When I wasn’t working, I spent the past week in Sonoma County, tasting and touring some of the best spots in the area. If you are looking to visit Sonoma County, check out my guide for potential places to visit on your trip; I give my opinion on the wine quality and overall atmosphere at the winery and tasting room. If you aren’t planning to visit Sonoma County anytime soon, you can still use this guide as a primer for excellent wines from this key growing region in California.
Here’s my guide to Sonoma from South to North:
In Sonoma Valley:
***Ledson*** - The WWG ’Baller’ Option
Address: 7335 Sonoma Highway (Highway 12)
Kenwood, CA 95409
Tasting: Daily 10am to 5pm
Serves – A Wide Variety. Ledson could be your one stop shop in Sonoma given how many areas Ledson sources to make its wines, which run the gamut of whites and reds. We focused on reds at this tasting, which included Pinot Noir, Zins, and Cabernets. Here’s a full list of our tasting, and since my Uncle (the ‘Baller’ of the group) is a wine club member, we enjoyed some barrel tastings. I loved the 2010 Malbec from the barrel, which at $38 per bottle was a good value at Ledson.
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Gorgeous! It’s a ‘castle’ in the middle of perfectly manicured lawns. Not surprisingly, Ledson hosts weddings. In terms of the tasting, the WWG got the ‘baller’ treatment through a private tasting, and that was particularly spectacular. We were able to sit and relax. However, there is a nice bar at Ledson for walk-ins as well. Check it out!
WWG Purchased -2008 Russian River Century Vine Zinfandel for $52 (two words – blackberry cobbler!) and the 2007 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve for $80 (more blackberries, raspberries, and a super smooth finish).
Russian River Valley Wineries
In this valley, the fog rolls in off the bay each evening, pushing temperatures down each night and making it ideal for colder weather grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. So if you are looking for excellent Pinots and Chards, the Russian River Valley is your spot in Sonoma.
Serves – Many varietals at solid values. I purchased some of the highest-end wines on the tasting menu, and they were still affordable, especially for Russian River Valley wines.
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere - Relaxed barrel room-based tasting room with friendly representatives. Bring a jacket, it is chilly in there at any time of the year!
WWG Purchased -2007 Olivet Lane Estate Reserve Cuvee Chardonnay for $35 per bottle and the 2006 Pellegrini Milesone (Merlot, Cab Sauv, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Cab Franc) for $30 per bottle. I think I got a steal for that smooth operator of a blend!
Address: 3360 River Road
Tasting: Daily from 10am to 5pm
Serves – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – A big bar with a chatty/knowledge bartender in a big red barn.
WWG Purchased -2008 Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir for $60. From the winemaker, this wine is full of ‘cola-laced black cherry, wild berry, and black licorice galore that’s deep, persistent and concentrated, long and intriguing’. Robert M. Parker, Jr. scored it 93+ points. I am excited to try this big Pinot again.
Serves - Excellent quality and good value Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Winery/Tasting Room Environment – low-key barrel room with a concrete floor
WWG purchased – I purchased the 2008 Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir for $35 per bottle. This wine is full of big red fruits, such as cherries. Yum!
Serves – Several Pinot Noirs (they make 8 types) and Sauvignon Blanc
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Merry is widely known as the Queen of Pinot in the Russian River Valley, and I really liked the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir, which retails for $42 per bottle. The tasting room had a bright, corporate, girl-power feel. It is efficient and you’ll be in and out of there quickly. WWG Purchased - 2010 vintage of Sauvignon Blanc for $30 that was divine and apparently one of the top-rated Sauvignon Blancs in the history of the Wine Spectator. The Sauvignon Blanc is aged in neutral French oak barrels, rather than stainless steel. This oak gives it a bolder, fully texture than most Sauvignon Blancs while still retaining the crispness and acidity that one looks for in the grape. The nose on this one is particularly heavenly and filled with floral flavors. Nice!
Serves – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petite Syrah, etc.
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Moshin possesses an inviting, bright tasting room with a sociable representative. I also liked the Pink flowing from the speakers. This tasting room was a nice combination of fun and comfortable.
WWG Purchased – Like most RRV wineries, Pinot Noir was the focus. I bought the 2009 Pinot Noir Cuvee. For my New World palate, this wine was approachable and fruit forward but with solid acidity. For only $21 per bottle, it was a steal, too, for high quality Pinot Noir. This bottle is the most widely distributed of the Moshin wines, so keep an eye out for it in restaurants and wine shops. On the higher end, I also purchased the 2007 Petite Syrah for $38 per bottle. This inky purple wine was filled with black berries and spice and was incredibly smooth on the finish. I had trouble deciding between it and a $25 Merlot from Moshin, so if you like Merlot better than Petite Syrah, I’d definitely recommend it. I’m just a Petite Syrah fan and decided to splurge for its smooth mouth feel.
