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Great Whites of Sonoma

 


While Sonoma is well known for red wines -- just think of all the Dry Creek Zinfandels, Alexander Valley Cabernets, and Russian River Pinots that we’ve fallen in love with -- it’s now time to give Sonoma’s whites their due!

Sonoma’s complex mix of geography, geology, and winemaking styles has allowed almost all white varieties to find a home in one nook or another of the region's vast vineyards. It’s not surprising that Chardonnay excels in Sonoma, as it tends to flourish in the same regions that excel with Pinot Noir, but the rise of some of Sonoma’s other classic white varieties might surprise you.

Chardonnay

Well, it’s no surprise that we would start with Chardonnay, still America’s favorite white wine. Many of Sonoma’s valleys have proven to be ideal for Chardonnay, and the moderating use of winemaking techniques developed to deal with cool climate wines in this fairly warm region means we’re seeing more balanced, fresh Chardonnay being produced than ever before.

2007 De Loach O F S Chardonnay Russian River Valley 14.5% $$$

O F S stands for “Our Finest Selection” and this certainly stands up to its billing. The nose offers up a touch of buttery toast under floral-tinged tropical fruit flecked with cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace. In the mouth, the wines starts out really well-defined with fine acids and lovely focus before it gains width on the midpalate with mineral and spice notes embedded in rich orchard and pineapple fruits. The toasty spice takes a more prominent role on the long finish. This is impressively taut and finely layered with an elegance that can sometimes be hard to find in New World Chardonnay. 93pts

2008 Pedroncelli Chardonnay Dry Creek Valley 13.5% $

This is surprisingly perfumed with lively aromas of pear and slightly tropical fruits over a base of slightly spice oak tones. In the mouth this is simple and fresh with a fairly light feel that reveals a slight creamy edge on the midpalate. The finish returns to a crisper style with a hint of wood spice on the finale. Not a powerhouse but a fine, balanced wine that is a crowd pleaser. 86pts

Sauvignon Blanc

Here’s a grape that tends to like a fairly warm and in particular sunny sites to give its all. It’s not surprising that it grows well in regions that do well with Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a cross between the white Sauvignon Blanc and red Cabernet Franc. The classic notes of grass and green pepper can be managed in the vineyard and with viticultural practices advancing each year it’s not surprising that we are seeing more and more successful Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma.

2009 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree Vineyard Dry Creek Valley  14.1% $$

The nose is slightly reticent but with balanced and attractive notes of bitter greens, green chili, and lime over a base of clay soil tones. Really seamless on entry and with no trace of the alcohol, this just caresses the palate with a gentle yet vibrant array of herb-tinged succulent fruit. There is fine acidity, which becomes obvious on the moderately long, white peach and mineral tinged finish but the wine is remarkably lightweight and soft in the mouth though it does not lack for flavor. This is the type of wine that can seem disarmingly simple on it’s own, but still be perfectly lovely, but when paired with the right meal this can explode! I’m thinking of something with goat cheese and hazelnuts, like Mario Batali’s Penne with Spicy Goat Cheese And Hazelnut Pesto. 92pts

2009 Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc Charlotte’s Home Northern Sonoma 13.5% $$


Really fresh and grassy on the nose with hints of arugula, gooseberry, and Meyer lemon adding to the bouquet. On entry this is bright and very juicy with rich citrus flavors in a n almost warmed fruit kind of way. It’s nicely balanced with enough zesty acids to keep the mouth refreshed but enough soft citrus fruit to make this easy to drink. The moderate finish reveals some nice herbals tones and just a hint of pithy fruit that lingers on the palate giving this nice sweet/sour tension. 88pts

2009 Foppiano Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 14% $$

Very fruity on the nose with gentle green elements adding complexity but well managed enough to allow the rich lime and peach fruit to dominate the nose. Nice and even a bit edgy on entry with fine acidity helping to frame the fruit flavors which mirror the peach and citrus tones of the nose. This is fairly broad in the mouth and retains nice tension across the midpalate before finishing with lovely purity to the citrus fruits.  You could easily enjoy this on its own or pair with simple prepared seafood. 88pts

Pinot Gris - Pinot Grigio

Now here’s something a bit surprising, Pinot Grigio is on the rise in Sonoma. Both Alder Brook and Chateau St. Jean have just added Pinot Gris to their portfolios. It’s interesting to see that both are making the first efforts more in the Alsatian style that emphasizes the richness and spice that Pinot Gris is capable of delivering, as opposed to the crisper, leaner style frequently associated with the Pinot Grigio of northern Italy.

Alder Brook is barrel fermenting all of their Pinot Gris and then aging the wines sur lies for 6 months while the wine from Ch. St. Jean saw only 7% of the blend aged in wood, but another 38% was aged sur lies in stainless steel barrels to add additional creaminess to the wine without losing any freshness. Both of these wines are only available directly from the winery, a great reason to plan a visit.

