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Alexander Valley hills - halfwine travels to Sonoma, California to find quality half bottles of wine

Sonoma

Alexander Valley

Silver Oak Cellars

24625 Chianti Rd, Geyserville, CA 95441 (The tasting room address changed to Alexander Valley just after our visit) +1 707-942-7082
Open Monday - Saturday: 10am - 5pm, Sunday: 11am - 5pm
www.silveroak.com
Silver Oak tasting room

Silver Oak tasting room

This cellar door was impressive so it would be interesting to see the replacement when it comes on line. Very knowledgeable and helpful tasting room staff. On this experience we added their fellow winery Twomey to our list of must-visit Napa wineries. In contrast to most places where we tasted they only use American oak. We tasted their Alexander Valley Cabernet ’12 which, as we were beginning to find out was a superb year, was full of fruit and tannins with an amazing aroma ($75). The ’07 was softer with less tannins ($100). The Napa Valley Cabernet had 10 to 20% other Bordeaux varietals. We again tasted the ’12 and ’07 which mirrored the Alexander Valley cabs ($125 and $150). The winery thought that both were about 25 year wines. We bought one of each of the ‘12s. Unfortunately no half bottles but these are widely available throughout the USA so look out for them if you are after a great Cab.

Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs

650 Lytton Springs Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448 +1 408-867-3233
Open 11 to 4
www.ridgewine.com
Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs tasting room

Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs tasting room

We went primarily to taste the Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet which did so well in the Judgement of Paris but also tried the Lytton range which specialises in Zinfandel. Although they had a tasting menu we did not try them all. The ’14 Ridge Monte Bello was everything that we expected, a great wine ($200). Then we tried the Zins starting with the ’15 Geyserville which was a blend of 70% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah (sic) from vineyards near the local river that also has some old vines; this had great fruit. The ’14 Lytton Springs (69% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 11% Carignane) had more tannins and structure that the Geyserville and was just what we were looking for in a Zin ($40). We bought the Monte Bello and the Lytton Springs.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

700 Grove St, Healdsburg, CA 95448 +1 707-433-3579
Open 10 to 5
www.seghesio.com
Seghesio tasting room

Seghesio tasting room

We stock Seghesio’s half bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel (see here) which is their entry level Zin so we just had to visit to taste the rest of their range. Being from Piedmont, Italy they also grow a number of varietals from there. We started with the white Arneis ’14 which was very fresh and light ($22) and then the ’14 Barbera which was smooth and easy going ($38). The ’12 1942 Block Grenache was very spicy and full of fruit ($48). And then onto the Zins starting with the ’13 Cortina which scored an impressive 94 points in The Wine Advocate; it was everything one expected in a Californian Zinfandel without being an over-the-top fruit bomb ($40). The ’13 Maffei is so called because the grapes come from a vineyard in Russian River farmed by the Maffei family ($48) and the ’13 Old Vine comes from vines averaging about 70 years old ($40); both these were a touch to austere for us but will no doubt come into their own a few years down the road. The ’13 Pagani Heritage was not as austere but a touch too big ($48). We bought ’13 Cortina Zinfandel.

Stuhlmuller Vineyards

4951 W Soda Rock Ln, Healdsburg, CA 95448 +1 707-431-7745
Open 7 days a week, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
www.stuhlmullervineyards.com
Stuhlmuller cellar door

Stuhlmuller cellar door

We arrived just before closing time which didn’t phase them at all. Once they saw that we spat out all the tasting wine we were very welcome and stayed way past closing time for a very enjoyable tasting. The ’14 Estate Cab was full of fruit ($42) and the ’14 Block 11 was even more so, a bit much for us. The ’14 Estate Zinfandel was full of red fruits and spicy (from the American oak) ($32). The ’14 Roger’s School House Zinfandel had porty overtones and was not to our taste. We bought the Estate Zinfandel.

View from Chalk Hill cellar door on a rainy day

View from Chalk Hill cellar door on a rainy day

Just south of Alexander Valley there is the Chalk Hill AVA.

