Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes



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Sonoma (California) Wineries

With over 60,000 acres of grapes planted, Sonoma has a huge impact on the California wine business. Sonoma wineries tend toward a more rustic style than their posh Napa neighbors. It's easier to find small family wineries here, some with good value pricing, and some with quirky individualistic styles. Some of the regions have also attracted higher-end growers, especially the warmer Alexander Valley for Bordeaux varietals, and cool Russian River for exceptional Pinot Noir. Recently some excellent cool weather Syrah and Pinot Noir have been coming from the coastal regions near the headwaters of the Russian River and up toward Mendocino. Cooler weather leads to more brambly, acidic wines that sometimes take a few years to settle down. The Dry Creek Valley appellation in Northern Sonoma County delivers some excellent bright ageworthy wines, often somewhat rustic. Note that Ridge Lytton Springs winery (tasting notes on my Santa Cruz Mountain page) buys grapes from around the region and makes some of the best Zinfandel in California.

Arranged by Appelation:



Alexander Valley Appellation

Alexander Valley has become one of my favorite appelations in California. The Russian River has deposited a rich porous soil filled with sand and gravel. Hot days and cool nights with minimal fog allow the Bordeaux varietals to ripen into complex yet smooth sophisticated wines. Cooler than most of Napa, the acidity stays high, which helps keep the old Zinfandel vines from developing overly soft flavors. This region excels at balance, yet retains some homespun feel, with many independently owned wineries.


Alexander Valley Vineyard
A family operation, with some older vines (40 year) offering complexity and minerality. One of the better values in the area, these wines sell for under $20.

2001 Alexander Valley Vineyard Merlot ($20) (Tasted 07/04)
Clean minty brambles with some pepper in the nose, and cherry fruit in the mouth. Not as complex as the following wines, but solid and without flaws.

2001 Alexander Valley Vineyard Syrah ($20) (Tasted 07/04)
Lightly Bretty nose, with mint, herbs and dry grasses, showing blueberry and metallic rust on the palate in saturated Syrah style, yet with soft ripe fruit rounding out the mid-palate, ending in a lightly tannic finish.

2002 Alexander Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir ($20) (Tasted 07/04)
An excellent value, ripe and earthy Pinot. Soft black cherries and humus in the nose, with some pepper, light chocolate, cherry fruit and a hint of liquorice on the palate.

2002 Alexander Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) (Tasted 07/04)
Musky cherries with a hint of olive oil and anise, a light oak treatment lingering into cinnamon spice. In the mouth showing large spicy cherry fruit, clear with some chocolate richness, the center-palate full of fruit with a simple but classically balanced finish, showing smooth tannins and acidity. Impressive quality at this price.




De Lorimier
Located in Geyserville, this small winery gets fruit both from Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

2001 De Lorimier Sauvignon Blanc (tasted 7/04)
A small percentage of Viognier and Semillon impart floral notes to this crisp wine, with perfumes of honeydew melon, peaches, jasmine and honeysuckle. The acidic spine of Sauvignon Blanc comes forward on the palate, rich and ripe but with a crisp clean note of lemongrass.

2001 De Lorimier Malbec (tasted 7/04)
A yummy smooth mouthfull of fruit, very grapey in the nose, with some earthy musk, violets, tar, sweet blueberry jam, and soft delicate oak. Berries and bacon fat in the mouth, chocolate and soft oily cherry fruit. Slightly high pH (3.7) suggests that this will be best while still young.




Elaine Maria Estate
P.O. Box 1458
Healdsburg CA 95448

Elaine Foppiano's great grandfather started one of the oldest wineries in Sonoma county, which is still operating under the family name. Elaine's grandfather chose not to follow the wine business, but recently she decided to make use of 4.5 acres of an old family orchard property to create her own small run of premium wine. Her Merlot impressed me at the 2004 Family Winemaker tasting, because it expressed the more serious side of this oft-maligned varietal. Lest we forget that some of the greatest Bordeaux consist mostly of Merlot, Elaine Maria's wines recall the firmly structured backbone and honest complexity of a well-grown temperate grape. These Merlots show mineral characters, clean with minimal manipulation. The grapes grow in alluvial sandy-gravelly loam at the banks of the Russian River, in the Alexander Valley. Crisp and food-friendly, these are wines that experienced afficionados can enjoy.

