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Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir’

The Sonomaist makes no bones about being a lover of fine food and wine. I’m certainly not above spending a little extra for the farmer’s market oyster mushrooms or the organic kale every now and again. But reading the latest issue of Bon Appétit, this morning I nearly choked on my Trader Joe’s Brazillian Peaberry (Great coffee, $6.99 a can!)

It was an article about making your own vinegar at home. A noble pursuit to be sure, but not when you’re using an AMAZING Merry Edwards pinot noir to do it…Not once but twice!!!  I quote —

“We got started when a friend gave each of us a piece of “mother,” which resembles the Absent-Minded Professor’s flubber, a blob floating in jars with a little wine and water. It’s this mother, the live starter, that transforms wine into vinegar (acetic acid) through alcoholic fermentation and bacterial activity, with an assist from good old oxygen.

We swapped out the canning jars for gallon crocks draped with cheesecloth, which allows air in but blocks out light. Then, with a flourish, we poured a bottle of 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir into each. The more delicious and aromatic the wine, the finer the vinegar, so whatever we’re drinking, we share a glass with our fermenting vinegar.”

This is a $64 (average) bottle of incredible wine.  Am I wrong to hate B.A. more than a little right now? Are you with me? Or maybe we should all go back to lighting our Cohibas with 100 dollar bills…

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New Year’s resolutions tend towards the simple. Rarely do people stuff their January 1st intentions with closets full of Birkin bags, Lamborghinis or vows to best Kobayashi in competitive eating endeavors. The vast majority (and easiest to keep) are the basics, eat a little less, spend time and money more wisely. An extra hour on the treadmill, ten more bucks a week to the 401k. Make time to slip out early as to not miss that dance recital or Pop Warner game.

In this spirit of simplicity, one of my resolutions is to include more “weekday/weeknight” recipes and tips. Ideas that can be integrated into the routine to compliment the more fanciful entries about Sonoma travel and tastings. Of course, there will always be the whimsey…So in the spirit of both simplicity and fancy, let’s talk about Arista Winery…

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Tiny waterfalls, mossy rock formations and stunning Japanese Maples placed with a minimalist’s eye combine to create this serene, Zen retreat overlooking valley vistas. You can rest your weary mind and even picnic here (customers only, please.) It’s a beautiful spot to slowly exhale…That is, once you’ve inhaled the gorgeous aromas of their impressive slate of reds that echo the elegant simplicity of the physical plant.

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Belly up to the small and often crowded tasting bar in a spartan converted farmhouse and enjoy the warm, laid-back hospitality of the McWilliams family who are often on hand to pour and talk about their wines, and always eager to point visitors in the direction of local tasting rooms with similar concepts (the fine folks at Arista are responsible for hipping me to Benovia, C. Donatiello and V.M.L. in the past, as well as others yet unvisited that are at the top of my wish list since they’re batting .1000 in their advice!)

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While the entire tasting is really fantastic, standouts included the 2010 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge ($52) The Mendocino Ridge is more than 1500 feet above sea level, so the grapes grow above the fog line, offering constant sun exposure, yet, it’s still cool enough because of the elevation that they get the slow, gentle ripening that yields exceptional pinot noir. The Perli opens with a full nose of farmyard and Bartlett pear, a medium body full of raspberry, licorice and wet concrete dusted with white pepper and a whisper of French oak. This is drinking beautifully now, but hints at an even more auspicious future given a few years of cellar time. It would be an amazing pairing for salmon in a potato crust.

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Having long been a fan of Arista’s pinots, I sometimes forget that they do a wonderful “pinot take” on what I consider a difficult to love varietal, zinfandel…

Their 2010 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($36) is one of those zin exceptions that, for the most part, defies my low expectations of the grape. The huge nose of black pepper, Smuckers strawberry jam and lime rind are certainly zin-ny. As is the “drink on a weeknight at your own risk” 15.9% alcohol content. But on the palate is where it diverges from its peers. The strawberry fruit is bright and fresh, not dense, jammy and cooked like many zins. And the slightly tannic cocoa powder finish gives it gravitas to balance out the mouthwatering berries.  This is a zin touched with Arista’s zen. A lucky wine indeed!

