harvested this fruit quite late – at the beginning of October. He tries to keep things easy and clean with this cuvée. It is whole-cluster pressed then native yeast-fermented in barrels, 50% of which are new. No sulphur was added until after malolactic fermentation (MLF) finished, and he performed battonage once a week for a month post- primary ferment. The result is a chunky Chardonnay with broad shoulders that nonetheless has a lovely combination of sweet fruit and savory character. There’s slate, pine needles, pine nuts, earth and golden raisins.
Rivers-Marie 2013 Pinot Noir Silver Eagle Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.riversmarie.com; $50
This nose is dominated by sweet red fruit notes, like strawberries, raspberries and plums soaked in sugar and brandy. Its full body is well-structured by smooth tannins and a lightly dry finish. This and the other Rivers-Marie Pinots are made by partners Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh, both ardent Pinot Noir fans, who source their fruit from Occidental vineyards.
Roth 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.rothwinery.com; $22
Vibrant and shiny gold in color, this Chardonnay shows a spice-driven nose with strong mineral undertones coming through on the palate. Cinnamon and clove spiked pear and peak-season golden apple emerge as the wine warms up. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between rich, somewhat tropical fruit and very savory tones. A youngster for sure, this could use decanting for a half hour to unleash some of its pent up energy. Whether or not you can wait, you’ll be rewarded either way with a lingering finish.
Sandole 2010 Pinot Noir Oehlman Ranch Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.sandolewines.com; $38
This wine does an impressive job carrying its alcohol so seamlessly. It is helped by its zesty acidity and lean red fruit flavors of dried cherries, açai, red currants and rhubarb. Some toasty oak notes show up on the medium finish. This family operation dubs itself a “micro winery.”
Schug 2009 Pinot Noir Heritage Reserve Carneros
13.5%; schugwinery.com; $40
Five years on and this wine crafted from vines more than 30-years old is still showing noticeable new oak spice. It’s packed with tart red cherry coulis and lots of baking spice. The singing acidity, linear palate and red fruit focus reminded me of a nice Santenay Premier Cru.
Siduri 2012 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.siduri.com; $48
Keefer Ranch is known for sumptuously rich fruit, and in this vintage – despite the bountiful yields, this vineyard didn’t disappoint. This expressive beauty smells of steeped tea, ripe blueberries and dried bouquet. Its fine, powder-like tannins are nicely contrasted by spry acidity. Both work in well-oiled synchronicity to support this full-bodied bottling.
Siduri 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.siduri.com; $28
This is a brazenly good value in the Sonoma camp, not to mention in the world-renowned Russian River stronghold. It is easy to appreciate with is chunky fruit, moderate acidity and succulent tannins. Offering an excellent balance of forest berries and fresh-baked blueberry pie, this is a handsome house wine for Pinot lovers.
Small Vines 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.8%; smallvines.com; $48
This wine will be named Barlow Holmes Vineyard once the vines reach their seventh leaf (this is their fourth). Between now and then, Paul Sloan will be “obsessing” over each and every vine. This bottling is lightly lemony with sweet pear, white peach and yellow plum with a smidgeon of buttered and toasted white bread from the 10% new oak.
Small Vines 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.2%; smallvines.com; $50
This wine will also be christened Barlow Holmes in its seventh leaf. This youthful fella shows amazing purity of delicate raspberry and blueberry fruits. It is solidly medium in body and very easy to sip alone or with a wide range of local Sonoma fare thanks in good part to its lightly tangy acidity.
Sojourn 2012 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.sojourncellars.com; $45
This richly colored wine hails from two Sangiacomo sources: Robert’s Road and Vella Ranch. Aromatically restrained yet generously flavored, this wine boasts lemon peel, yellow tomato, ginger and brioche. The finish lingers with bouyant acidic refreshment. Its entire profile embodies its cool climate Chardonnay.
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast
14.6%; www.sojourncellars.com; $54
Craig Haserot calls this a “Cab drinker’s wine”, and I can see his point. Its highly ripe, black fruit is exotic, its mega-spice nose attests to its 50% new oak and its tugging tannins point to its white rhyolite soil origins. Whatever the other traits of this wine, the 10% whole cluster use pops the nose with an earthiness that is resolutely Pinot Noir.
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.sojourncellars.com; $54
This bottling has been the winery’s flagship since 2004. Its blend of 115, 777 and Swan clones is hugely seductive. The intoxicating smells include Lapsang Souchong tea, peat fire, black plums and sloe jam. Incredibly expressive, the broad, horizontal palate is backed up by lightly structuring tannins and supporting acidity. A rock star!
Soliste 2011 Chardonnay Les Cailles Russian River Valley
13.6%; soliste.com; $60
This is truly a micro cuvée as only 69 cases were produced. However, unlike with Pinot Noir, there’s not a mono-clone experiment with Chardonnay. This wine is fermented with larger and older French oak that originally saw low toast. Its yellow color is impressively pale, so it isn’t surprising its nose is quite sedate. The broad range of flavors includes fertile earth, chopped mushrooms, yellow flowers, plums and pears. Rather unusual in style for Sonoma, it’s a highly food worthy wine. The partners feel this is more of a Puligny-Montrachet rather than a Meursault style of wine.
Soliste 2011 Pinot Noir L’Esperance Sonoma Coast
12.8%; soliste.com; $85
L’Esperance is apparently Soliste’s most generous single vineyard Pinot Noir when it is young. This vineyard sits on Goldridge Loam 13 miles from the ocean. Made by Ryan Zepaltas, this wine is incredibly pale in its violet-inflected, raspberry color. The palate offers up branchy undertones with savory nuances. This wine’s body is so light that its acidity sticks out a bit; however the alcohol is finely integrated and the tannins are definitively suave.
Stemmler 2011 Pinot Noir Nugent Russian River Valley
14.3%; Closed; $44
This wine pulses with extreme purity. Its super crunchy red fruits are rounded off with blueberry top notes and doused with baking spice. This is a joyous and carefree sipper. Made chez Donum, these wine sees press juice – so they’re firmer on the palate - while the Donum wines are sheer free-run. The wine’s three different clones are treated separately and differently then blended after aging.
Stewart 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.stewartcellars.com; $50
Enormous in weight and voluptuousness, this is a Pinot Noir styled for Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers. This is hardly surprising, as the winery is better known for its Napa Cabs. Though seemingly sweet on the attack given its unctuousness, this wine is indeed dry, even if its flavors seem more dessert than main course. There’s cherry cola, black licorice and sugared plums. Still, the wine has very proper balance and a solidly medium finish.
Three Sticks 2013 Pinot Noir Durell Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.threestickswines.com; $60
Generously textured with a mouth-coating creaminess, this full-bodied Pinot Noir is decidedly Californian. However, thanks to its lifting acidity and smartly balanced, sleek tannins, there’s excellent balance and drinkability in the glass. Youthful blueberry and boysenberry notes are accented by a sprinkle of cinnamon through the lingering finish.
Twomey 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
13.8%; www.twomey.com; $48
Bold magenta in color, this juicy Pinot Noir offers an easy-going palate with highly typical Russian River ripeness. It boasts black cherries, boysenberries and blackberry pie filling. There’s also well-integrated smoky oak nuance that starts at the first sip and lingers through the medium finish. This wine is sure to be a crowd pleaser for any California Pinot Noir fan.
Williams-Selyem 2011 Chardonnay Drake Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.williamsselyem.com; $65
This Chardonnay has some hips on it thanks to its generous fruit and 100% barrel fermentation. However, it also has good acidic tension and rather lean, citrusy flavors thanks to the Drake Vineyard’s cool location on the Russian River. The site was formerly planted to Rome apples, which is a late-ripening variety. The strong finish includes flavors of pomelo, celery, quinine and vanilla extract.