2002 Elaine Maria Merlot Alexander Valley (tasted 4/05) $20
Lightly oaked with a firm acidic backbone, nose shows crisp minerality, rose hip tea and pepperwood, dry tobacco and dusty olive leaves. Oak profile is dry, not sweet. Flavors show green olive tannins, bright plum and cranberry fruit, open and light on the mid-palate, not lingering. This would pair well with aged cheeses, lighter pastas, oil-cured black olives. 13.8% alc.

2002 Elaine Maria Merlot Orchard Block (tasted 4/05) $29
Richer than the Alexander Valley, with more developed fruit in the nose and mid-palate, more spicy oak (55% new French cooperage) yet with a similarly clean acidic structure. Nose is musky, with traces of cinnamon and clove, roses, dusty tobacco, black olives and a hint of tar. Plum and black cherry palate, lightly rich and ripe (not chocolatey) but still clean bright mineral complexity. Lingering glycerine in the finish showing good extracted fruit. Probably quite ageworthy, but satisfying and approachable at this young age. Pair with leg of lamb. 13.9% alc.

2003 Elaine Maria Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley (tasted 4/05) $16.50
Perhaps the strongest among these excellent wines, this Sauvignon Blanc offers a complex floral-tropical nose, crisp and delicate, ripe but not heavy, with shimmery lingering flavors. Aged 85% in stainless steel and 15% in neutral oak barrels, small additions of Semillon and Viogner add to the layered aromatic profile. Nose offers green apples, lemon grass, papaya, clay dust and tart pineapple, warming to a tingling granite-like minerality. The palate has an open light texture, not oily but smooth, with delicate evanescent tropical flavors. The finish is long, very dry and slightly spicy, with light echoes of nutmeg, apricots and the slight waxiness of honey. An excellent value at its price. Would pair beautifully with macadamia crusted mahi mahi or a light bechamel sauce. 13.6% alc.




Field Stone
10075 Highway 128
Healdsburg CA 95448
(707) 433-7266 or (800) 544-7273
I met winemaker Tom Milligan at the Sonoma Showcase and found him to be humble, funny and down to earth. He gave me some good winemaking tips, and invited me to come up for a tour. He also makes very good full-bodied wines from Alexander Valley and Russian River fruit. These sell at medium prices, a good value for the quality.

2000 Field Stone Cabernet Sauvignon Staten Family Reserve, Alexander Valley ($40) (tasted 7/04)
Aged 26 months in 50% new French oak, an inky dark Big Cab with peppery ripe fruit, a musky nose hinting of sweetness, chocolate, taffy and tar. Oily and ripe black flavors with tar and cocoa tannins, with a sweet cinnamon oak finish. Delicious.

2000 Field Stone Petite Sirah Staten Family Reserve, Alexander Valley ($40) (tasted 7/04)
An outstanding example of spicy California fruit, rich plummy chocolate, brambles, blueberries, rust and cream cheese hovering over a saturated berry jam palate, lingering strong drying tannins and a chocolate finish, showing the full largeness of this very Californian varietal.

2002 Sauvignon Blanc (tasted 7/04)
A ripe and soft style for this grape, with smells of dry grass and minerals deepened by sexy musk. Soft in the mouth, smokey and oily, with almost a sense of residual lingering sweetness. Earthy and interesting.



Geyser Peak

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($45) (Alexander & Knight Valleys) (tasted 7/04)
It must be hard for a winery that sells mostly down-market to promote their high end reserve wines. Sadly, I'm not a big fan of this particular Cabernet. The nose shows some vegetal character, with a bit of fish, iron and ripe berry fruit. Strong extracted tannins and good structure in the finish, showing potential for cellaring. Hopefully, the slightly boiled character in the nose is just a result of bottle damage on a hot day.