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 6  EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9.5  WINE QUALITY = 9

OVERALL RATING = 9.2 *

 
Arista Winery
7015 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-0606
 
Open Daily 11-5
Tasting Fee $10
 
*Dogs are welcome, bachelor and bachelorette parties are not. That alone gives them an extra bonus point in my book!
 

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De Loach Winery is always a tasting room stop we make. It’s a testament to their consistently well-made wines (The legend, Greg La Follette, was their winemaker for many years and since 2008 his protégée, Brian Maloney has been at the helm.) The tasting room itself hits all the “correct” notes, some library bottles and chachkis, but there is a bit of a coldness there. I don’t know if it’s because DeLoach is under corporate ownership (Boisset purchased the winery in 2003) or if the tasting room had a stand-offish vibe even back when it was family owned (all that wine has dulled my memory!)

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I am certainly not one who revels in the “Party Bus” experience in a tasting room (to get a taste of that, try Merryvale in Napa after 6pm.) But I always find it pleasant when the employees seem engaged and interested and/or there has been some thought put into the layout of the tasting room, an attempt to infuse some personality into the experience. Unfortunately (and it really is, because the wine is terrific) the De Loach tasting room seems to be simply “going through the motions” on every level.

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The wines are what bring us back, and if you have time and aren’t just trying to hit a “best of” list, then De Loach is definitely worth a stop. Their Pinots are exceptional, from the rich, voluptuous, 2010 De Loach Estate Collection Pinot Noir to the 2008 De Loach Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir on the other end of the spectrum with its more austere profile wrapped in yeasty smokiness. See more DeLoach wine reviews here.

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Some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had has been served under flickering fluorescent lights on chipped formica tables. Would I have preferred linens and low lights? Of course. Do I wish De Loach Winery had a tasting room personality that matched the magic they’re putting in their bottles? Sure. But sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and enjoy the moo shu in front of you.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 7 WINE QUALITY = 8.5

OVERALL RATING = 6.8

De Loach Winery
1791 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 707-526-9111
 
Taste 5 wines for $10
Picnic basket for two $30
Vineyard designate wines by the glass $12
Wine and cheese plates, tours and special experiences available to book online.

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 De Loach Vineyards 1791 Olivet Road  Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Phone (707) 526-9111

2009 Hawk Hill Vineyard Chardonnay ($50) Well balanced, refreshing bracing acidity and apricot. Not a lot of oak or butter. Very crisp. Would be a perfect pairing with quiche. 91 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2010 De Loach O.F.S. Chardonnay ($32) The O.F.S. is a multi-vineyard blend. A buttery nose and tart green apple midpalate cuts through the malolactic creaminess. A well-made wine. 89 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2009 De Loach Green Valley Pinot Noir ($45) Blackberry, blueberry and marzipan tart. Not completely integrated yet, needs time. 89 Pts.

2010 De Loach Estate Collection Pinot Noir ($50) The first vintage of a relatively new vineyard planted in 2007. Rich baking spices and plush plum. Smooth and well-integrated now with plenty of time to evolve even more. 92 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2008 De Loach Van Der Kamp Pinot Noir ($45) Planted at a 1200 ft. elevation in the Sonoma Mountains. This has a resinous, rosemary nose. Eucalyptus and tart red berries abound. Natural yeast adds an ethereal smokiness. 93 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2008 De Loach Forgotten Vines Zinfandel ($36) These vines were planted in the early 1900’s prior to Prohibition (hence the name.) A strawberry soda nose carries through on a simple berry basket mid-palate. 85 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2008 De Loach Nova Vineyard Zinfandel ($32) Made from Lake Country Zinfandel from dry farmed grapes planted in the early 1960’s. Cigar box nose, plums and dried apricots. Well balanced with a healthy does of acidity. Would be lovely with a fruit and nut cheese platter. 87 Pts. (Tasted 11/12)