Williams-Selyem 2012 Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley
13.1%; www.williamsselyem.com; $39
This is quite an expensive unoaked, no malolactic Chardonnay, but if budget isn’t part of the equation when looking for an easy-going Chardonnay, it’s certainly delightful to sip. It’s impressively pale but it has generous concentration from its 30-year-old vines. Its delicate tastes include pears, white peaches and applesauce. Mangahas does some lees stirring in tank, which gives the wine a hint of creamy glycerol.
Wind Gap 2011 Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast
12.8%; www.windgapwines.com; $50
Branch, underbrush, mulberry, bramble and spice characterize this wine. It has decidedly medium body with bracing acidity and lightly chewy tannins. This is a wine “In Pursuit of Balance” that has arrived. The acid is pleasingly tart, the tannins are lightly dusty and the palate-feel is streamlined.
Wren Hop 2011 Pinot Noir Royalty in Exile Russian River Valley
14.4%; www.wrenhop.com; $63
This wine has a monolithic nose of exotic and dangerously black fruits: fig, Damson and sloe. There’s also musk, incense, soy and sweat. Just after bottling, its alcohol was pronounced, but the wine can carry that easily thanks to its serious succulence, massive concentration and promising finish. It’s a wunderkind.
Zepaltas 2012 Chardonnay Babushka Russian River Valley
13.0%; Closed; $40
I absolutely love that this wine is a tribute to the winemaker’s grandmother. The reason I picked this bottle was because “babushka” was one of the words my mother picked up from her Ukranian relatives that she then taught me. This wine has all the balance for which one could hope. It’s svelte with just a hint of creaminess, and the buoyant acidity keeps the multitude of flavors in check. Drinking well, this wine tastes of fresh nectarine laced with nougat, ripe banana and crispy croissant crust. What a delight!
Zepaltas 2010 Chardonnay Hanzell Sonoma Valley
14.1%; Closed; $50
This is one of the last vintages of Hanzell fruit at Zepaltas. Fruit is now purchased from Heintz instead. This cuvée is moderately round with just the right amount of hips. It smells of toasted hazelnuts, yellow plum tart, yellow raisins and bruised golden apple. The palate follows with a toasted oatmeal impression dusted with cinnamon. The pleasantly, mealy palate texture shows nice, acid-driven restraint in breadth. This wine is really hitting its stride.
Zepaltas 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
13.7%; Closed; $38
This wine is a vibrant, red cherry color. It’s easy and fun to sip given its faintly drying, tobacco-like tannins and refreshing acidity. Largely driven by fruit from the W.E. Bottoms vineyard, this is “old school” Russian River Pinot Noir can really shimmy! The deftly integrated 35% new French oak lets the red cherries, pomegranates and boysenberries shine.
Balletto 2012 Chardonnay Cider Ridge Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $38
Balletto’s winemaker, Anthony Beckman, calls this vineyard a solar panel for the daily smack of sun exposure it receives. Though this makes it sound like it will produce an über-ripe Chardonnay, this one is in fact quite refined. The vaguest hint of glycerol supports the wine’s otherwise gauze-like texture. The nose is minty and floral while the palate is lightly tropical and a touch leesy, a characteristic largely attributable to its bi-monthly battonage for about one year.
Balletto 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $29
This bottling is classic Russian River in contrast to the Winery Block version. It has that tantalizingly familiar cola top note, oodles of sweet spice and buckets of boysenberries. Its bustling acidity and limber tannins make it a quaffer. And, at this price, it delivers killer value.
Charles Heintz 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.heintzvineyards.com; $48
Heintz declared, “The wines I enjoy are fruit-driven. In the end, I want to taste what I taste in the vineyard.” That certainly sounds like a terroir fan! To boot, Heintz farms the fruit for his wines organically. There is a richness in his wines, however, that could arguably obscure origin. The buttery, diacetyl notes on this wine are also in-your-face. The wine shows complex aromas of pear, straw and aloe vera. It is über-smooth on the palate. And, it has beautifully integrated acidity that draws out the finish.
Davis Bynum 2011 Pinot Noir Jane’s Garfield Block Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.davisbynum.com; $55
Succulent and clean, this wine has a nice leathery note developing over its boysenberry and mulberry fruit. Its finish clings to the palate and its layers of complexity suggest lingering over the bottle. Good luck not gulping it down!
de Coelo (Benziger) 2012 Pinot Noir Quintus Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.benziger.com; $75
Black strings of licorice lace through this wine’s generous quantities of raspberries and blackberries. Though juicy, succulent and broad on the palate, this wine boasts firmly balancing acidity and lightly dusty tannins that keep it in line. De Coelo means “from heaven” and these wines certainly aren’t far away!
Failla 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Fort Ross-Seaview
13.5%; www.faillawines.com; $80
Pronounced FAY-lah, this winery’s estate vineyard is densely planted and dry farmed. Only 80 cases were produced in 2011 versus 230 in 2012. This wine is big, juicy and forwardly fruity with bramble, ripe red plum and campfire smoke. The soft tannins are seamless and bolstered by bright acidity.
Flowers 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.flowerswinery.com; $39
This deeply colored, gold-flecked wine is generously endowed with yellow plum and sweet pear, lemon thyme and tarragon, struck flint and verbena. Its zinging acidity nicely frames the wine, and gives this 13-vineyard blend of estate and purchased fruit time to evolve further in the bottle.
Fort Ross 2011 Chardonnay Fort Ross Fort Ross-Seaview
12.8%; www.fortrossvineyard.com; $40
This fairly cloudy (unfined and unfiltered) wine sees full MLF during its time in oak. It has medium body with a silky and round palate that is distinctly Californian yet very suave thanks to its high acidity and judicious oak application (30% new). Its exotic tastes include clove-studded pear, tangerine, crème caramel and sweet digestive cracker. The Fort Ross Vineyard is just one mile from the Pacific, making it the western-most vineyard in the state.
gros ventre 2012 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast
13.8%; www.grosventrecellars.com; $54
This wine is exotic. It smells of fig, spice cake and date. Following on to the palate, there’s peat and a touch of truffle. Then, there’s the distinguishing palate. It has an almost animated, tugging texture with plenty of ripeness and plenty of acidic lift. Fun to drink now, this is a wine to follow, too.
gros ventre 2011 Pinot Noir First Born Sonoma Coast
14.3%; www.grosventrecellars.com; $58
This is gros ventre’s flagship, named for the winemaker’s first son, who was born during the winery’s first vintage. Made from each vintage’s top barrels, it tends to be the boldest wine. This one delivers an über-ripe nose of fig, dried plum, black raisin, grated spices and incense. Cuddly acidity supports its broad and weighty palate, where the alcohol sticks out a bit. Brooding, sexy and a bit obvious, it grows even more irresistible with air.
Hanzell 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Valley
14.5%; www.hanzell.com; $75
This wine smells like a sumptuous mix of banana bread, toasted walnuts and melting, caramelizing butter. It readily conjures up childhood memories of baking in a warm, winter kitchen. In terms of fruit flavors, it offers sweet peach, Mandarin orange and persimmon along with a hint of stewed ginger. It’s a dynamic wine that combines heft with lifting acidity.
Hanzell 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley
15.3%; www.hanzell.com; $95
This wine usually clocks in around 14.5%, but this vintage proved to be even bolder in alcohol. Its aromas are lightly volatile, but considering their pleasing aromatic intensity, this is forgivable. The wine mixes bramble and black cherry with animal skin and earth. Be sure to serve it at cellar temperature as the alcohol really comes to the fore as the wine warms up, emphasizing the drying tannins.
Hirsch 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $55
This pale yellow wine with green reflections and light cloudiness certainly wears its cool climate, unfiltered origins on its sleeve. Its lean fruit also testifies to its chilly site, only two miles from the Pacific. There’s lime pith and other citrusy notes along with some crunchy Marcona almonds. The giving mid-palate texture is enlivened with searing acidity that carries the delicate flavor into a medium-plus finish.