2003 Sauvignon Blanc (tasted 7/04)
Grapefruit and clover blossom in the nose, slightly bitter grapefruity flavors, a bit pinchy and tight, with a grassy finish showing hints of artichoke.




1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Bismark Ranch (tasted 7/04)
Smells indicate a cool weather, slightly underripe dusty Cabernet profile, with mint, oregano, storage room and asparagus. Flavors give more intensity of fruit than the nose would imply, with ripe cassis and soft earthiness; but with a slightly green pepper finish. I actually enjoy these qualities quite a bit, although it definitely lands on the more austere side of the California wine scale.

2001 Merlot Alexander Valley (tasted 7/04)
Made from both valley grapes and hillside grapes, this rich Merlot blends the soft ripeness of the former with the tannic intensity of the latter. The nose points to some oceanic minerals, chalk, with the fruit a bit tight still. Flavors of splintery oak dominate the palate at this time, and will need a few years to blend in with the dark cherry fruit flavors.

2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (tasted 7/04)
75% Alexander Valley fruit, 25% from the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder. A tight nose hides an absolutely delicious ripe palate. Fragrances seem slightly soapy at first (Ivory?) with fruit that needs more time to open up, and sweet oak. Flavors of big black cherry fruit, bittersweet chocolate, black pepper and drying long tannins with a lingering chocolaty finish. Yum.

2001 Zinfandel Bismark Ranch (tasted 7/04)
Slightly hot raspberry nose, with chocolate, white pepper and soft blackberry, sweet raspberry jam... totally huge, with decent acidity and dry tannins. (16.4% alc.)

2003 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Slusser Vnyd. (tasted 7/04)
Peaches and orange blossom perfume, with bright and rich flavors of fleshy fruits. A clean, floral, seductive wine, one of the better Sauvignon Blancs tasted that day.



Lancaster / Roth
One of my favorite red wines in the Sonoma Showcase 2004, Lancaster also garnered the highest bid during the charity auction that same week. Their second wine, Roth, has a softer character and shows more immediate accesibility, although I would expect the Lancaster to age well for at least 10 years and improve into a stunning example of premium California Cabernet.

2001 Roth Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($37) (tasted 07/04)
Rich and earthy nose showing some herbaceous qualities, with cherries and oily tar (molasses?). Flavors of black cherry, chocolate, soft winter spices and sweet oak.

2001 Lancaster Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) (tasted 07/04)
Still very young, showing tight closed nose with bright acidity, steely fruit with rusty tin. In the mouth shows the clarity and freshness that indicates an ageworthy wine, but still lacking a center and showing a dry woodshop oak finish. Give this one five years at least.



Medlock Ames

1999 Medlock Ames Merlot (tasted 7/04)
Fruit from Bell Mountain, Alexander Valley. An earthy berry nose with some soft, slightly vegetal herbaceous qualities. Berry fruit in the mouth, with a cleaner finish than the 2000.

2000 Medlock Ames Merlot (tasted 7/04)
Caramel nose with some brambles, chocolate-mint and some herbal vegetal qualities. The sweet vanilla oak seems to overpower the fruit a tiny bit. A spicy finish in the mouth, more pepper and tannin than the 1999.




Meeker Vineyard
21035 Geyserville Ave.
Geyserville, CA 95411
Tel: 707-431-2148, Fax: 707-431-2549
email: cmmeek@aol.com

I felt welcome and charmed at this ruff-and-tumble tasting room in outback downtown Geyserville. Quirky family wines with loads of personality, these make more sense when you meet the winemakers. Mrs. Meeker was loose tongued, crusty and funny. She didn't mind stomping on wine-industry plattitudes while stumping her wares with confidence. Their wines landed on occasional lopsided flavor points, but shared some charming floral complexities. The tasting notes came from a hasty visit in 9/03 unless otherwise noted, and aren't complete.

