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.
ChardonnayWell, 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% $$$
O F S stands for “Our Finest Selection” and this certainly stands up to its billing. The nose offers up a touch of buttery toast under floral-tinged tropical fruit flecked with cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace. In the mouth, the wines starts out really well-defined with fine acids and lovely focus before it gains width on the midpalate with mineral and spice notes embedded in rich orchard and pineapple fruits. The toasty spice takes a more prominent role on the long finish. This is impressively taut and finely layered with an elegance that can sometimes be hard to find in New World Chardonnay. 93pts
2008 Pedroncelli Chardonnay Dry Creek Valley 13.5% $
This is surprisingly perfumed with lively aromas of pear and slightly tropical fruits over a base of slightly spice oak tones. In the mouth this is simple and fresh with a fairly light feel that reveals a slight creamy edge on the midpalate. The finish returns to a crisper style with a hint of wood spice on the finale. Not a powerhouse but a fine, balanced wine that is a crowd pleaser. 86pts
Sauvignon BlancHere’s a grape that tends to like a fairly warm and in particular sunny sites to give its all. It’s not surprising that it grows well in regions that do well with Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a cross between the white Sauvignon Blanc and red Cabernet Franc. The classic notes of grass and green pepper can be managed in the vineyard and with viticultural practices advancing each year it’s not surprising that we are seeing more and more successful Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma.
2009 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Fig Tree Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 14.1% $$
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 GrigioNow 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 VarietiesGewurztraminer 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% $$
Nicely aromatic, with more of an earthy, nutty aspect than one might expect from Viognier. The fruit veers a bit more towards the citrus end of the spectrum than the more typical peach, though does develop a nice apricot tone with air. In the mouth this is fairly full, perhaps a bit hot, though with good focus and nice rich fruit, again a bit more on the citrus side than one might expect and finishing with a refreshing hint of pithy bitterness. Definitely not a typical Viognier and that is not a bad thing! 89pts
$ Under $10
$$$$$ Above $40