Sonoma County, California
The second day of the trip we went the length of Alexander Valley, and found out later that one of the last wineries was in Chalk Hill. Later in the trip, I realized there is a Anderson Valley in Mendocino County to the north. Alexander versus Anderson for two places that are fairly close is fairly confusing!
We drove from Windsor to the northern most town in the county of Cloverdale, crossed the Russian River that goes through the northern half of Somona County, and went a few miles south to Wattle Creek Winery. Wattle Creek was a winery which required reservations. This being my first trip to Sonoma, I didn’t know what I would do in advance. So we would call the winery when we were on the way to make the reservation. As December is the slow part of the season, we were never refused a tasting. My goals on this trip were to taste a lot of places so I could figure out the influences of each AVA on the wine, and to find a few places that were amazingly good at decent prices so I could join their wine club.
Wattle Creek is owned by a couple from Houston. The usual tasting person was not on shift, so we were giving the tour by the Winery general manager. We tasted one or two wines with some decent cheese and crackers (Trader Joe’s) and then went on a tour of the facility. One of the highlights was a pair of barrel tastings from wines that were not yet ready. You have the taste of the yeast which is horrible, but have to pull that out in your mind and concentrate on the rest of the flavor profile of the wine.
The Viognier grape seems to be an up and coming grape in Sonoma. They use it to give a little color to Zinfandel in blending, and bottle it as well. Since it is kind of a by-product, it is often reasonably priced. Wattle Creek’s had a crisp citrus and apple nose and was a drier wine that tasted of apple and more austere fruits. It would sit on the tip of the tongue. Everything was pretty good (perhaps because of the great private tour), but the best thing was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Alexander Valley is known for its Cabernets which are a less powerful style than Napa. I got a bottle of that and a bottle of the sparkling Shiraz. We couldn’t get a taste of it since it was the slow season, but I’m a sucker for dark sparkling wines. We’ll find out how good it is when I open the bottle!
The next place we went to was De Lorimer. The best two wines included the 2012 Zinfandel from Stone Ranch. Like all good zins it was from old vines. There was a dark chocolate nose. The taste was a little broader fruit with some tannins. The other wine was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Crazy Creek. It had sweet broad fruit. There was a little spice with a bit of tannins and a light and fruity aftertaste. It will get better in a few years. We found the owners of this place own something like six wineries in the valley. Overall it was a pretty good place.
We found later that Alexander Valley Vineyards is actually in Chalk Hill! This place kind of turned me off when I got there, as they were advertising their “Sin Zin”. Puns and ‘clever’ names in wine are often off-putting marketing gimmicks in mediocre wine. Their best wine was the 2011 Cyrus, which is a Bordeaux style blend. It had a nice nose and was a smooth pleasant blend. But I didn’t buy anything from this place.
We stopped at White Oak, but did not taste. They just seemed to be one of these places that made tasting too much of a profit center for my taste.
The next place was Lancaster Estate. It required reservations, but we called from their front gate and they agreed to a taste. The benefits of going in the off season! This was a Cabernet Sauvignon specialist, and they were all pretty darn good. But the best stuff was at least $75. It was too rich for my blood when I was going to take back a few cases and had a few days left to the trip. Their wine club was pretty pricy as well. Their top end included a stay at the winery house for you and serveral friends, a case and a half of wine, and a magnum. Only $6,452!
The last place we stopped was Soda Rock. It was owned by the same place as De Lorimer. We tasted a bunch of wines. None of them are worth mentioning. We didn’t go to any other place from that ownership group.
For dinner we went five miles north from Windsor to the swankier Healdsburg. From OpenTable I found the Portuguese restaurant Café Lucia. It was pretty fantastic. I had the beet salad for the salad course. (I’m a sucker for beet salads.) My friend and I both had the Fisherman’s Soup. For dessert we splurged and both ordered the Graham’s 40-year port. I have had a tasting comparing 12 and 20 year ports at Michael Mina at Bellagio and could tell the difference. But I have never had a 40-year. They ended up having slightly less than an ounce. Unsellable, so they just comped it to us!
The next day was Russian River. Also, be sure to check out day one of our trip!