Hirsch 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve Sonoma Coast
13.1%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
This delicate, extreme Sonoma Coast bottling is scented with mulberries, red plums and black cherries. While fruit-dominated, it has under-currents of cardamom, forest floor, briar patch, fireplace smoke and hot terra cotta. Medium-bodied with moderate alcohol, the medium-plus acidity is smartly integrated and the tannins border on transparent. This wine brings out much of the best of 2010 (a challenging year) from the eastern edge of the Pacific. This is the first vintage at this estate from winemaker Ross Cobb.
Hirsch 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve Sonoma Coast
13.3%; www.hirschvineyards.com; $85
A good bit of the 395 cases of this wine were pulled from the San Andreas Fault bottling in this vintage, which is the second time this reserve has been made. A reserve designation in California Pinot Noir tends to mean dark color along with significant oak and extract. Not so here, despite the wine’s 40% new French oak. This wine has moderate, pure and crunchy fruit concentration that is ethereal in aroma like a Monthélie but foursquare in structure like a Pommard.
Hirsch 2010 Pinot Noir San Andreas Fault Sonoma Coast
13%; hirschvineyards.com; $60
Pale ruby in color with a large, strawberry-colored rim, this is delicate Pinot Noir. Angelic with its generous scents of field strawberries, mulberries, roses, damp oolong tealeaves and sweet spice, the wine offers all the softness in its medium body for which Pinot Noir is fabled. Though it finishes only medium, the wine offers an abundance of flavors and compelling youthful shyness now. Both nose and palate greatly benefit from an hour or two in a decanter. Per this wine’s name, its vines sit just one mile from this famed fault line.
Inman 2010 Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Russian River Valley
12.5%; www.inmanfamilywines.com; $68
Kathleen Inman calls this cuvée “the baby I give birth to every year”. That’s easy to see as it’s the vineyard outside her back door. She tends to pick through it several times every vintage and picked three times in 2010. Inman boldly began using 50% whole cluster in her wines in 2009, even though her Burgundian friends told her to wait a bit longer. The resulting wine offers an intriguing mix of orange peel, rose petal, rhubarb and spice. It’s rather light in body with a soft mid-palate texture that along with the aromas make the wine quite feminine. A bit like an iron fist in a velvet glove, thanks especially to the very delineated acidity here.
Iron Horse 2009 Blanc de Blancs Ocean Reserve Green Valley
13.5%; www.ironhorsevineyards.com; $45
This bottling is a tribute to National Geographic’s 125thanniversary. The winery donates $4 per bottle sold to support the oceans’ health. This feisty sparkler has nice perlage, a tidbit of structuring tannin, gobs of yellow fruit and a hint of spice from its barrel fermentation. It’s fashionable to talk about decanting sparkling these days, and this is a wine that could definitely use it.
Iron Horse 2009 Classic Vintage Brut Green Valley
13.5%; www.ironhorsevineyards.com; $40
Three-quarters Pinot Noir balanced with one-quarter Chardonnay, this sparkling exudes strawberries and white peaches. Its slightly sweet attack melts into lightly tugging tannins on the lingering finish - a surprising but well-balanced contrast that works best with food.
Iron Horse 2011 Pinot Noir Winery Block Single Clone Green Valley
13.7%; www.ironhorsevineyards.com; $85
Composed exclusively of seventh leaf fruit from Pommard 5 clones, this wine nods to Burgundy. Gamey, meaty, funky with boysenberry and black plum, the lively nose is highly engaging. The well-integrated palate is a bit rigid with tugging texture and demanding acidity. Pure fruit flavors linger on the finish.
J 2012 Chardonnay Estate Grown Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.jwine.com; $28
This wine shows the combined generosity of texture and fruit-driven character for which classic California Chardonnay is noted along with the restraint of a clear-cut, leesy character. Full-bodied but far from blowsy, the fruit profile is ripe golden apple, baked banana and toasted cinnamon. The finish doesn’t quit early, and the smoothness on the palate is truly compelling. The only detraction is a touch of heat on the finish, which will go unnoticed by most.
J NV Rosé Brut Russian River Valley
12.5%; www.jwine.com; $38
This beautifully packaged blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay & 1% Pinot Meunier shows loads of savory, black pepper spice as well as crisp acidity and a lean, red fruit profile. It’s demure and best paired with food. Don’t be afraid to leave a half-bottle in the fridge over-night. In fact, plan on it. It gets even better on Day 2.
Joseph Phelps 2012 Chardonnay Freestone Sonoma Coast
14%; www.josephphelps.com/sonoma-coast/; $55
This whole cluster-pressed, pale lemon-colored wine is generous in weight on the palate but rather restrained in character fruit-wise. Don’t serve too cold as it works best at more generous temperatures. Rounded on the palate with moderately leesy flavor, the palate is rather neutral with bamboo, straw and blanched almonds alongside nuances of mealy apple. The 35% new oak sits discreetly in the background.
Joseph Phelps 2011 Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.josephphelps.com/sonoma-coast/; $75
Dense in concentration with some pent-up terroir angst, this wine possesses plenty of structure to let it age to further benefit. Food-worthy acidity, lightly drying tannins and no pretension of viscosity give it a sturdy frame. Black-fruited with tart cranberry top notes and discreet oak, this wine shows lots of dried savory herbs.
Kistler 2011 Chardonnay McCrea Sonoma Mountain
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $75
This full-bodied wine has what fellow Master of Wine Geoff Labitzke called “noble sulphites.” I honestly couldn’t pick up anything “noble”, but sulphites are what tamped down and restrained the nose. The reduced character accompanied the generously round palate created by this wine’s full body and modest acidity. Frankly, the wine could use some lift other than its lightly bitter finish. The nicely complex flavors include Canary melon, mango, nougat and roasted hazelnut accented by vanilla bean. Not my style, but it will thrill many a New World Chardonnay fan.
Kutch 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.2%; kutchwines.com; $39
Jaime Kutch started making wine with Kosta Browne in 2005. While his style – especially with regard to alcohol content - is quite different from his first wine employer’s, it is just as delish. This “basic” Sonoma Coast bottling is fairly thick in viscosity, rich in marasca cherry perfume, dense is black cherry fruit flavor and just plain awesome. Don’t miss this fair value dynamo! Though the least expensive release from this (ware-)house, it could use some time to settle down.
La Crema 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.lacrema.com; $40
This Pinot Noir is hardly short on color. In fact, it’s massively dark. The nose smells as much of oak influence as of grapes, teeming with milk chocolate, baking rack spices, vanilla and smoky Lapsang Souchong tea. The palate is one-note and dominated by mulberries. Though not super complex, this is a correctly made wine with a medium finish that will have wide commercial appeal thanks to its fruit exuberance.
Lioco 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma County
13.5%; www.liocowine.com; $22
This wine is so restrained in fruit as to show very little fruit at all. It only whispers citrusy notes. It is nonetheless full-flavored with non-fruit character: lemon pith, chamomile, straw and water cracker. With thirst-quenching acidity and a whisper of tannin, it’s got lots of pep to prolong its flavors into a medium finish.
Lioco 2012 Chardonnay Hanzell Sonoma Valley
13.5%; www.liocowine.com; $50
This bottling has the juiciness one expects from Lioco wines as well as their characteristic bitter touches that rein in their mid-palate softness. Its delicate fruit smells of yellow plums, jackfruit, star fruit and papaya. The palate brings on spice cake and ginger tea. This pleasant complexity should be fascinating to follow as it develops with time.
Lioco 2012 Pinot Noir Laguna Sonoma Coast
13.1%; www.liocowine.com; $38
A vivacious blend of several vineyards and clones, this Pinot offers terrific value and excellent sip-ability. Though inexpensive – relative to other Sonoma Pinots – this wine certainly doesn’t skimp on the expansive aromatics and complexity. Today it shows rhubarb pie, dried cranberries and açai along with anise and firewood kindling. It’s so vivacious that it may be best to go ahead and drink it up young. After all, its finish is moderate.
