Put These Sonoma Wines on Your Radar


Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is an event filled with terrific wine and food from Sonoma County -- for a cause. Over two hundred wineries and sixty local chefs come together to raise funds for local non-profits in the environment, health, and literacy fields. Top chefs and winemakers band together to create a gustatory tour of what Sonoma County has to offer. A variety of events took place over Labor Day weekend at some of California’s most beloved wineries. These are names with which you are surely familiar. Francis Ford Coppola, MacMurray Estate Vineyards (which sits on the MacMurray Ranch property previously owned by the late actor Fred MacMurray), and one of Sonoma’s most picturesque properties, Chateau St. Jean, are all part of the fabric of modern day American wine history. These wineries, vineyards, and the event itself, remind us how much the region has grown and evolved over the last century. Sonoma is without a doubt an integral part of our wine heritage.
At the heart of the weekend was a charitable auction of thirty eight lots ranging from bottle collections to travel experiences and private dining. Over four million dollars were raised, a massive success which should be loudly applauded! In the process of raising money for great causes, many outstanding wines were poured. I was fortunate enough to sample some of them. Here’s a look at my favorites.

Chateau St. Jean 2014 Robert Young Chardonnay ($25)
Robert Young Vineyard, where the fruit for this wine was sourced, is one of the most iconic Chardonnay vineyards in Sonoma County. Roasted nut and golden delicious apple aromas light up the nose. Concentrated yellow fruit flavors dominate the palate. Continued apples, bits of crème fraiche and a boatload of spice are apparent on the above average finish. Most striking about this Chardonnay is the rich, luxurious mouthfeel.

Martin Ray 2015 Clone 809 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($35)
A mere 120 cases of this single clone Chardonnay were produced. From the first whiff to the last sip it’s simply stuffed with an avalanche of fresh fruit flavors. Granny Smith Apple and Anjou pear are of particular note. A cornucopia of minerals and a sprinkling of spices dot the memorable finish. This is a very specific, special, and delicious expression of Chardonnay. This Clone 809 Chardonnay is so full of pure fruit and at the same time remarkably proportionate. Think of this offering as a sneak peek into the exciting things going on at Martin Ray theses days.

Pedroncelli 2014 Bench Vineyards Merlot ($17)
Pedroncelli has a portfolio loaded with wines that are easy on the wallet for the quality they offer and delicious to drink. This Merlot is among that number. Violet end fleshy black fruit aromas fill the nose. Red and black fruit flavors dominate the mouth-filling palate along with plenty of spice notes. Crushed red cherry and a wisp of dusty dark chocolate are present on the above average finish. The Pedroncelli Family has been crushing it in Dry Creek Valley for nearly 90 years, if their wines aren’t already on your radar, they should be.

MacMurray Ranch 2014 Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir ($35)
The Pinot Noir for this wine came from three vineyards, including the Estate Ranch. Gentle wisps of violet, toast and red fruit emerge from the nose. Mushroom, tobacco, bay leaf and red cherry flavors fill the substantial palate. The finish is above average and loaded with spices, dried fruit and a dollop of earthiness. This is a tasty and pretty example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Collier Falls 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($36)
From his property in the heart of Dry Creek Valley Barry Collier produces an outstanding portfolio of small lot wines. Year after year that includes one of the best Zinfandels money can buy. Raspberry and blackberry aromas leap with conviction from the nose here. The palate is loaded with strawberry, black pepper and continued raspberry references. The finish is long, spicy and complex with more fruit and a healthy dusting of sweet cocoa. If you want to know what Zinfandel really tastes like, this a perfect place to start.

Camlow Cellars 2013 Magna Porcum Pinot Noir ($45)
This limited production, Estate Grown, Russian River Valley Pinot is poised to be the next Cult Pinot out of California. All of the fruit came from “Big Pig,” their estate vineyard which is planted to four clones of Pinot. Blackberry and hints of black tea waft from the welcoming nose. Boysenberry, leather and gentle bits of earth dot the deeply layered and elegant palate. The persistent, mouthwatering finish shows off sour red fruits, a bevy of spices and a sprinkling of earth. This Pinot Noir would be a fair deal at twice the price, it’s that good. My advice is to buy some and also get on their mailing list while it’s still possible.

ACORN 2013 Medley ($48)
ACORN Winery, located in Russian River Valley and very close to Dry Creek Valley is one of the jewels in the crown of Sonoma County. From their Estate Vineyard they produce gorgeous wines. Each vineyard block is planted as a field blend, so every wine has much more than the named variety in it. Medley is a blend of the best vineyard lots and represents Alegria Vineyards as a whole. It’s composed of Syrah, Zinfandel, Cinsault, Sangiovese, Muscats, Viognier, Dolcetto, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and more. Taken as a piece the ACORN wines are remarkably balanced, acid rich, food friendly offerings that age well. This vintage of Medley fits that bill to a tee. The nose resembles nothing more than a big bowl of fresh red fruits. The palate is stuffed with cherry and red currant as well as a host of spices. Vanilla bean, earth, mushroom, and sweet cocoa are all part of the finish. This wine is simply awesome. It’s fantastic now and will age well for at least a dozen years.

Lambert Bridge 2012 Malbec ($70)
Lambert Bridge is a boutique Dry Creek Valley producer that sells its wine direct to consumers. A small handful of wineries in Sonoma produce a varietal Malbec and this is one of the best. Red flower aromas emerge from the nose along with lots of plum characteristics as well as black cherry. The palate is loaded with plenty of juicy red fruit, spice, and a dollop of earth. Bits of boysenberry and chocolate sauce dot the persistent finish which demands you come back to the glass for sip after sip.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon ($75)
This fruit came from a vineyard site first planted in 1971. It was in fact the first in Alexander Valley to produce a single vineyard Cabernet. This library offering is still young fresh and vibrant. The nose is big, bold and slightly ostentatious with plum, bits of vanilla bean and black currant. Black and red cherry flavors dominate the palate. Sweet dark chocolate, bits of chicory and pepper are all evident on the above average finish. This powerful but proportionate wine is just entering its prime drinking window, enjoy it over the next 8 years.

Kosta Browne 2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($110)
This Pinot was produced from five distinct vineyard sites located in the Sonoma Coast, one of the most exciting AVA’s for Pinot in California. Mushroom and black currant aromas fill the nose. The palate is studded with black cherry, tobacco, and leather. Cranberry, pomegranate, earth, minerals and wisps of rosemary appear on the long finish. Racy acid adds to the mouthwatering nature of this beautiful Pinot Noir.

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