2007 Chalk Hill Pinot Gris North Slope Russian River Valley 14.9% $$$$

This has rather intense notes of herb and flower-inflected, mineral laden dried pear and peach fruits on the nose. There’s a serious layer of spice here as well with notes of dried orange peel, licorice and nut meat slowly weaving their way through the bouquet. On entry this is rich but with fine balance, the weight really begins to reveal itself on the rich palate that is packed with dried peach and pear fruit accented with notes of tangerine peel and soft baking spice. The finish reveals layers is mineral and toasted nut notes, with a bit of heat as well, and a long, pure fruit character. This is a Pinot Grigio best saved for colder weather and will make a fine match to many an autumnal dish like goose confit served with braised root vegetables of spiced pumpkin ravioli! Intense and impressive.  93pts

2008 Jacuzzi Pinot Grigio Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Carneros 14.5% $$

This has a lovely, crisp and fresh nose with a fine mineral tone accenting the classic citrus and pear aromas. In the mouth this is rich yet retains a nice bright tone to the orchard fruits.  There is a bit of heat here but the acidity remains quite fresh. It’s a fairly typical warm climate example of Pinot Grigio yet that acid gives it nice tension in the mouth and on to the long, fruity finish. 88pts

Aromatic Varieties

Gewurztraminer and Viognier have always had their proponents in California but if you look at the benchmark examples of these wines you’ll see that they’re coming from much cooler sites than what much of California can offer. It’s taken a long time for California’s winemakers and growers to come to grips with the fact that less ideal sites are sometimes better for wine grapes!

In the case of these aromatic grapes, cooler sites can help to preserve the perfumes that set these wines apart. The cooler climates allow the fruit to mature in a more balanced way, but it can still be hard to keep the alcohol of these grapes in check. 

2007 Hook & Ladder Gewurztraminer Russian River Valley 13.8% $$


This has a fruity nose full of lime, pineapple and grapefruit, which is a bit unusual for Gewurtz. In the mouth this is fairly well balanced with a gentle edge of sweetness to help balance the bright acidity and add some power to the juicy citrus fruit tones. It finishes a bit short but has a certain sneaky appeal. A fun, easygoing wine. 87pts

2008 Gundlach Bundschu Rhinefarm Gewurztraminer 14.5% $$


This is richly perfumed with a pronounced baked orchard fruit tone on the nose that is joined by classic elements of flowers and hints of dried spices. In the mouth this is fairly rich, certainly quite powerful, and dry. Its got a touch of heat, which becomes more apparent on the finish but the rich flavors of dried orange peel, herbal floral tones, and lychee extend on the long finish. 88pts.

2006 Alexander Valley Vineyards Wetzel Family Estate Viognier 14% $$

Nicely aromatic, with more of an earthy, nutty aspect than one might expect from Viognier. The fruit veers a bit more towards the citrus end of the spectrum than the more typical peach, though does develop a nice apricot tone with air. In the mouth this is fairly full, perhaps a bit hot, though with good focus and nice rich fruit, again a bit more on the citrus side than one might expect and finishing with a refreshing hint of pithy bitterness.  Definitely not a typical Viognier and that is not a bad thing!  89pts


$    Under $10
$$    $10-$17
$$$    $17-$25
$$$$    $25-$40
$$$$$    Above $40

Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,842

    Good to swing the focus on Sonoma's whites, Greg. Would love to see more detail on the chards....

    Aug 17, 2010 at 11:22 AM


  • Snooth User: purplt01
    536103 13

    Have you tried the Sonoma Chardonnay from Costco (Kirkland brand)? This a great white, for under $10, and consistently good. No idea which Sonoma vineyard produces it, but I have bought several cases over the past few years, and it never disappoints.

    Aug 17, 2010 at 2:23 PM


  • Snooth User: riggy
    95179 14

    Kastania produces a chardonnay under a second label, Jaid, that is pure, delicious and about $20/bottle.

    Inman Family Pinot Gris is a favorite of ours year in and out. It has great pear and apple and can hold up to almost any food.

    Bjornstad's Sonoma County chardonnay at $25 is one of the best buys on the planet. The flavor profile is like no other with the perfect balance of depth and structure. Greg's Ritchie, if you want to spend $50 for a bottle, is every bit as good, if not better, than chards from the same vineyard at twice the price.

    Aug 17, 2010 at 3:12 PM


  • Snooth User: jnine
    523544 10

    I was just there and loved all the whites. The chardonnay was exquisite. Loved Jacuzzi-beautiful grounds, and especially Kunde. We did a tour, but it was fantastic. They even bring you down into their caves where it's all stored for tastings. Try Extranomical for their Woods & Wine tour-fabulous!

    Aug 17, 2010 at 3:19 PM


  • Snooth User: forrestt
    243235 2

    Wait till you have the chance to taste the 2009 Foppiano Estate Chardonnay. Really great expression of Russian River fruit.

    Aug 17, 2010 at 3:30 PM


  • For incomparable value and satisfaction, I would suggest Acacia's Marsh Chardonnay and beautifully balanced Chards from Ceja. John from Scottsdale

    Aug 17, 2010 at 4:18 PM


  • Snooth User: Vine Master Fanucchi
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    46167 371

    It is good to see you talking about great refreshing white wines from Sonoma County that are un-Oaked. It takes great grapes grown in the right environment to make such wines with true fruit character. Most white wines grown even in our Sonoma-Napa region would have no character without heavy Oak. It's a good thing there is a big market for that stuff, but so many people are turned off of white wine completely because the rarely find the refreshing & complex whites some of us do grow & make.