Marr 2012 Pinot Noir Matias Russian River Valley
13.7%; marrwines.com; $37
This serious wine starts with a rather viscous attack that leads into a full body and faintly warm alcohol. Despite its heavyweight appearance, its fruit is rather delicate. Crunchy red fruits are laced with licorice and musk. The staying power on the multi-dimensional finish attests to this wine’s seriousness.
Martinelli 2012 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley
15.2%; www.martinelliwinery.com; $65
Broad-shouldered and boisterous, this is a weighty if well-balanced Chardonnay. In some ways, it must surely resemble Uncle (Zio) Tony – an affable character with great affection for a good time. You’d never know this wine’s bright acidity was supporting 15.2% abv if you didn’t look at the label. There is a lot of flavor mojo working here: caramel corn, vanilla extract, tapioca, persimmon and super-ripe nectarine.
Matthiasson 2012 Chardonnay Michael Mara
13.2%; www.matthiasson.com; $48
This wine hails from the Michael Mara vineyard, composed of rocks and red, volcanic soils. Its tropical fruit tones and vaguely plump mid-palate attest to its inland site, on the eastern side of the Sonoma Mountains. Beautiful purity pervades the palate of pear tart, lemon curd and flint. Only 144 cases of this wine were produced.
Patz & Hall 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.patzhall.com; $38
Archetypal California Chardonnay, this wine shows a lovely golden color and offers a big and round attack. It is succulent, decadently viscous and packed with ripe fruit. The judiciously balanced acidity carries the flavors into a medium finish. The fruit is sourced from top sites: Gap’s Crown, Durrell, Zio Tony, Dutton Ranch and some of the estate’s declassified single vineyard wines.
Patz & Hall 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.patzhall.com; $46
Brazenly forward with black plum fruit and sweet spice, this wine is boisterously juicy. It is mouth-filling and voluptuous with creamy tannins and integrated acidity. This Sonoma Coast bottling - containing fruit from Green Valley, Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley - is sure to seduce any crowd.
Peay 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.4%; peayvineyards.com; $48
This rather hazy bottling is a combination of estate fruit and two outside vineyards farmed to Nick Peay’s demanding standards. Yellow plums, walnut pith, mealy peaches and straw form the restrained nose of this wine. Its linear palate is no less giving between its high acid and whisper of phenolics. Though Nick doesn’t make the wines, tasting the Chardonnays in particular always make me surprised that he previously worked at Konsgaard and Newton. What a contrast!
Peay 2012 Pinot Noir Ama Sonoma Coast
13.5%; peayvineyards.com; $60
This wine’s lovely and bright nose is smacked with ripe blueberries, boysenberries and black plums. Its weight and density on the palate are reined in by its grainy texture. The medium finish shows elegance and expansiveness of flavors that continue to evolve if allowed to do so before a following sip.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Chardonnay Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.peirsonmeyer.com; $38
This wine has an enormous nose of exuberant buttery-ness and tropical fruits that would make many a leaner wine style fan retort, “ABC!” (“Anything But Chardonnay”). Yet, s/he would be missing out on this flat-out decadent wine given its very good acidic balance. Yes, it is a wine for baking spice-derived-from-oak lovers, but it’s really quite tasty and is likely to be a home run with many New World wine sippers.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.peirsonmeyer.com; $55
This is another example where the bigger-is-better, lusty style of Peirson Meyer wines works. Perhaps part of this reason is the cool vintage. This wine bears a strong nutty note on the nose and tarte tatin on the palate. Its intensity is well balanced by integrated and lifting acidity.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Pinot Noir Miller Russian River Valley
14.9%; www.peirsonmeyer.com; $50
Considering the house style, this Pinot Noir is surprisingly restrained in aromas. Its ruby color is also quite pale. However, its palate couldn’t be more different. There are blackberries, sweet and savory spices, evergreen needles and dry-aged meat. Give it some time to develop in bottle and you should be well rewarded. There’s enough life-giving vigor in this wine to compensate for its laissez-fairetannins and mild acidity.
Pfendler 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.5%; pfendlervineyards.com; $45
Banging with cola and black cherries, this is a bottling that is full-throttle. Hints of licorice, damp earth and game prevail, yet there is a purity that won’t let loose. Easy and drinkable without the bulky extraction in the mid-palate that detracts from the sippability of many Sonoma Pinots, this is gluggable juice.
Ram’s Gate 2011 Chardonnay Hyde Carneros
14.5%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $62
Oatmeal, banana, honey and caramel characterize this wine’s flavors. Its flavor is intense enough to qualify as muscular, especially as the liquid coats the palate with layers of glycerol. The grainy texture and invigorating acidity keep the palate vibrant glass after glass.
Ramey 2012 Pinot Noir Platt Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.rameywine.com; $60
David Ramey uses whole berries but not whole clusters in this wine. He likes to use an Henri Jayer quote, “Making red wine and tea are basically the same. What matters is time and temperature.” This wine is a new addition to the Ramey portfolio, having been grafted over from Chardonnay in 2010. It’s a promising start. Its smells of potpourri, sweet red berries and dried earth start strong and finish gently, yet with good length.
Red Car 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
12.7%; www.redcarwine.com; $25
Kemp treats this rosé like Chardonnay. It is picked at night, whole cluster pressed, fermented in oak then blended in stainless steel. The result is lovely with watermelon and strawberry flavors highlighted by hints of spice and dried green herbs. It is simultaneously and contradictorily juicy and dry, sophisticated yet unintimidating. There is an unusual oiliness for a rosé that reminds me of many Alsatian whites.
Rivers-Marie 2013 Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Sonoma Coast
14%; www.riversmarie.com; $50
It is no surprise to me that this big, boisterous and somewhat cloying Pinot Noir comes from a winemaker known for his Cabernet Sauvignon. That said, I love many of his Pinots from other consulting projects. However, this one seems a bit forced - possibly an effect of this warmer, drought-affect vintage? There’s cherry cola, sweet raisins, pomegranate seeds and açai with a bare hint of pencil lead.
Rodney Strong 2011 Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley
14.2%; www.rodneystrong.com; $45
This wine sports a deeply yellow color with a rich, golden raisin nose. The palate is bright and supple with a light hint of custard-like softness at its core that comes from its fermentation (primarily) in barrel. The flavors are fruit rather than oak driven and this isn’t at all a “buttery” Chardonnay even if its fruit flavors lean toward the tropical side. The medium finish has good acidic pick-up, keeping it very drinkable.
Schug 2012 Chardonnay Carneros
14.5%; schugwinery.com; $30
Seeing 14.5% alcohol on the label, one might fear this barrel-fermented, sur lies-aged Chardonnay is heavy. However, this wine defies its alcohol with vibrant acidity that smartly restrains it. The compact palate tastes of crunchy apple fruit dashed with allspice and shows the considerable concentration of its older vine Wente and Dijon clone fruit.
Sens3s 2013 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.senseswines.com; $35
Unusually, the Sens3s trio ages its Chardonnay longer in barrel than its Pinot Noir. This fruit is sourced from Dutton Palms Vineyard and sees 20% oak. Bottled after 14 months in barrel, this wine shows a lovely balance of sweet peach tempered with green apple peel. The wine shows sensuousness of texture with absolutely moderate weight, making it an utterly drinkable wine.
Sens3s 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.senseswines.com; $25
Sourced from Tanuda, this direct press rosé was fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak. There’s the usual strawberries and watermelon juice found in many rosés, but there is also titillating acidity and a profound poise of structure that create a dynamic mouthfeel. This should not only hold a few years but may well evolve to benefit, too. It’s rare that rosé pushes past an 89, which makes this winery’s first pink all the more special.
Sens3s 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.senseswines.com; $40
The 2013 strikes a different pose than the 2012. It’s pumped with red cherry fruit, raspberry coulis and clipped rosebush branches. There’s a Russian River-like hint of cola along with mulch and freshly-turned damp earth. Equally divided between its sources of Hillcrest and Tanuda vineyards, this more sumptuously fruited wine will be dialed back a bit in upcoming vintages.
