Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sips on the Road: Sonoma Valley Wine Country

Many don’t know that I spent a few years living down in the Bay Area in California. This was truly my first “wine country” experience, as prior to this I had not done any tasting in Washington State even. While I lived in California, I made one trip to Napa and one to Sonoma and I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Sonoma County once again to experience California Wine Country (I know, I cheated on Washington, don’t tell!). I headed down back in early November for a weekend of Football (Go Cougs!) and wine along with my friend Alison. We made the most of our wine day and I actually managed to catch my flight on time!

(See ya SF! Headed to Sonoma!)

Our first stop of the day took us to J Vineyards & Winery located in Healdsburg. What a beautiful facility this was! We opted for the “J Signature Flight” and headed upstairs for our first pairing (they had snacks paired with a few of their wines). First up was their 2009 Hoot Owl Vineyard from the Alexander Valley. They had paired this with a butternut squash soup which was perfect. I have had a butternut squash and viognier pairing before and have loved it every time. I even picked up a bottle of this crisp almost peachy flavored (but not overly so) wine to pair with our butternut squash soup on Thanksgiving! We tasted through two different Pinot Noirs and then went back downstairs to their large beautiful tasting bar for a few tastes of something J specializes in: bubbles! We were able to enjoy their Brut Rosé from the Russian River Valley, which was delicate strawberry in a bottle. We also tried their 2004 J Vintage Brut Magnum from the Russian River Valley. This was a light and crisp sparkling wine, which brought out pear and citrus on the taste. Last, but certainly not least, we tried the 2001 (yes, I said 2001!) J Vintage Brut, Late-Digorged, from the Russian River Valley. This bottle sat on yeast for 10 years before release and is creamy and tart. It was pretty fun to get to try something this aged when it comes to bubbles. I ended up bringing home some of the Brut Rosé to enjoy back in WA! This was also the beginning of the end of my day when I gave in and purchased a case shipper because I knew what the rest of the day had in store for me.. and so began my mission to fill it up! This stop: +4 to the case shipper.

(Yes, a 2001 Brut! So wonderful)

For our next stop, we cruised into downtown Healdsburg (which is adorable) to check out a place that had come highly recommended by my friend Cheryl (the amazing @DivaTink) who had recently spent her honeymoon enjoying the sights and tastes of the Sonoma Valley. The Garagiste Healdsburg (@garagistehbg) tasting room is, as their website states, “a collaborative micro-winery, tasting room and wine lounge featuring small, handcrafted lots of premium wine poured for you by the people who make them”. Here, we were able to try the wines of two different boutique wineries: Cartograph (@cartographwines) and Stark. We were lucky enough to visit with the owners of Cartograph, Alan Baker and Serena Lourie, who even remembered Cheryl and David from their visit in September! One of my favorite parts of wine tasting is visiting with the people that actually MAKE the wine, and not just a tasting room employee. It was fun to chat with Alan and Serena about harvest and their production at their small winery. My favorite of the Garagiste wines both came from Cartograph, and included their 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and their 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Gewurztraminer, also from the Russian River Valley. I found it unusual that I enjoyed a Gewurztraminer so much, this is generally not my go-to wine. But I enjoyed the subtle and not too overly sweet flavors of this one. And combined with our one-on-one tasting experience we received during our visit, this became one of my favorite stops of the day. I’d highly recommend a visit here if you find yourself in downtown Healdsburg any time soon! This stop: +2 to the case shipper.

Next we moved on to a winery that I had enjoyed previously, but I had never actually visited their facility. Seghesio (@seghesio) has long been known for their Zinfandel and Italian varietals. We tasted through several different vineyards of Zinfandel and a few other varietals as well. It was pretty busy at their tasting bar on this Sunday, so we didn’t get the one-on-one explanation of wines that we had received at our previous stop, but that comes with the territory. Sonoma wine country is a busy place. My favorites at this stop included the 2008 Cortina Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley and the 2008 Chianti Station Red from the Alexander Valley. I don’t even think that the Chianti Station was listed on the tasting menu, but that savvy tasting room employee knew that if we tried it we were sure to buy. They were correct. I instantly took to this wine from the moment I tried it. This stop: +2 to the case shipper.

I was excited well in advance of our next stop. My parents joined the Twomey Cellars wine club during a California visit (they have wine shipped to Alaska, they’re hard core), and I had the opportunity to try some of their fantastic Pinot during one of my trips home. Twomey’s facility was gorgeous. From the waterfall sign at the tasting room entrance to the large windows that give views of the entire valley, this place didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately for us, they were participating in a food & wine festival that was going on the same day so the place was packed. Luckily they let us come in for a regular tasting without having the fancy wrist bands that everyone else donned! My favorites here were the 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (what?! Napa?! This is Sonoma people! j/k), and the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I really enjoyed the Pinot Noir, it seemed almost sweet and spicy at the same time. This stop: +2 to the case shipper.

(The amazing view at Twomey Cellars)

For our last stop, we headed off into the countryside to another “must try” recommendation from Cheryl. Luckily we had a GPS to guide us, because we drove straight into the land of no cell phone reception. I pretty much loved this aspect of our visit to Porter Creek Vineyards. In addition to being off the grid, we were greeted by an enormous white dog that looked like a polar bear. We stopped into a tasting room, just up the drive from a house, which resembled being in a small cabin shed. The tremendously friendly tasting room host welcomed everyone that walked through the door with a glass and a smile. Talk about window placement.. wow.. the back window to the small tasting room/shed looked straight out over their vineyard that stretched up a hill. With the almost setting sun creeping down over the vines, it was one of the most beautiful sights I saw all day. And of course, we can’t forget about the wines. Porter Creek is doing some amazing things with Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Their 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir isn’t even released yet (or at least, wasn’t at the time I was there), but he still let us try it. This was a hit with me and I picked up a bottle to let sit awhile, because I know what amazing flavors are yet to come. I also scooped up their 2009 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel. The cherry and berries on this one was brilliant and I can’t wait to try it out here at home. We were some of the last patrons of the day at Porter Creek, and we couldn’t have closed out our day with a better stop. We got to watch the sun dip down over the vineyards on our way back south toward San Francisco. This stop: +2 to the case shipper, and that makes 12! Porter Creek was also kind enough to loan me packing tape to close up my box, since, afterall, I was headed directly to the airport (do not pass Go, do not collect $200).

(The window! Simply breathtaking)

(My new polar bear dog friend. He didn't want any of my wine)

What a whirlwind day! I was eager to come home with varietals that I can’t generally find in Washington wine country, which made my stockpiles of Zins and Pinots a welcome addition to my wine racks. Where on the road will Sips & The City appear next? Only time will tell.. (hint: what’s our nation’s 49th state?)

(The sun coming down over Porter Creek Vineyards)

1 comment:

  1. You know how to hit the right places! Thanks for visiting us at Garagiste Healdsburg.Hope we see you again soon. Cheers.
    Alan Baker - Cartograph wines