    One Rare Variety you didn't fit into your article Is Trousseau Gris. It's Grown at the Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard in the Sonoma County's Russian River Valley.

    Several Wineries use some of our fruit, and of course I make some under the Fanucchi Vineyards Wine label that is highly awarded & is here on Snooth (the bottom link below)

    To learn about the rare Trousseau Gris see:
    http://www.fanucchivineyards.com/tr...

    To check out the independent Accolades:
    http://www.fanucchivineyards.com/tr...

    To Order Direct (with No extra charge for CA Shipping): http://www.fanucchivineyards.com/order

    To visit the Snooth page on Fanucchi Vineyards Trousseau Gris:
    http://www.snooth.com/wine/fanucchi...

    Salute!

    Aug 17, 2010 at 4:42 PM


  • My wife and I have always enjoyed many of the white wines from Sonoma. As far as Chards go, I'm glad a lot of wineries both in Sonoma and Napa, especially, have decided not to overdo it on the oak aging and let the grapes do well on their own (or with just a little help) during the wine-making process. We will definitely make it a point to look for a few of these whites you recommend. Cheers!

    Aug 17, 2010 at 5:11 PM


  • Snooth User: foopsi
    89718 14

    2 faves that deserve mention:
    Merry Edwards (best known as the grande dame of US Pinot) makes a Sauvignon Blanc as well - you'll find none finer made anywhere in the USA, IMHO - now producing a killer sweet SB too - unreal... Keep an eye out also for her occasional Chardonnay and even more elusive sparkler... All ME wines are near impossible to find at retail, esp the farther east you are. Restaurants and cellar lists take virtually all...
    Chasseur is also equally adept at Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - more Burgundian style than most. Almost always awesome vineyard-designate wines to be sure - and pricey they are - but be sure to check out their appellation wines - now there's a triple play of appellation Chardonnays: Russian River, Sonoma Coast and newest addition Sonoma County. No need to rush to drink these wines either as I thnk they benefit from a little bit of bottle age (for those that appreciate that). Bill Hunter says he personally prefers them on the young side for their primary fruit though...
    I could go on....

    Aug 17, 2010 at 9:44 PM


  • Snooth User: Citroes
    477312 2

    As a South African that do not get to taste much from California, I am rather interested in your assessment that Sauvignon Blanc prefers sunny, warmer sites and Viognier cooler spots. Its quite the opposite here (and in New Zealand) where we source the coolest vineyards for our Sauvignon's and our Viognier's tend to fare quite well in warmer climates (as it does in Rhone, its spiritual home). The Sauvignon's we produce that come from warmer areas tend to be rather tropical in flavour, while the more sought after green pepper, green apple, gooseberry and fresh cut grass with racy acidity comes from the cooler spots. Does the American palate prefer the tropical notes?

    Aug 18, 2010 at 5:09 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,259

    In my discussions with California winemakers who have worked with the varietals there seem to be two distinct over-views. As with all generalizations these will be provable wrong but - Many winemakers love to remove all the green from anything Sauvignon. Cab or blanc so lots of leaf pulling and warmer sites, and yes that does mean more soft tropical fruit tones Sauv Blancs.

    I wonder what a South African "warmer" area is like vis-a-vis one of California's. I think one of the reasons you guys favor warmer sites is that you have a rather compressed growing season.

    With Viognier there seems to be an issue with high alcohol and low acid. I think many growers are looking for spots with greater diurnal shifts, and long slow hang time.

    One of the big differences between the Rhone and California is not necessarily temps, but soil, drainage and irrigation.

    I think the "American palate", in as much as it exists, does prefer a softer wine with a sweeter palate impression. I have been particularly fond of South African Sauc Blancs for some time and consistently buy the Buitenverwachting almost every summer.

    Aug 18, 2010 at 10:17 AM


  • Snooth User: Styxdvr
    419134 30

    During a recent trip, I was most impressed with the Chardonnays from Gary Farrell. They were well balanced, not overly oaked, with layers of complexity and a long beautiful finish. The reds were excellent as well.

    Sep 02, 2010 at 8:28 PM


  • Snooth User: Sam69
    596809 1

    My favourite Chardonnay in Sonoma isn't mentioned. A big fat chard by Ed Sbragia and family. His son is the wine maker now, but this rivals Berringers Sbragia and Private Reserve from Napa. It's not available in Canada yet, unless you import it. It is well worth it though. Sbragia Family Vineyards Gamble Ranch Chardonnay. YUMMY!!!!

    Oct 01, 2010 at 11:26 AM


  • Snooth User: KThomLV
    663163 11

    Discussion of Sonoma Chards without mentioning Kistler or Ferrari Carono seems incomplete, but I guess they don't need our help! Still, Kistler is my nectar (when I can afford it!). Thanks for the insiightful article. I am excited for the Pinot Gris and wish them well...

    Dec 17, 2010 at 6:16 PM


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