Siduri 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.siduri.com; $23
Perky with ripe blueberries, this bottling comes from a blend of six different vineyards. Plump and boisterous, there’s good complexity of earth undertones and dried herbs. There’s a bit too much mouth-coating glycerol for my tastes, but the tugging tannins on the finish work hard to keep the palate refreshed. This is the first vintage that all Siduri wines were bottled under screw cap.
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.sojourncellars.com; $59
This is a new release from Sojourn, along with a sibling Chardonnay I didn’t taste. It is a Dijon combo of 115 and 777 grown in chilly vineyards that are smacked by Pacific breezes and sit at 750 ft (229 m). Packed with quince paste, Rainier cherries, and baked strawberries, this full-bodied wine has lots of stuffing but also plenty of crunchy tannins and acidic relief.
The Calling 2013 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley
14.1%; thecallingwine.com; $22
When you see Dutton Ranch on a label, you know the wine is no joke, whatever the style the winemaker imbues on the high quality grapes. This example is no exception. The difference here is the price, which frankly confuses me. I would have expected this to sell for 50% more than it does based not only on the vineyard source but also on the style – perfect for the table and zestily balanced in acidity with plenty of ripe tree fruit weight. The medium-minus finish is a bit on the caramel side, but that just means it will make lots of friends!
The Calling 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; thecallingwine.com; $30
When I first opened this wine, I was put off. It was enormous, even monolithic. I put it aside for a few hours. What a difference! My return to the glass was rewarded with a plethora of blueberries and boysenberries with a dusting of cinnamon and mocha. The wine melts on the palate – the tannins are silky and the acidity is seriously discreet. Still, there’s plenty of support; it’s just super subtle. If only the modest finish had more oomph….
Three Sticks 2011 Chardonnay Origin Durell Sonoma Valley
13.5%; www.threestickswines.com; $50
Though deep yellow in color and 13.5%, this wine is less ripe and less oaky than its color suggests. It’s yeasty on the nose with blossoming notes of raw hazelnut, chamomile and straw. The fruit flavors are modestly Golden and Red Delicious apple but show more earthiness and leesiness than ripe fruit. Its full-bodied feel, lightly viscous texture and caramel touch mean its best suited to New World Chardonnay lovers though it’s not strikingly overt in that regard. This wine comes from two very different parcels of Durell: one old, cold and windy and the other very warm.
Three Sticks 2014 Chardonnay Durell Vineyard ORIGIN Sonoma Valley
14.5%; www.threestickswines.com; $48
Made of Old Wente 5 Clones from the V9 block (one of Durrell’s windiest areas), this mecca of golden raisins covered in honey atop brioche is something else. It’s fermented in concrete eggs, to give it some “energy”. Nonetheless, I wish it were a touch less ripe and less obvious because though it is multi-dimensional and complex, it is also a bit tiring.
Verse 2012 Pinot Noir Las Brisas Carneros
12.8%; rymecellars.com/; $32
This taut and light yet juicy wine brims with energy. Its light viscosity seems to be mopped up by its nicely prickly and structuring tannins. Cram-packed with dried cranberries, lingonberries and red currants as top notes, this wine has a nicely integrated, mushroom-y, earthiness on the palate that rounds it out and keeps it from being too high-toned.
Williams-Selyem 2012 Pinot Noir Westside Road Neighbors Russian River Valley
13.8%; www.williamsselyem.com; $69
This wine hails from neighboring vineyards on the Rodeo Drive of the Russian River: Allen, Bacigalupi, Bucher, Rochioli Riverblock, and the Williams-Selyem Estate. The lump sum tastes of milk chocolate covered blueberries sprinkled with baking spices. Winemaker Jeff Mangahas estimates there were probably 30% more Growing Degree Days in 2012 than in the two previous years, which account for the wine’s viscous mouthfeel and soft, cuddly tannins.
Wren Hop 2011 Pinot Noir Bitten Ear Sonoma Coast
14.4%; www.wrenhop.com; $62
This Dijon clone combo of 777 and 115 tastes more of Russian River than Sonoma Coast with its predominant sweet cola flavors. Its deeply dark fruits also offer black currant leaf, smoky cigar and dried figs. Acidic perk, firm but svelte tannins and potent concentration give this wine time in the bottle along with immediate appeal.
Balletto 2012 Chardonnay Estate Russian River Valley
13.8%; www.ballettovineyards.com; $28
This wine’s fruit is exclusively from the Sebastopol Hills. It is a smooth-talker sure to seduce many palates. Its feels almost cuddly, thanks to its juicy and nutty roundness. Its vibrant elements are a palate-awakening citrus and a quince paste exoticness. This offers killer value.
Banshee 2012 Pinot Noir Sullivan Sonoma Mountain
13.7%; www.bansheewines.com; $60
Noah Durrance enjoys experimenting with whole cluster, and this wine saw 20%. A touch reductive when I tasted it, it showed that attractively funky side of Pinot Noir with game and incense shining through. Blackberries bursting with ripeness on the palate make it hard to resist. I love the lightly tugging texture on the finish. Dorrance says unfiltered wines (like all his bottlings) are like vinyl records; they offer more of the real thing.
Bybee 2006 Pinot Noir Sera Russian River Valley
13.6%; No Web Site; $49
Made from organically grown grapes and late released without fining and filtration, this wine is “green” in every way. A beautiful tertiary, earthy character and dried mulberries dominate this wine. It is at its peak, and its pronounced acidity is starting to take over the fruit just a bit on the finish.
C. Donatiello 2012 Pinot Noir Riddle Russian River Valley
14.1%; Closed; $65
This wine was a departure from the others in this camp. Its ultra ripe fruits taste a touch too pruney and raisiny. Nonetheless, the full body shows delicate balance with the easy-going tannins and uplifting acidity. In the end, it works, even if the wine may drink better earlier rather than later.
Ceritas 2013 Pinot Noir Costalina Sonoma Coast
13.4%; www.ceritaswines.com; $42
This wine smells of rose stems, liqueur-soaked red cherries and pomegranate seed. It’s elegant and sippable, which makes its blue and purple color rather surprising. You’d think the wine were more densely concentrated than it is! Yet, color isn’t everything. It’s delicious and berry-fruited.
Ceritas 2013 Pinot Noir Hellenthal Old Shop Block Sonoma Coast
12.5%; www.ceritaswines.com; $60
Despite the insistent effort of this wine’s massive acidity, there is nonetheless a touch of creaminess to its palate. Along with this textural point, there are lightly firm and drying tannins. The palate is saturated in flavors of black cherries, mulberries and peat. Unusually, this wine comes from own-rooted vines.
Clary Ranch 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.8%; www.claryranch.com; $48
This faintly cloudy wine delivers oodles of flavor. Though more a shooting star than the sure-to-be longer lived 2007, sipping this wine brings great pleasure nonetheless. The fruit purity rocks, the spice kicks and the finish pops. For an older wine at this price point, you can’t ask for more.
Cobb 2010 Pinot Noir Coastlands Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.cobbwines.com; $70
In 2010, Cobb made only 175 rather than the usual 300 cases of this wine. As with his other wines, he held this back, not releasing it until Spring 2014. The Coastlands vineyard is a mishmash of clones. In fact, it includes every clone UC Davis knew of when it was planted overlooking the Pacific in 1989. This vintage shows a very pale, raspberry color. It’s a crunchy wine that leans toward unripe herbal notes and roaring acidity. Give it another year to see if it softens up a bit. From start to medium-plus finish, the oak is supremely well integrated.
CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; crossbarn.com; $35
Succulent, delectable, easy-going and generously colored, this wine is a crowd-pleaser. It’s lightly viscous, a touch heady in oak spice and full bodied. It’s everything most folks want. Packed with boysenberry and baking spice with a lingering, grippy feeling on the palate, this is a very textural wine that offers excellent value.