Serves – Pinot Noir (and a Zin if you are nice)
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – The grounds are magnificent and include Japanese-inspired gardens where you are encouraged to picnic at one of their many tables. I enjoyed a great lunch there! And apparently, weddings are common on the property as well. Most importantly though, the very friendly reps at Arista’s cozy bar served up excellent vino! The winery specializes in Pinot Noir, and offerings even include a Willamette Valley, Oregon-sourced option. If you are in the Russian River Valley, check out Arista! It is at the top of my list for both wine quality and atmosphere.
WWG Purchased -2009 La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir for $52. Think raspberries and roses. Yum! I also really loved the Zinfandel, which wasn’t ready for release yet. Blackberry cobbler was the key tasting note on that fantastic bottle. Also, as I was checking out and joining the A-list, I noticed a Pinot Noir that received over 95 points from Wine Spectator. It is only available to its newsletter customers (not a wine club), which it calls the A-list. I joined and will be counting the days until I can purchase those even higher quality selections as an A-lister, in approximately 14 months
Serves – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Pretty views of the vineyard. Quick tasting with a quiet, cerebral environment. It felt somewhat uptight.
WWG Purchased -2010 Pinot Noir for $54
Address: 6050 Westside Road
Tasting: Daily from 10am to 5pm
Serves – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Blends
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Fun, laid-back, and full of food options. Hop Kiln sits on a lovely property with a pond where I’ve enjoyed a picnic in the past. You can stock up here for a picnic on the property or on your tasting route (especially if you are starting from the north and moving south.)
WWG Purchased – 2010 Zinfandel for $24 per bottle (big, jammy, red fruit fun at a good value) and a Chocolate Espresso Sauce from King’s Cupboard (I was looking at several chocolate sauces, and since I’ve never heard two dudes talk so passionately about a chocolate sauce, I had to give it a whirl).
Scuttlebutt from RRV Tastings – The 2010 vintage was tough due to early rains, so Pinot Noir from 2010 could come in two extremes–fantastic or terrible. So be careful with 2010 vintages of Pinot Noir – it will likely pay to stick with the top producers (in terms of skill) in that vintage.
Do you like dark chocolate, caramel, and sea salt? If so, check out Andy’s in the Russian River Valley for Jo’s chocolates. Yummo!
Dry Creek Appellation
Moving north actually means a hotter climate in Sonoma County (since it is further from the bay’s cooling influence). Dry Creek is known for Zinfandel, but as the patriach said at Unti, if Zinfandel can grow well here, other Mediterranean varietals can fluorish here too. For me, the Rhone varietals were working well, so keep an eye out, especially for Petite Syrah from Sonoma.
Address: 700 Grove Street
Tasting: Daily 10am to 5pm
Serves – many Italian varietals
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Fun, full, and laid-back in Healdsburg. I’ll be back!
WWG Purchased – 2008 Petite Syrah for ~$38 per bottle.
Address: 2859 Dry Creek Road
Tasting: Daily 10am to 5pm
Serves – Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cab Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Red Blend, Port
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Polished, pretty, and professional.
WWG Purchased – Petite Syrah for ~$37 per bottle.
Serves – Zins and Italian Varietals
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Low key, all-about-the-wine
WWG Purchased – 2008 Syrah (super elegant) for ~$26 per bottle and a Port for ~$20 per bottle.
Address: 7127 Dry Creek Road
Tasting: Friday through Monday, noon to 4pm
Serves – Zins and Syrah
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – In the cool barrel room with Mr. Talty (who looks like Dustin Hoffman and inspires you to follow your dreams. Thanks darling!)
WWG Purchased – 2007 Talty Estate Zinfandel (big Zin with a blend) for ~$38 per bottle.
***Dutcher Crossing*** – Best Dry Creek Atmosphere!
Address: 8533 Dry Creek Road
Tasting: Daily 11am to 5pm
Serves – A Wide Variety
Winery/Tasting Room Atmosphere – Gorgeous and encouraging of picnics with a great view. Check out where I got to scarf down my lunch!
WWG Purchased – 2009 Maple Vineyard Dry Creek Vineyard for $40 (blackberries and white pepper – yum!)
Tomorrow – I’m just going to hang out in Healdsburg. I’ve got a few treatments at Akoia Day Spa planned and some tastings scheduled – one at A. Rafanelli and plans to hit some fun tasting rooms on Healdsburg Square. Of interest include Kendall Jackson, La Crema, and Hawley Winery.