2000 Merlot Gold Leaf Cuvee ($12 discounted)
Brambley dusty nose, Bordeaux-like woodiness and pepper, with vanilla oak. On the palate, tingling acidity, blackberry brambles and cedar. Obviously under-developed fruit, but well handled by the winemaker.

2000 Zinfandel 10th Rack ($14)
A simple spicy zin, with spice notes coming before the fruit. Blackberry and pepper with dark toasted oak and a strawberry finish on the palate. Not overly tannic.

2001 Zinfandel Idle Home ($23)
Nose strongly redolent of peaches, with a hint of pepper and caramel, some berry fruits in the end. Soft and fruity in the mouth, not complex. Peaches totally dominate.

2001 Winemaker's Handprint Merlot ($34)
A very complex Merlot that Meeker clearly feels great pride in producing. I think it would have shown its greatest strengths if it hadn't seen so much oak. I hope that the oak will dissipate a bit in the next few years. The nose shows gobs of sweet floral fruit, and gobs of vanilla caramel oak, along with cedar, cherry pepper, and some paint-like terpines. Leather and cinnamon toast with cherry and pencils on the palate. I wonder what this will taste like in five years?

1999 Four Kings Proprietary Blend ($38)
Great balance between fruit, tannins and oak. Big floral nose with burly woody complexity, palate with sour cherries and cocoa. I think it needs a few more years to soften and show its stuff. Good one.

2001 Barberian ($32)
A strange blend of Barbera and Zinfandel. Smells a bit vegetal, with sweet oak and an almost Rhone-like spicy fruit profile of dark cherries, liquorice, cardomon.

2001 Petite Syrah Dibble, Sierra Foothills ($28)
Vegetal smells underlying a big dose of sappy peppertree and burlwood, with some lavendar perfume. Low acidity, a bit soapy in the mouth, floral, peppery tannins, but lighter fruit than the nose implies.

2002 Carignane Demostene, Alexander Valley ($25)
Nose of floral perfume, dust, brambly stems. Tannic oily mouthfeel, high acidity, chocolate finish.

2001 TuTu Luna ($18)
Sweet dessert wine made in the freezer-icewine method, with a paint-like terpine nose followed by floral complexity and a very sweet honey/fruit palate. Not among my favorites of sweet wines, but interesting.

2000 FroZin ($24)
Another sweet freezer wine, with a magnified dusty nose and strawberry. Very sweet.




Rezonja Wine Cellar
A new winery with a Slovenian slant, these wines show an unusual oily texture with grapey flavors that didn't initially attract me, but they certainly stand out from the crowd.

2002 Rezonja Merlot Alexander Valley ($24) (tasted 7/04)
Sweet caramel with candied dates in the nose, with round spicy grapey flavors in the mouth, soft lingering oak and an earthy oily finish.

2002 Rezonja Cabernet Franc Alexander Valley ($35) (tasted 7/04)
Very soft smells, light and nutty, without the typical floral tones that this grape often provides. Odd rounded oily texture, with a slightly minty and herbaceous finish.

2002 Rezonja Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($32) (tasted 7/04)
Similar slightly herbaceous profile, light in the palate, with a mouthfeel that indicates medium high pH. Delicate oak treatment, oily finish.




This family once owned fruit orchards in the Santa Clara Valley, and apparently also owned the Montebello Vineyard that the Ridge partners bought in 1959. When they sold their various South Bay properties, they moved up to Alexander Valley and planted some of the first new vines since Prohibition. These became great vines in their own right, and these wines continue to show huge flavors and great structure. Some of the Ridge Sonoma wines come from these and neighboring properties. Good stuff.

2002 Trentadue Petite Syrah Alexander Valley ($25) (tasted 7/04)
Blackberries and chocolate, rose petals, brambles, peppermint, lavender and blueberries in the nose. Surprisingly complex for a Petite Syrah, a grape which sometimes just offers big simple fruit and tough tannins. Those muscular tannins do show up in the mouth, minty and still quite tough. This burly wine needs several years to settle down.