David Bynum 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.davisbynum.com; $30
This totally integrated, perfectly elegant Pinot Noir is a bit prescriptive at first sip. After that, intrigue sets in. There’s peat, underbrush, blackberry, North African spice and much more. Buoyant acidity and pillow-y tannins brilliantly balance the full body.
de Coelo (Benziger) 2012 Pinot Noir Arbore Sacre Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.benziger.com; $75
This comes from a warmer, more protected site than its two siblings. Not surprisingly, it has the most extract. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it is pale in color. It tastes of red plums and licorice along with hints of forest floor, but there’s not a lot of complexity here, despite the medium finish. Still, it is well-balanced and lots of folks will enjoy it.
de Coelo (Benziger) 2012 Pinot Noir Terra Neuma Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.benziger.com; $75
Terra Neuma means the spirit or breath of the soil, and the soil certainly defines this wine’s character differently than its siblings. It comes from more profound soils, which give it a dark-fruited character of black plums and cassis. The moderate finish follows with a vein of espresso crema and dark chocolate shavings. Less earthy and silkier than the other two, this is the most accessible of the trio.
Dehlinger 2011 Chardonnay Unfiltered Russian River Valley
14.7%; www.dehlingerwinery.com; $36
This wine is a bit like its maker: restrained. It is medium lemon-colored and moderately forward on the nose with some leesy restraint. Following on, this wine has exuberant golden apple fruit – both fresh and dried - with cinnamon top notes on the palate. Its body is full but not at all heavy. Comice pear and grated hard spice flavors linger with a touch of tannin to compliment the medium acidity. The finish stays on.
Evening Land 2012 Chardonnay Sun Chase Sonoma Coast
13.7%; www.eveninglandvineyards.com; $40
This youthful bottling has a surprisingly fruity nose with fresh pineapple, mint, tinned peach and lemongrass. Fairly full-bodied on the palate with balanced acidity, this is a squeaky-clean wine that could use some time in bottle.
Evening Land 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13.6%; www.eveninglandvineyards.com; $40
Packed with fresh forest berries, this is definitely a baby, but it is ready to go. The baby powder-like tannins lightly coat the palate, and the acidity is defined yet integrated. The finish is moderate and kissed with a light oak touch.
Failla 2013 Chardonnay Fort-Ross Seaview
13.8%; www.faillawines.com; $44
Lemon juice and lemon zest pack this wine’s nose. It’s exceedingly fresh with its lifted citrus aromas, which are emphasized by the wine’s grapefruit pith-like tannins. This refreshing package is well-integrated, yet its zingy vibrancy almost requires it to be served with food.
Flowers 2012 Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast
12.9%; www.flowerswinery.com; $85
This pale-colored wine has a hint of rust at its core. Its sweet fragrance exudes peak-of-ripeness blueberries and baked cherries. Its acidity is lilting and playful and its body is very medium. Perhaps surprisingly, this Dijon clone-driven wine is the epitome of coastal Pinot elegance.
Fort Ross 2011 Pinot Noir Sea Slopes Fort Ross-Seaview
13%; www.fortrossvineyard.com; $42
This wine has a youthful and rather dark maroon color – something atypical of extreme coast wines. All five clones planted in the vineyard make an appearance here, and they expose fragrances of mulberry, boysenberry and stewed cranberries. The drying tannins are slightly awkward, but they are helped along by a touch of glycerol that elongates the finish.
Freeman 2012 Chardonnay Ryo-fu Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.freemanwinery.com; $40
Ryo-fu means “cool breeze”. Akiko claimed, “I normally hate California Chardonnay.” So, when Ken wanted to make it, they aimed for a different style. This lightly tropical wine smells of mango, passion fruit, papaya and toasted hazelnuts. Full-bodied with a creamy mid-palate and buoyant acidity, this wine shows great sophistication.
Gary Farrell 2011 Chardonnay Russian River Selection Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.garyfarrellwinery.com; $35
This is a concertedly decadent style of Chardonnay blended from eleven vineyards. It is rich with golden apple fruit and it is hearty in its oatmeal-like texture. In fact, texture dominates the experience of this wine thanks to its lusty, mouth-coating qualities. It edges toward flaccid, with its bright acidity struggling to keep the harmony playing. It does manage to pull through with just enough lift, which helps to lengthen the medium finish.
Gloria Ferrer NV Blanc de Noirs Carneros
12.5%; www.gloriaferrer.com; $22
This is another superb value fizz. Its 92% Pinot Noir, including about 5% Pinot Noir press juice blended in for color. The rest is Chardonnay. It is medium-minus in body with a red plum core, integrated and refreshing acidity and fine perlage. It’s also gluten free.
Gloria Ferrer 2005 Royal Cuvée Brut Carneros
12.5%; www.gloriaferrer.com; $35
This Royal Cuvée was first served to King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain during their 1987 visit to California. Made exclusively with free-run juice, it is soft and easy on the palate. The moderate-sized mousse comes from five long years of lees aging. Its pleasant mix of pears, lemon pith, roses and sweet cream is slightly obscured by generous residual sugar.
gros ventre 2011 Pinot Noir Baranoff Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.grosventrecellars.com; $50
This wine is made from seven clones farmed by Paul Sloan of Small Vines. It was all knees and elbows with noticeably splintery tannins and a surprising hint of prickle. However, there is also solid blueberry fruit concentration, strong minerality and sultry cigar smoke notes that linger on the palate, suggesting the wine could pull through and be a winner.
Guarachi 2011 Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.guarachifamilywines.com; $70
Black plum, blackberry, briar fruit and succulence characterize this wine. This generously fruity trio creates a fairly succulent wine balanced by tugging texture. Alas, it’s pricey for the package.
Hanzell 2012 Chardonnay Sebella Sonoma Valley
13.5%; www.hanzell.com; $36
This younger vine fruit is stainless steel-fermented and aged in one- to three-year-old oak. It exhibits a pleasing leesiness along with beeswax, yellow beans and lemon pulp. The body is generous yet smartly restrained by fresh acidity and a hint of tannin.
Hanzell 2013 Pinot Noir Sebella Sonoma Coast
14%; www.hanzell.com; $60
Chock full of chunky, plentifully ripe fruit, this boisterous Pinot Noir is loaded with black cherries, blackberry preserves, licorice and violet. It’s a beguiling combination. The tannins are subtly restrained while the highly integrated acidity lazes in the background. A bit spirit-y at first, the wine settles down after a good decanting.
Inman 2011 Pinot Noir Thorn Ridge Ranch Russian River Valley
13.8%; www.inmanfamilywines.com; $68
This wine is pale cranberry in color with a touch of rust peeking through the middle. It hails from a high elevation vineyard – around 1,000 feet – that is warm by day but cold at night. However, it never sees fog. Super fragrant, this wine smells of hard spice, tealeaves, incense, fresh meat and milk chocolate. Its subtle concentration combines with high acidity to give it an ethereal palate presence.
Johnson Family 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.bowlerwine.com/producer/johnson-family; $18
Bold and boisterous with a mouth-filling richness that even a Cabernet lover could come around to. However, this Pinot is hardly heavy. Its rich blackberry and blueberry fruits are laced with licorice and damp peat. The finish feels lightly grainy despite the smooth tannins, and the acidity is impressively well integrated. It is mind-boggling to try to grasp how a sub-$20 wine made of Pinot Noir (exclusively, presumably) can taste so good.
Joseph Carr 2013 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.josephcarrwine.com; $18
This wine costs less than a Jackson, but it tastes like it’s worth almost double that. There’s lots of complexity bottled up here, and it is overwhelmed initially by reduction from its screw cap closure. Decant it for an hour if you have the chance so that the aromas can transform from leesy to more profound. Lemon curd, peach fuzz, piecrust and vanilla almond milk saturate the aromatic profile with aeration. The palate is seamless with bright and integrated acidity, svelte creaminess and a medium finish with flavors of caramelized banana.
Joseph Phelps 2011 Chardonnay Pastorale Sonoma Coast
13.9%; www.josephphelps.com/sonoma-coast/; $75
Deep yellow in color, this wine has a seriously complex nose. It smells of butterscotch, honey, marzipan and baked apples soaked in baking spices. The palate is smartly structured with a nice balance of medium acidity and a leesy, tannic touch. This wine could use some time to settle down in bottle. Only 530 cases produced.