2006 De Loach Pinot Noir Van Der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain ($42) Spicy, eucalyptus peppermint, red cherry fading to black cherry.93 Pts. (Tasted 9/10)

2007 De Loach Pinot Noir Masút Vineyard Redwood Valley ($45) Big black cherries. Super barnyard nose carries through on the finish. A manly, incredible pinot! 97 pts.  (Tasted 9/10)

2007 De Loach Chardonnay Golden Coast ($45) Not much nose here. Perhaps it was served too cold? Super buttery, but with a nice acidic back. 88 pts. (Tasted 9/10)

2007 De Loach O.F.S. Chardonnay ($?) The butteriness of the Golden Coast Chardonnay but more filled out with oak on the back. 89 pts. (Tasted 9/10)

2007 De Loach Green Valley Pinot Noir ($45) Eucalyptus, spice, cola, black cherry, This has an amazing nose and a beautiful earthiness. Classic Russian River Valley flavor profile, the forest in a glass! 93 (Tasted 9/10)

2006 De Loach Pinot Noir Sonoma Stage ($60) Mushroomy, loamy nose. Super smooth. 94 pts. (Tasted 9/10)

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Virginia Marie Lambrix has stellar wine making bona fides (U.C. Davis, Lynmar, DeLoach) and it shows, in her elegant, yet reasonably priced ($20-45) wines. This sophistication with a nod to the mysteries of the natural world that conspire to create such an ethereal beverage are reflected in the tasting room. The tasting counter is housed in half of a spacious renovated barn style room filled with natural light. The back section gives way to charcoal colored walls, dark wood, fireplace and  a feminine take on leather club chairs. As someone who never would have been invited into the always alluring British men’s clubs of a century ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps, Ms. Lambrix, who has managed to excel in the “men’s club” of wine, made this “club” for the ladies.

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A porcelain phrenology head emblazoned with butterflies, antique chemistry bottles and scented candles bearing the detailed, evocative etchings that grace every well-crafted bottle of wine peek out from mantle and shelf. In fact, the various label designs are so beautiful, one would be tempted to take a couple bottles home for the stunning visuals alone. Luckily, what’s inside matches, if not bests, its packaging. Every wine, from the Gewürtztraminer to the multiple expressions of Pinot Noir are excellent. Two particular standouts were the 2010 Boudreaux Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45)  full of tart red fruits, spice and rubber with a zingy acidity that does nothing to take away from the full, voluptuous mouthfeel, this is, in a strange way, a pinot that drinks like a Montrachet.

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The real revelation was the 2011 Late Late Harvest Desert Wine ($30.) More often than not I find desert wines to be a bit of a mediocre afterthought, even at some of my favorite wineries. This was an exception, however. The honeysuckle and orange blossom nose leave you wondering whether you want to drink or dab it behind your ears (my advice, do both!) The nectarine and cream honey is balanced beautifully by a vivid acidity and a wet quartz gravitas on the back. This wine demands a hard cheese and Marcona almonds, and who am I to deny it?

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The property is just as pedigreed as its current namesake. It was formerly Belvedere and most recently, C. Donatiello. But Ms. Lambrix has made it into something that amplifies her refined aesthetic.

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The gardens and picnic area continue the exacting attention to detail and design. The interplay of mosses and stone, water and reeds. This is a spot created to envelope you in something quiet and magical, and that it does.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 8.5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9 WINE QUALITY = 8

OVERALL RATING = 8.5

V.M.L. Winery
4035 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA. 95448
Phone: 707-431-4404
Fax: 707-431-4402
 
Open 11-5 Daily
Wine Flights $10 (waived with wine purchase)
Cheese and Wine Pairing $25 ($10 waived with wine purchase)

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 Woodenhead Winery 5700 River Road, Santa Rosa, CA. Phone (707) 887-2703