2002 Trentadue Zinfandel "La Storia" Alexander Valley ($28) (tasted 7/04)
This is the sort of wine that shows the absolutely unique California profile that Zinfandel can obtain. Miles away from subtle or delicate, it's a muscular big wine, with such high alcohol (16.9%) that I can't imagine a yeast that would survive to full dryness (apparently Uvafirm 23), yet it's fully dry and doesn't even smell port-like or "hot". Jammy chocolate/raspberry nose, with white pepper spice and subdued oak, with lingering huge tannins in the mouth. Decadent -- a guilty pleasure.




Other Alexander Valley Wines:

1999 Silver Oak Cabernet Alexander Valley ($60) (tasted 7/04)
This high-end Napa winery had a run up in prices during the fetish days of the late 1990's. They have made a Cab from Alexander Valley for several years, which shares the lush ripe style of their Napa cab. Rich, plummy nutty nose, very saturated, ripe and intense, with fairly low acidity and pleasantly not overoaked. I would not expect this to improve for more than 5 years, but it's delicious right now.

2000 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) (tasted 7/04)
(1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448) In the past, I have known Jordan to make one of the tighter, more acidic Cabernets around, which need about a decade to soften and mature. These wines age beautifully. Surprisingly, this 2000 vintage tastes riper, softer, more immediately drinkable than my memory of past Jordans. The jammy toasty nose shows chocolate, cherry/cassis, peppery spices and rich ripe fruit, while the flavors show clear, ripe and well structured red cherry and cedar, with soft integrated "cherry pit" tannins at the finish. Apparently the winemaker used a higher percentage of hillside fruit for this vintage, giving more accessible body, but maintaining the clear clean structure.

2000 Robert Young SCION Meritage ($45) (tasted 7/04)
This Bordeaux style blend received high points in 1999. The 2000 vintage is a bit softer, but still shows sufficient youthful acidity to offer some support to the ripe fruit. With 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot, this shows creamy French oak sweetness, ripe grape, black cherries and vanilla in the nose, with rounded fruit in the mouth and soft tannins.

2001 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon Sarah Block ($40) (tasted 7/04)
High on the "yummy" scale, with inky chocolate and blueberry nose, coffee and cream, herbal earthiness and sweet caramel oak. Round and soft on the palate, chocolate covered cherries and berry cobbler, with a blackberry/chocolate finish.

2002 Murphy-Goode Merlot Alexander Valley (tasted 7/04)
Rich ripe nose of blackberries, black cherry, coffee, and jammy plums. Spicy and clean on the palate, with good depth complexity, lingering tannins and a fruity finish that isn't dominated by oak.




Carneros Appelation

The appelation just south of the town of Sonoma has cooler weather thanks to a foggy breeze off of the northern wetlands of the San Francsco Bay. This region is famous for Chardonnay, sparkling wines, and especially Pinot Noir.


Gloria Ferrer

Owned by the same family that makes Freixenet in Spain, Ferrer has started making excellent affordable California sparkling wine. They also make very good Pinot Noir, with a clean style and crisp acidity.

1995 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvée sparkling wine ($50) (tasted 7/04)
Allowed to sit for over seven years before bottling, this cleansing crisp wine bursts forth into the nose with creamy green apples and bright minerality, in a scintillating shower of pinprick bubbles. The fruit tastes amazingly fresh in this old wine, with age lending even more balance to the clean acidity and lemony zest. Exceptional.

2000 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé sparkling wine ($35) (tasted 7/04)
Light dry rosé made entirely of pinot noir, with notes of strawberry, peach, and cranberry, with an elusive floral richness on the palate. This would pair well with salmon in lemon beurre blanc.

2001 Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine ($24) (tasted 7/04)
Tingling palate and bright notes of green apples and pears. Very delicate, detailed and refined. Crisp acidity and a very clean finish. Top notch.