Joseph Phelps 2012 Pinot Noir Freestone Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.josephphelps.com/sonoma-coast/; $55
Joseph Phelps Vineyards began developing 100 acres of vineyards near Freestone in 1999. This wine is split 60-40 between its two estate vineyards, Quarter Moon and Pastorale, respectively. Deeply colored, the wine is generous on the palate and very characteristically “Sonoma”. It shows-off a mix of forest berries, rotting bark and pencil lead. The finish is a bit warm, though most US West Coast wine lovers won’t notice. They might, however, notice the slightly blocky tannins.
Keller 2011 Pinot Gris La Cruz Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.kellerestate.com; $30
This wine’s restrained nose shows an earthy leesiness that reminded my taste buds of Alsace. There is subtle spice and apple-y fruit, too. The pronounced acidity, lovely smoothness of the mouthfeel and whisper of residual sugar make this a highly complete and rather sophisticated example of Pinot Gris.
Keller 2011 Pinot Noir El Coro Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.kellerestate.com; $52
This wine comes from a vineyard ridgeline. Its exposition makes it a viscous wine. This is a big baby, to be sure. Its flavors veer toward the exotic with figs and black plums, and its volcanic soils contribute a come-hither smokiness. Its body vibrates with acidic tension and lightly choppy tannins.
Kistler 2008 Chardonnay McCrea Sonoma Mountain
14.1%; www.kistlervineyards.com; $98
Big and round on the nose, this wine has a similarly soft and integrated palate with serious unctuousness. I’d love to sip it with lobster risotto! It has a milky, creamy flavor that is lifted by guava and pineapple. Like the other wines from different vintages in this line, the acidity is somewhat lenient and the oak is rather pronounced.
Kutch 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
12.3%; kutchwines.com; $39
Lovely and lightweight, this blackberry-scented wine also delivers black plums, underbrush and a discreet touch of cocoa on the palate. Though the front-line wine of the Kutch line-up, there’s no need to drink this up too soon. Just the right amount of fluid tannins and fresh acidity will keep it kicking for a while.
LaRue 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
13%; www.laruewines.com; $60
Apparently winemaker Katy Wilson drove a tractor before she drove a car. No wonder she wanted to work with the earth. This ruby red wine is impressively pale and its scent is as restrained as its color. Strawberries, meat locker and damp earth surface with time in the glass. Supple tannins and snappy acidity make this highly drinkable.
Littorai 2010 Pinot Noir B.A. Thieriot Sonoma Coast
13.2%; www.litorrai.com; $150
Assistant Winemaker John Wilson said, “’11 was tough, but ’10 was harder.” The grit of the vintage shows in the wine. Though there is some rich black fruit, some of it is obviously roasted. The tannins veer toward tough and the acidity chisels through the core of the wine.
Lutum 2013 Chardonnay Durrell Sonoma Coast
13.8%; lutumwines.com; $50
This rich and creamy Chardonnay is classic California on both the nose and palate. It has good palate density with lots of flan and honeyed nuttiness along side tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. This wine can surely hold on longer, but given its soft acidity, drinking it up young isn’t a bad idea.
Lutum 2013 Pinot Noir Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast
14.13%; lutumwines.com; $60
Pale and limpid in its cranberry red color, this Pinot Noir surprises with its surprisingly boldly fruited, black cherry nose tinged with licorice. Its palate is soft and caressing, showing the slightest hint of warmth on the moderate finish. There’s no doubt, however, that elegance is the aim with the wine. Still, the wine’s Goulding Cobbly Clay Loam does show through in the wine’s broad-shouldered palate. Though efforts have been made to tame the terroir, the wine is exuberantly fruit forward.
Lynmar 2012 Pinot Noir Freestone Russian River Valley
14.3%; www.lynmarestate.com; $60
This is a cuvée of vineyards from above the town of Freestone. It’s über-fresh with nice succulence, and its seriously ripe black fruit is doused with baking spice. The wholesome palate is delicately balanced between just enough acidity and caressing tannins.
MacPhail 2011 Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast
14.2%; www.macphailwine.com; $45
This vibrant wine smells like a bucket of peak-of-ripeness golden apples. Its flavors are dusted with lightly tannic walnut pith and toasted oatmeal. Full-bodied with slightly clumsy alcohol, it lacks finesse, but it’s still a tasty mouthfeel ready to please many a Chardonnay lover. The only thing is there won’t be much of it. Whereas MacPhail made 10-11 barrels in his first two vintages of this wine, there are only five of the 2011.
MacPhail 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.8%; www.macphailwine.com; $40
This is not declassified fruit but rather a purposeful blend of eight different vineyards. It shows true Pinot Noir roots in its earth and damp tree bark notes. There’s also Cherry Cola, tart strawberry and sweet spice. The tannins are graceful and discreet, seemingly leaving the medium-plus acidity to do all the structuring.
MacPhail 2010 Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast
14%; www.macphailwine.com; $49
This wine packs some serious punch on the nose. It’s broodingly black with black plums and blackberries, a hint of game and lots of incense. Its medium-plus concentration gives it good energy, backed up by lively acidity and polished tannins.
MacPhail 2011 Pinot Noir Sundawg Ridge Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.macphailwine.com; $49
James MacPhail says this wine tends to be a bold one. Though it is a touch higher in alcohol and slightly fuller in body than the Gap’s Crown, its flavors seem more subdued to me. There’s easy-going red and blue fruit, a core of spice and a touch of gunpowder. The powdery tannins and low-key acidity are woven in smartly.
MacPhail 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.5%; www.macphailwine.com; $22
I’m always jazzed to find a rosé in the 90+ category. They are rare. This one is impressively savory, and it has an unusual combination in which it smells like Chardonnay yet feels like Pinot Noir. Its dynamic flavors range from cranberry sauce to fresh strawberries and watermelon Jolly Rancher. Yet again, you’ll be lucky to get your hands on this wine as only 13 cases were made!
Marr 2012 Chardonnay Cyprus Sonoma County
13.4%; marrwines.com; $24
A mix of 76, Wente and Hyde clones, this easy, correct and widely-appealing Chardonnay hits just the right marks. Its fruit is clean, smelling of yellow apples, papaya and quince paste. Its acidity is fairly soft, meaning it won’t be long lived, but it’s probably best to gulp it up in its youth anyway.
Moshin 2010 Pinot Noir Morris Ranch Sonoma Coast
14.9%; www.moshinvineyards.com; $45
Blueberries abound on this purely fruited wine that sits on the precipice of over-ripeness. The good news is that it only brinks the ledge. Its round tannins are subtle and its integrated acidity is discreet. Your guests surely will want another bottle or two.
Peirson Meyer 2012 Pinot Noir Bateman Sonoma Coast
14.2%; peirsonmeyer.com; $60
Creamy and round on the palate, this mouth-filling wine is custardy and mouth-coating. It’s über-fruity with forest berry jam. Then, it turns a corner and offers peat and struck flint. It’s quite a beguiling contradiction. The smooth acidity is rather middling, so along with its easy, glossy tannins, it may be better to drink this sooner rather than later.
Pellegrini 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Olivet Lane
14.3%; www.pellegrinisonoma.com; $65
This pale, rose-colored Pinot Noir is initially delicate on both the nose and palate. Decanting helps it blossom, and two hours after I decanted it, its nose smells of dried rose petals, dried blueberries and strawberry pie filling. Its palate is round and generous with moderate, discrete acidity and lightly caressing tannins that add a hint of structure. This makes it a bit of a mushy Pinot Noir, so in addition to decanting it, do serve it at cellar temperature.
Pfendler 2013 Chardonnay Estate Grown Sonoma Coast
14.2%; pfendlervineyards.com; $35
Richly yellow-colored, this star bright wine smells of exotic fruits: banana, papaya and star fruit. The palate diversifies into custard, browned butter, baking bread and sweet spices. Full in body, the wine comes across as slightly warm on the back palate despite the fact the fruit comes from the chilly Petaluma Gap. Nonetheless, it’s rich and juicy without being boisterously oaky.