Chalk Hill Vineyard

14255 Chalk Hill Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448 +1 707-433-5218
Open 10 to 5
www.chalkhill.com
Chalk Hill tasting room

Chalk Hill tasting room

Chalk Hill vineyard was the only winery we visited in this relatively small area (only one tenth of the vineyards of Alexander Valley) This area in one of the few in California that specialise in Sauvignon Blank (among other varietals). A strong focus on brand as they start to move more and more into wine tourism. They had two tasting options, the Estate ($20) and the Reserve ($30), of 4 wines each; the main difference between the two ranges seemed to be the amount of new French oak. The ’15 Sauvignon Blanc Musque was obviously oaked, a bit metallic but fresh ($40). One would have thought that the regular Sauvignon would have been unoaked but no, it was too ($33). Must admit we are not a fan of oaked Sauvignons. The ’14 Wrights Creek Chardonnay was full, buttery and oaky but still refined with a long aftertaste; malolactic fermentation and being unfined and unfiltered all contributing ($75). The ’15 Mt Eden Clone Pint was very rich but slightly sweet ($60); the ’14 Russian River Pinot was jammy ($48). Both their red Bordeaux blends were very good. The ’13 Clara’s red was intense, full bodied with fine tannins ($85) but at $70 the ’13 Estate Red seemed to be a bit overpriced. We also tried the ’14 Carmenere which few wineries bottle as a single varietal wine; it was fruity with great tannins for laying down. We bought the Clara’s red.

Russian River Valley

View from Rochioli cellar door on a foggy day

View from Rochioli cellar door on a foggy day

J Rochioli Vineyards & Winery

6192 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448 +1 707-433-2305
Open MON/THURS/FRI/SAT/SUN: 11AM-4PM
www.rochioliwinery.com
Rochioli tasting room

Rochioli tasting room

We visited on a day when fog and drizzle dominated. They told us that on a decent day the Mayacamas mountains make a fabulous backdrop to the vineyard when all one can see in the picture above is the fog. To our taste they produced the best Chardonnay of the trip. It was obviously oaked and full flavoured but superbly balanced. They said that their perfect Chardonnay was a Montrachet and this was not too far off. They also had an olive oil to taste. This made one cough heartily when swallowed; they said that Italians view this as the hallmark of a great olive oil but we have never experienced this before. The ’16 Sauvignon Blanc was fruity, fresh and light ($32). The ’15 Chardonnay had the classic nose of flowers and oak (9 months new French) and on the palette full, rich and buttery but fine and unctuous ($60). The ’15 Pinot was rich and full of fruit, quite weighty, not tart. We bought the Chardonnay but not the Pinot as we had previously bought a ’13 Pinot Noir in a wine shop in San Francisco ($95).

Pellegrini Wine Company

4055 W Olivet Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95401 +1 707-545-8680
Appointment only - www.pellegrinisonoma.com/visitus
www.pellegrinisonoma.com
Pellegrini tasting room

Pellegrini tasting room

Pellegrini old vines

Pellegrini old vines with stems like tree trunks

Despite not having an appointment they welcomed us heartily. We really liked their wines and should have bought some but had too many already so we bought a rugby shirt instead. They are quite a large estate but only bottle 6000 cases themselves, selling the rest of their grapes off to other makers. The ’16 Sauvignon Blanc was rich and full similar to a Sauvignon/Semillon blend ($22). The’14 Olivet Lane Chardonnay was rich, buttery and plenty of new oak ($45). The ’13 Hurst Vineyard Pinot was relatively full, fruity with a hint of cherries ($50). The’13 Torboni Oakwild Ranch Pinot was vinified in 30% new French oak and was richer but with a tartish finish ($50). Finally the ’14 Olivet Lane Pinot was silky, rich Burgundian Style ($65).