2007 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Humboldt County ($42) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that what I consider Woodenhead’s most consistently evocative wine comes from the same region of California where, let us say, other, semi-legal intoxicants are cultivated. The Humboldt Pinot is rich and milk chocolate-y with exotic shiitake mushroom  on the mid palate and a lovely back. It’s also 14.4% alcohol. There are many Sonoma pinots who wouldn’t qualify as demure when it comes to alcohol content, but there is something about these Woodenheads, lovely as they are, that goes to my head and makes everything a little more “Maui Wowie” than most. I’ll blame it on the Humboldt, and save these stunners for the weekend. 90 pts. (Tasted 9/10)

2006 Woodenhead Zinfandel Martinelli Road Old Vines Russian River Valley ($45) I think it’s always appropriate to make clear where one is coming from, especially in wine reviews. Since everyone’s palate is difference, the best you can do is throw out your own impressions and truth, and hopefully, you, dear reader, will find something that sparks some connection or inspiration. This is a long winded way of saying, The Sonomaist is a bit of a zin snob. It’s just not my thing. I’ve tried. But I never really “connected” with the big jam and 16% alcohol of so many Sonoma zins. That being said, when a zin manages to impress, I give credit where credit is due. But I also allow for the fact that I’m not a zinophile, so it’s usually the “Un-zin” zins that make me perk up and take notice. This is one of them. I was pleasantly surprised at the dry, not at all over the top spiciness. If I tasted this blind I would think syrah. I was even more surprised that Woodenhead, a winery that is hardly shy about going full throttle on its pinots went so restrained on the zin. This is a wine that would go perfectly with bacon wrapped pork loin cooked on the grill. 89 pts. (Tasted (9/11)

2007 Woodenhead Syrah Russian River Valley ($36) Dry, tobacco, mushrooms and loamy soil. The fruit isn’t at all overpowering. Lovely. (Tasted 9/11)

2007 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($42) Rich and spicy with mocha mid palate. Another BIG Woodenhead pinot with a long finish. 95 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2007  Woodenhead Pinot Noir Buena Tierra Vineyard (Original Planting) Russian River Valley ($60) Spicy, light nutmeg and red cherry on the mid palate. Cedar on the back. Light and almost Burgundian. Almost like a Volnay. An elegant departure from Woodenhead’s more full throttle style. 94 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2006 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch ($45) Very dry and loamy. Would be amazing with ankimo (Japanese monkfish liver. It’s very similar to fois gras. I call it “fois gras of the sea.” If you’ve never tried it, next time you’re at a reputable sushi bar and see it on the menu, give it a whirl, it’s best served as sashimi with ponzu rather than sushi, but I digress…) 93 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

2006 Woodenhead Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard ($60) Deep, complex wine with an intoxicating perfumed nose. 94 pts. (Tasted 9/11)

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2005 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Klopp Vineyard Russian River Valley 14.4% alc. ($57) 96 points

I had to inaugurate the site with a true classic from the cellar. I was lucky enough to have Russian River Pinots act as my entrée to Sonoma wines. My first was a 1994 David Bruce Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I didn’t know at the time that Dr. Bruce operated out of Santa Cruz, nor would I have cared, all I knew was that red cherry, mushroomy burst of madness was something to behold…and then chase.

Merry Edwards came onto my radar soon thereafter. No flash, and talented as all hell, Ms. Edwards makes exquisite juice. From her humid, tropical, sensual Hawaii-in-a-botte, also known as her Sauvignon Blanc (ret. approx. $29) to all of her infamous, and site specific pinot noir offerings, she’s a longstanding Sonoma Goddess, so I’m not letting you in on any sort of state secret here (plenty of those later, but we’re just getting acquainted.) Ms. Edwards’ wines always score well into the 90’s in all the wine press, and with good reason. Even 7 years in bottle, the 2005 Klopp Pinot still exhibits ripe, red currants tempered with English Breakfast tea on the approach,  a weighty espresso bean gravitas on the midpalate chased by a zingy acidity and return of the red fruits on the back. This still has many wonderful years of life on it, but I had to pop and pour, ya know, for the blog.

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