Ram’s Gate 2011 Chardonnay Hudson Carneros
14.9%; www.ramsgatewinery.com; $64
Only 148 cases were made of this Calera selection wine. Broad and forward on the nose with carb-loaded aromas of oatmeal, piecrust and fresh-baked bread, there’s fruit fiber stuffing in the wine’s yellow apple, apricot and pineapple flavors. This wine wears its flavors on its sleeve and it has just enough structure to keep it in fashion for a few more years.
Red Car 2012 Chardonnay Hagan Sonoma Coast
13.5%; www.redcarwine.com; $58
This is a new single vineyard release from Red Car. Not often seen on labels, Hagan vineyard lies near many much-trumpeted vineyards, like Summa and Thieriot. This wine smells of freshly ground almonds, white peaches and cantaloupe. Its subtle nose reflects its cold site, just five miles from the Pacific. With more time in bottle, its flavors should start to unfold.
Red Car 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé Sonoma Coast
12.7%; www.redcarwine.com; $28
This pale, peachy pink rosé is made in a classic vin grisstyle. It smells of pomelo and kumquat and tastes of cold-pressed watermelon juice and passion fruit sorbet. Light, zippy and bewitching, this primo rosé is composed largely of biodynamically-farmed fruit from the Sebastopol Hills.
Rivers-Marie 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.riversmarie.com; $25
This Pinot Noir is super pale in color with star-bright, ruby inflections. Its somewhat viscous palate is vibratingly fresh with sweet red cherries. Pristine clean with a moderate finish and crisp acidity, this works well as an apéritif or as sipper with light bites.
Schug 2011 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.5%; schugwinery.com; $25
This wine reminds tastes like old school Chablis. It is incredibly leesy with cheese rind, chalk and oyster shell. There’s also a fruit-like lift of apple cider. Though the vines grow in heavy yellow clay laced with loam, there’s plenty of crackling acidity to give it some spring on the palate. Winemaker Michael Cox likes to give this wine 20 minutes of air before sipping.
Schug 2010 Pinot Noir Carneros
14.5%; schugwinery.com; $30
This value-driven Pinot Noir shows tart red cherries, red currants and cranberries lightly laced with smoke. The medium-plus body offers a hint of glycerol that is focused by nervous acidity and lightly drying tannins.
Sebastopol Oaks 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.2%; No Web Site; $20
This is a stunning value for a primo Pinot Noir appellation. Frankly, I didn’t know Russian River Pinots were “allowed” to be priced so low. This one has rich color, a touch of mid-palate fat, velvety tannins and well-balanced acidity. It also manages to escape the Coca-Cola aromas typical of Russian River that sometimes seem odd with food.
Sojourn 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
14.1%; www.sojourncellars.com; $45
This three-vineyard blend combines brioche with caramelized bananas, overripe baked apples and succulent yellow pears with piecrust topped with melted butter. It is a head-turning, crowd-pleasing dynamo with plenty of grounding structure to keep folks quaffing.
Sojourn 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
14.4%; www.sojourncellars.com; $39
“Juicy, smooth and tasty” were my first notes on this wine that blends red cherry and blackberry with potting soil and damp tree bark to make an irresistible wine that drinks well immediately. Yet again, Sojourn simultaneously delivers a wine with broad appeal and complexity.
Soliste 2010 Chardonnay L’Age d’Or Russian River Valley
13.6%; soliste.com; $55
This whole cluster pressed wine aged in 33% new, 660 liter, low-toast and tight-grained barrels shows a warmer climate style fruit that can support more obvious oak that delivers a mouth-filling fruit coating every crevice of the palate with light touches of glycerol and extract. It’s packed with ripe, grainy apples accompanied by golden raisins. The impact is so upfront, that the (only) medium finish is noticeable. It’s still a lovely wine! Only 340 cases were produced of this wine hailing from vines planted in 1971, some of the oldest vines in the Russian River Valley. There’s no MLF here.
Soliste 2012 Pinot Noir Narcisse Sonoma Coast
13.8%; soliste.com; $40
This wine is dedicated to the wider market and (at least at the time tasted) not released to the mailing list. This juice saw 18% whole cluster fermentation and 31% new French oak. The whole lot was aged nine months, between Dagueneau bullet-shaped and traditional Taransaud barrels. Only 38 cases were made. This is a pale, burgundy-colored wine with fragrant and fresh scents of red and black cherries. The integrated acidity is complemented by tugging tannins, pulling all of the flavors into a savory, brooding and medium finish with peaty and burnt ember touches.
Stemmler 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Grown Carneros
13.8%; Closed; $44
This medium-bodied wine has light body and a fairly short finish, making it an early drinker. It tastes of the wispy red fruits that are typical of Carneros and shows a touch of hard-stemmed herbs, too. There’s a hint of glycerol on the mid-palate and light warmth on the peat smoke-driven finish.
Three Sticks 2013 Chardonnay Sonoma Valley
14.5%; www.threestickswines.com; $45
Bright with scintillating reflections, this wine is full of youthful exuberance. Creamy and unctuous on the palate, this opulently-styled Chardonnay has a lovely mouth-coating quality that is neither overwhelming nor palate-fatiguing. This full-bodied wine smells of toasted brioche and roasted yellow apple with touches of baking spice and baked piecrust. It is very drinkable now, but it should have layers to unfold. So, it would be a bit of a shame to drink it too early.
Three Sticks 2014 Chardonnay One Sky Sonoma Mountain
14.5%; www.threestickswines.com; $50
This deeply colored, yellow wine with golden flecks is somewhat reserved. While it shows excellent palate concentration, the overt flavors of baked apple and baking spices are a bit plain Jane and youthful now. However, there is no mistaking this will be an intensely pleasurable wine for those who love ripe and round Chardonnay and have the patience to allow its flavors to reveal more diversity in time.
Three Sticks 2014 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.5%; www.threestickswines.com; $60
This wine is vinified with 20% whole clusters and aged in 60% new oak. It’s incredibly young with its youthfully shy mid-palate of blackberry fruit and its firm, steely tannins. I generally love these wines, but I’m not sure what to make of the 2014 vintage now. Unusually, this wine feels thick and crushingly dense on the palate. It’s less Pinot Noir and more “big red” with softish acidity.
Williams-Selyem 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.1%; www.williamsselyem.com; $52
This wine is all about its vigorous tannin, which feels like over-steeped tea. Pronounced acidity heightens this drying sensation. Underneath lurks pristine clean fruit: boysenberries, blueberries and black cherries. This is mostly estate fruit from Drake Vineyard in the heart of the Russian River and combines a blend of Pommard and heritage clones.
Wind Gap 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
13.7%; windgapwines.com; $38
This wine has a generous nose with tablespoons of enticing spices. There’s ripe honeydew melon, yellow apple and clove on the palate. It’s impressively mouth-coating and rich in body at 13.7% alcohol, enough so that it seems less a Wind Gap-styled wine and more of a typical Sonoma Chardonnay.
Wind Gap 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
12.75%; windgapwines.com; $38
This Pinot Noir is composed from nine sites within reach of the wind-influenced Petaluma Gap. Seeming to echo its pale – yet glimmering – color, this wine’s fragrance is gentle with rose buds and fallen branches dominating the ripe blackberries and black plum skin underneath. Feisty acidity and lightly stringy tannins keep this light-bodied Pinot Noir highly focused on the palate.
Wind Gap 2013 Pinot Noir Sun Chase Sonoma Coast
13.5%; windgapwines.com; $60
Generously magenta in color, this wine is magnanimous in its perfume. It’s loaded with mulberries, potpourri and charcoal along with a decent dollop of “funk”. It’s not exactly elegant, what with its lightly viscous palate being framed by chewy tannins, but it isfun to drink and performs very well at the table.