Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sonoma Valley: Zins, Pinots, and Cyrus

In the midst of my West Coast interviews, I took a side trip to Sonoma. Armed with recommendations from a trusted wine enthusiast (my sister-in-law), I planned to visit Gary Farrell, Ferrari Carano, Jordan, and Ridge in the Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River Valleys surrounding Healdsburg, CA.

It was the perfect vacay.

Day 1
The day began at Gary Farrell in the Russian River Valley. The tasting room was very tranquil and offered stunning views of the valley. It was pretty empty so the server was really attentive and even gave us recommended other wineries to visit. I enjoyed their Pinots, particularly the Hallberg Pinot from Russian River Valley. Think silky red fruit and earth, laced with spicy oak. IMHO, the Zin was too jammy, with overly ripe prune.

We made our way to Rodney Strong also in the Russian River Valley for a quick taste. I found the Symmetry Alexander Valley Meritage to be a pleasant and easily drinkable blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot, malbec, and cabernet franc.

One of the wine folks we met recommended doing a cave tasting at Bella Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Tasting in the cave was a ton of fun and definitely a unique experience. The host was friendly, laid back, and informative. The other wine enthusiasts were locals and extremely friendly, which added to the ambience. Although I was not overly wowed by the vast majority of their wines, the tasting was a good introduction to Zinfandel. I enjoyed the Two Patch Zin (smooth, red fruit, and spice), and the Lily Hill Petit Syrah. The Late Harvest Zin was reminiscent of Port and quite nice.

We arrived at Lambert Bridge in Dry Creek Valley right at closing but they served us anyway. They poured 10 wines-- that's a lot of wine for the last tasting of the day! Highlights were the viogner, Zin Maple, and Cab Franc. The lightly oaked, crisp Vigoner would pair well with a Thai Green curry. The Maple Vineyards Zin is a luscious field blend with petit syrah, showing lots of red fruit, vanilla, and cocca integrated with oak. I really enjoyed the rich Cab Franc blended with merlot, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. It had soft undertones, spice, hints of cassis and chocolate.

For dinner we tried to go to Cena Luna but the kitchen closes ridiculously early on weeknights. So instead we dined at Dry Creek Kitchen, which was utterly disappointing. My yukon gold potato gnocchi with pickled purple cauliflower was greasy and lacked texture and flavor. It was probably a good thing that I didn't eat more than two bites because it let me save room for the *delicious* dinner at Cyrus the next night :-)

Day 2
We had an appointment for the first tasting of the day at Jordan in Alexander Valley. We met in the beautiful ivy covered French-style chateau overlooking the immaculate grounds. The staff was pleasant and the host was very friendly. He gave an excellent tour describing the history of the winery and wine making process. We tasted the 2005 Chardonnay on the terrace, admiring the stunning vista. Aged 6 months in French Oak, the wine shows pear and fig and nice balance between butter and spiced oak. The rest of the tastings were inside and paired with cheese. I enjoyed the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon and found it to be soft, with good red fruit, black cherry. The wine is aged 18-24 months in American/French oak and then aged for 2 more years. The most current release, the 2005 Cabernet, has merlot and petite verdot. It has red fruit and is slightly vegetal, green bell pepper. I found it to be too young, paunchy and exhibiting high tannins. The 2006 vintage will be released this spring. After the tasting, our host walked us through the barrel room where the bottles rest before release.

Next we popped in for a tasting at deLorimier Winery in Alexander Valley. The wines were just OK. The Zin was excessively alcoholic and pruney, which is my most common compliant about Zinfandels. The hostess was friendly, and the lovely patio offered scenic views.

We stopped for a delightful lunch at Diavola Pizzeria consisting of delicious margherita pizza and a wonderful escarole salad with pickeled onions, endive, toasted walnuts, pecorino and a mustard vinaigrette. It was an absolutely perfect lunch for a leisure day of wine tasting!

Then we made our way to the oh so beautiful Ferrari-Carano winery in Dry Creek Valley. The first Chardonnay I ever enjoyed was the Ferrari-Carano. So naturally I was excited to try the Tre Terre Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. It was wonderful! I thought the Sienna was a nice example of a Sangiovese. Overall the wines were good and the tasting experience was certainly elevated by the luxurious beauty of the winery grounds. After the tasting, we spent time wandering around the grounds where I fell in love with the charming garden. There was even a cork oak tree!

We ended our day with fabulous Zins at Ridge Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley. The tasting room itself is minimalist and in an eco-friendly building. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly. The wines were rich, sensuous, and delicious. Thanks to Ridge, I have a new found appreciation for Zins! I really enjoyed the Pagani Ranch and the Lytton Springs.

The absolutely wonderful day concluded with an incredible dinner at Cyrus.  You can read more about our dining experience here. It was an excellent first trip to Sonoma...  Happiness.

A. Rafanelli, Silver Oak, Simi, and Flowers winery have been added to my list of places to visit next time.

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