Temperatures are hitting the eighties here in Sonoma County and my hands are reaching for some chilled white wines (and rosés, but that’s another column). They seem to go down smoother and easier than the lonely, almost dusty Cabernets and Syrahs in the wine rack. And with more and more thirsty folks branching out from their normal white wine routine, I thought it appropriate to introduce a couple of other soft, aromatic, mouth-watering whites: Tablas Creek 2011 Cotes de Tablas and David Hill 2011 Pinot Gris.
Read more: Sippin’ and chillin’ white wines for spring: Tablas Creek & David Hill
I will admit I’m not much of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan. Appreciation flows from so many other places, I rarely see the need to fawn. Often, it’s a wine with so much tannin that it begs for food to balm its harsh edges and I’m kind of a wine-for-all-purposes kind of girl (before, during and after dinner). But sometimes, just sometimes, one drops in at a blind tasting that woos me. This happened one night when the Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon showed up.
Read more: Wine review: Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
The 2011 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are simply spectacular. Loaded with tart acidity, peaches and grapefruit, you can be assured that any bottle of 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris you grab from the shelves will be worthy of passing your lips. But if you can find this one, you’re golden. The Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris has refreshingly crisp acids, resulting from the cooler climate experienced throughout the state during that vintage year. Fragrant citrus fruit on the nose leads into a light-bodied white with flavors of pink grapefruit (but smoother than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc), lime zest and green apples. This grog is sassy and simply easy to drink on a warm day.
Read more: Wine review: Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (Oregon)
I’ve wondered whether the lack of mass success of the Viognier grape is because of the tongue-twisting name(pronounced VEE oh NYAY”) or some other reason. With its luscious, aromatic fruit, slight sweetness and sip-ability, you’d think it would be a girlie girl’s dream and be as popular with the chicks as Moscatos are now (more on that later). But, unlike Moscato/Muscat it’s tough to make Viognier well. Pick it too early in the growing season, you won’t get the pretty aromas and rounded flavors; pick it too late and you’ll get a wine that’s syrupy, flabby or has no acid at all. Some wineries get it just right though — Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County is one of them.
Read more: Wine review: Bonterra 2010 Viognier Mendocino County
Kitchen sink wines can be a fascinating bunch. Winemakers tend to love making them since it engages their creative side, consumers love them since they’re generally less expensive and they have cool names that are great for grabbing you on the aisle. And then there’s usually a cool story behind the wine. Shannon Ridge, founded by Clay and Margarita Shannon, formerly sold their Lake County grapes to huge wineries like Trinchero and Kendall Jackson. But in 2008, they made a play to create their own, affordably-priced wine label. A virtually unknown grape region that grows outstanding Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County lies only about an hour north of Napa County in California. But the fruit sells for almost obscenely low prices. So the Shannons can sell all their Lake County wines under $25 and have something left over to buy dinner.
Read more: Wine review: Shannon Ridge 2009 Wrangler Red Lake County
The 2010 vintage in Sonoma County was super cool. And I don’t mean it wore awesome shades and sported the latest fashions — but cold like in France’s Bordeaux region. The heat index just didn’t quite get high enough to ripen grapes to the point of super fruitiness with floral aromatics (like Dry Creek Vineyards’ 2007 SB). So if you like New Zealand style Sauv Blancs (like me) then you’re in heaven with the 2010 wines (read more about Sauvignon Blanc, including how to pronounce it). And you’ll also have something to look forward to in the 2011 vintage, which had similar weather in Sonoma County.
Read more: Wine review: Dry Creek Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley
I applaud the cojones that California winemakers are growing. Instead of blending in obscure red varietals that grow so extraordinarily well in this state (see Tempting Tempranillo), they slap grape names like Aglianico and Sangiovese on labels now. In a society that generally wine shops by comfort zone, that’s pretty daring. You may have heard of Sangiovese, the grape found in all Italian Chiantis, but Aglianico [ah LEE ahn EE co] is one of those sleeper grapes even most wine writers have to look up or study for the CSW exam. Aglianico is one of the world’s oldest wine grapes (think Romans swilling), originating in southern Italy’s Campania wine region near Naples. Amador County, with its dry, arid climate, mimics the weather in Campania so the fruit’s success there makes sense. That, and a slew of Italian settled there during the Gold Rush so the vines have been thriving there a while now.
Read more: Wine reviews: Terra d’Oro 2009 Barbera and Terra d’Oro 2008 Sangiovese Amador County
I was a bit hesitant to write about Quivira’s Zin that I recently tasted blind, since I reviewed the 2008 vintage in April of this year. But I thought, what the hell, they deserve to get kudos twice in one year. These guys rock the Zinfandel. And, farming biodynamically, they’re stewards of the earth.
Read more: Wine review: Quivira 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley
King Estate specializes in Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and that’s what I’ve been sipping on these past eight years since I met them. Still family-owned — like most wineries in Oregon — they’ve expanded their horizons with their other, more affordable (and still tasty) Acrobat Pinot Noir and Gris. I really admire what these guys have been doing.
Read more: Wine reviews: King Estate 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris and 2008 Pinot Noir