Dutton-Goldfield Winery

3100 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol, CA 95472 +1 707-823-3887
Open 10 to 16.30
www.duttongoldfield.com
Dutton-Goldfield tasting room

Dutton-Goldfield tasting room

A combination of Dutton who owns the vineyards and Goldfield who makes the wines. We found their wines to be on the thin end of the range of Pinots that we had tried, a bit like Savigny-le-Beaune relative to others in their area. Strangely, because of where we started, we had got to rather like the more full-bodied Pinots and so these were not to our taste. The tasting was primarily of limited release, single vineyard wines of which they make only around 600 cases of each and all of which got a score of more than 90 points from Wine Entusiast. The 15 Chileno Valley Riesling was lemoney with great acid but totally different to an Alsace Riesling ($30). Both their Chardonnays were barrel fermented in French oak with malolactic fermentation. The ’14 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay was very minerally but missing the butteryness ($55) so we preferred the ’14 Walker Hill. Of the Pinots, all from ’14, the Emerald Ridge had great colour, subtle but quite tart cherries ($62); the Freestone Hill was rich and spicy but light ($72); the McDougal was earthier, richer and warmer and was the one we like best ($62). The ’13 Cherry Ridge Syrah had great deep colour and was rich, spicy with great fruit and soft tannins but somehow lighter than the Napa Syrahs ($50).

In Sonoma we visited three wineries close to the town, Sebastiani actually being in the suburbs.

Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery

389 4th St E, Sonoma, CA 95476 +1 707-933-3230
Open 10 to 5
www.sebastiani.com
Sebastiani tasting room

Sebastiani tasting room

Sebastiani’s top of the range red comes from the Cherryblock vineyard which borders their winery. The ’13 Steel Chardonnay was fresh and lemoney with no oak ($19) whereas the ’15 Chardonnay had spent 15 months in oak so it had plenty of vanilla notes but needed time to open up properly ($40). The ’14 Zinfandel from Dry Creek was spicy with plenty of oak ($36). Their Bordeaux blend ’14 Gravel Bend was slightly green but had great tannins ($40). The Alexander Valley ’13 Cab was soft, fruity and very approachable, a typical 92 Robert Parker points ($30). The ’14 Gravel Bed cab was more refined with great red fruit and strong tannins ($60). We would have bought this if we had space for more reds. Then onto the Cherryblock cabs. The ’07 came from a magnum that had been open for several days unfortunately. The ’13 was very rich, great tannins and restrained fruit and was scored 98 points by Parker which is rather impressive ($125). We bought the ’13 Steel Chardonnay.

Ravenswood Winery

18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476 +1 888-669-4679
Open 10 to 16.30
www.ravenswoodwinery.com
Ravenswood tasting room

Ravenswood tasting room

Ravenswood made their name in Zinfandel. They have a great little tasting room staffed by people who so obviously love what they do and are really knowledgeable so one has a great tasting. We started with the ’16 Congresso, a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which was really rather good, full bodied, fruity and fresh ($24) and then the rosé, ’16 Rosato, a blend of Grenache, Sangiovese and Zinfandel that was a vivid pinky red and surprisingly good. Finally, before hitting the Zins, the ’15 San Giacomo Chardonnay which had subtle new oak and lemoney flavours ($31). We started the Zins with 3 from different areas, all ’14 and all at $39; the Lalanne from Mendecino which was only slightly spicy, was subtle with good tannins; Dickerson from Napa was full, fruity, spicy, really more of everything and great; the Belloni came from Russian River from vines planted in the early 1900’s, a big, big wine. All three were a big step up from the everyday Zinfandel and have labels etched onto the bottle rather than a paper label. Then the flagship Zin, the ’14 Old Hill from Sonoma which was made from a field-blend planted in the 1880’s that is about 75% Zinfandel and the rest almost anything one can name; it was intense ($60). Last, but not least, the ’14 Pickberry Bordeaux blend from the Sonoma Mountains which was primarily Cab and Merlot and was full of fruit ($50). We bought the Congresso, the Rosato and the Belloni.

Buena Vista Winery

18000 Old Winery Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476 +1 800-926-1266
Open 10 to 5
www.buenavistawinery.com
Buena Vista tasting room

Buena Vista tasting room

A very pleasant walk up their wooded driveway makes for a great start to the tasting which was very professional and ‘on brand’ which is somewhat quirky and dilettante. We tasted from their Reserve wines that are only available from the tasting room. The ’14 Chardonnay had great subtle new oak and was both applely and lemoney ($50). The’14 Pinot was quite sweet and fruity, not really to our taste ($65). The ’14 Count’s Selection Malbec was a typical Malbec of the Argentinian style ($50). The ’14 Cab had great fruit and plenty of tannin ($75). Unfortunately, we had too many wines already.


The Napa part of the trip
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