2000 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir, José Ferrer Selection ($35) (tasted 7/04)
Rich toasted smells with black cherry, pepper, some musky perfume. Full flavored yet crisp in the mouth, with well integrated spicy oak and rich cherry fruit, some earthiness that should build in complexity with age. Pleasantly steers away from the sometimes cloying style of overripe California Pinot Noir, yet offers big flavors.

2000 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir, Rust Rock Terrace ($40) (tasted 7/04)
A more noticeable oak profile, with a mineral nose showing signs of volcanic soils, hints of red-vines liquorice and charcoal. Balanced and light, with a smooth oily finish that lingers in the mouth.

2000 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir, Gravel Knob Vnyd. ($40) (tasted 7/04)
Seemingly higher pH than the other Ferrer Pinots, this one showed a hint of vegetal softness in the nose which I found uncharacterstic among the other excellent crisp wines of Ferrer. Very ripe smells of chocolate, dark oily cherries, Indian spices like turmeric and coriander, with some leafy herbacious layers and a sweet oak finish.

2000 Gloria Ferrer Syrah Carneros ($24) (tasted 7/04)
Lighter in color than many California Syrahs, with deep ruby tones rather than blue-black; likewise with more of a Rhone-like flavor of herbs and earth. The nose has complex red fruit, slightly ferric, slightly minty, with hints of sage and grass, opening up into coffee and cream. In the palate it starts out big and tight, but tempered by a sweet oak finish. With brambly cherries and earthy grassy notes, it opens into gentle cocoa tannins. If I had tasted this blind, I would have imagined it coming from Gigondas, only with less cocoa. A lovely and sophisticated Syrah.

2001 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir Carneros ($26) (tasted 7/04)
Nose of red cherries, earth and bacon. Lean in the palate, with some minerality and clean acidity. A somewhat short light finish mildly disappoints, but this could start presenting the mushroomy qualities of a good Burgundy in a few years.


Other Carneros Wineries:

2002 Charles Creek Chardonnay Varneros Sangiacomo Vnyd. (tasted 7/04)
Dijon clone grapes, fermented on wild yeast with full malolactic. Definitely showing the buttery side of Chardonnay. Earthy caramel, butterscotch, peaches and lemon custard with hazlenuts. The oak seems well integrated on the palate, with the fruit leaving a creamy finish nuanced with lemon and green herbs.

2000 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros
Nose is pure barnyard Pinot Noir character, with a huge dose of Bretty horse manure, cherries and caramalized vanilla. Despite the dry summer grass and manure smells, it comes off as very sweet. The palate also shows fruit first, with the typical earthy cherry sweetness, followed by slightly cloying vanilla oak. The flavors linger for ages. (14% alc.)

1999 Cline Mourvédre Ancient Vines (tasted 2/04)
A reliable big balanced wine, and usually a great value at around $15 if you can find it. The wine take a while to breathe. A decanter improves the nose, which opens into coconut and jammy raspberry fruit, gravel dust and a spicy note of cumin or caraway. Flavors of ripe dark berries, strong dusty tannins, good balance with an oak profile that doesn't overpower. Finishes in a long twist upwards into brightness. This wine introduced me to California Mourvédre in the mid-nineties, and it continues to please.

2002 Peter's Family Winery Chardonnay Carneros (tasted 7/04)
This winemaker opened all the stops to create a luscious rich buttery chardonnay, while retaining the acidity present in good cool weather grapes: 100% malolactic, long sur lie ageing on French and American oak. The results are rich and smooth, with fragrances of buttered toast and hazelnuts, yet a clear lemony crispness shines through on the palate. In the finish, oily richness takes over, with ample glycerin clinging to the tongue.



Dry Creek Valley Appellation

David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery
7485 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, CA 95441
Tel: 707-433-9715, Fax: 707-433-9715, www.coffaro.com

A young private venture that makes very small lots (100-700 cases) of big rustic brambly wines. I like the fact that Coffaro's wines have a strong sense of the Dry Creek style, a little rough around the edges in a good way. They tend to try very unusual grape blends to achieve a desired flavor profile. Their prices are quite reasonable. Tasted 9/03 unless otherwise noted. When tasted I think these wines were too young to appreciate. Tasting notes are not complete.

