Okay, so from my time in retail I can honestly say that the most dreaded staff tasting days were the domestic Chardonnay days. I can remember them vividly, which may understate the traumatic nature of so many of them.
Seriously, this was not so long ago, but the wines being produced were a significant step down from what I’ve been tasting lately. It seems that freshness is taking over from intensity in many of the wines, a welcome change, and while there is no denying that these are warm climate wines, they still offer up impressive complexity and precision that I tend to associate with cooler regions.
If you’re gonna knock these wines, you might as well do it on price because frankly, they’re not that cheap, though I did find a great values under $15, under $20 and under $40 that each are worth talking about – so I’m gonna do just that!
When talk gets around to Chardonnay for me, I’m usually thinking of Burgundy, more so even than with Pinot Noir. For whatever reason, Sonoma has sort of become the Burgundy of California’s northern wine region. Now I know you could argue that it’s a combination of climate, soil and the like, but truthfully I only think that’s a valid take for the true Sonoma Coast – for the rest of the county, eh, not so much.
Maybe it was a natural reaction to that other Valley that grabbed all the attention for its Cabernet-based wines. I’m not really sure because obviously I am not convinced that Sonoma is indeed the Burgundy of California, though it is teeming with Pinot and Chardonnay.
That’s not a bad thing by the way, I actually love to visit Sonoma and think that the nature of the industry there has a lot to do with the wines that are being made. Napa has the big names, much like Bordeaux has the big chateaux, but Sonoma seems to still be home to the farmers. There is a certain aspect to many of these folk that lends them a natural kinship to their Burgundian brethren.
It’s natural to see the same vineyard vinified by different producers, much as it is in Burgundy. I think there was a subconscious effort on the part of the Sonoma winemakers and grape growers to turn Sonoma into the Burgundy of the West. It reinforces so much of their ethos and just seems to fit the personality of the valley.
I will probably always associate Sonoma first and foremost with Zinfandel (another aspect of Sonoma’s personality, all pioneer and slightly quixotic), but the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and other assorted nooks and crannies have proven their value when it comes to Pinot and Chardonnay.
This lineup of wines really captures the current state of the wine industry in Sonoma, and most of California, in fact. There are some great wines, all priced well but certainly not cheap, along with a smattering of excellent values at almost every price point, but you do have to do some sifting to find the high points.
You can certainly get an idea of the wines, their style and type from simply tasting them, but the aspect of these wines that is slowly being revealed, through better site selection as well as refined winemaking techniques, is their terroir. Yes, these wines are beginning to show terroir! It would be great to be able to head back out to Sonoma and taste some of these wines in situ.
If you’re lucky enough to be heading out that way anytime soon, you should check out what our partners have on offer today. Now, onto the wines!