2002 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley ($18)
Very young when tasted, bready cherries (yeast flavors still showing), big fruit on the palate, medium high acidity.

2002 Pinot Noir Sonoma County ($18)
82% Pinot Noir, 9% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Syrah. What an odd blend of grapes. It results in a toasty and very smooth wine, nothing like a Burgundy but still obviously a Pinot Noir, with bigger flavors than typical Dry Creek Pinot.

2002 Zinfandel Estate Grown ($18)
83% Zinfandel, 8% Cabernet, 6% Carignane, 3% Petite Syrah. Brambly sweet berry with bitter tannin. Burly tough wine that might improve with age but probably won't reach great heights.

2002 Zinfandel "My Zin" ($18)
75% Zinfandel, 19% Petite Syrah, 6% Aca Modot Cabernet. More strawberry in the nose than the Estate Zin, big tannins, sweet vanilla oak, some brambly mint.

2002 Estate Cuvee ($18)
33% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet, 27% Carignane, 10% Petite Syrah. Knotty oak tannins, fairly high acidity, rustic and large woody qualities dominate the berry fruit.

2002 Petite Syrah ($18)
80% Petite Syrah, 20% Zinfandel. Big berry bomb. Velvety but still tannic. Simple fruit slowly unfolds on the tongue as the tannins slowly build up and coat the mouth.




We discovered Mazzocco in 1998 when tasting their 1996 vintage vineyard-designate zinfandels and cabernets. We liked a few of the wines very much, but not all of them. We enjoyed the good ones enough to buy a case or two (one cab and one zin) which we have held for a while. They have aged very well over the years, developing solid old-wine tastes without flaws.

Since then we have returned and purchased some reserve 1997 zins, which tasted lovely and rich in 2003. I have heard rumours that these good people have been struggling financially, which saddens me because they make excellent serious (affordable) wine that shows better in five years than upon release, a rarity in California.

1996 Zinfandel Stone Creek (tasted 2/04) ($16)
Going back to some bottles in the cellar, I am even more impressed by how well Mazzocco's wines develop. What started as a bright acidic Zinfandel with ripe flavors of strawberry jam has deepened with age, well supported by its clean acidity. Nose shows Créme Anglaise custard, sherry almond-like sweetness, pepper, slightly chalky strawberry jam, and a Persian spice mix like sumac, thyme and caraway. The palate shows bright tart red raspberry, mixed with fruit chutney due to the hint of VA, finishing with strong drying tannins, and zabaglione (marsala custard and berries.) What an intensely flavored and balanced Zinfandel! (14.5% alc.)

1997 Zinfandel Stone Creek (tasted 10/03) ($18)
A lovely seductive fruit bomb, ripe at 14.5% alcohol. Light color and taffy caramel oak nose that unfolds to peppered strawberries. Soft and huge in the mouth with a beautiful sweet lingering finish. Total zinfandel with balance, ripeness and muscular spicy fruit.

1999 Zinfandel Dry Creek (tasted 10/03) ($16)
Crisp red raspberry fruit profile, characteristic of Dry Creek. Spicy black pepper, tar, graphite and oak.

1999 Zinfandel Quinn Vineyard (tasted 7/04)
Musky, sweaty earthy nose with some odd terpines, like a cross between peppermint and library paste, along with bright raspberry fruit. Peppery and slightly soapy on the palate, with light fruit and a perfumey quality. Interesting but odd.

1999 Carignane Old Vine (tasted 10/03) ($14)
Earthy nose, a bit simple. Light fruit in the mouth with a sweet vanilla oak finish.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma (tasted 3/03) ($14)
Surprisingly simple and bright compared to expectations. A resistant nose with subtle herbal tones, some menthol (eucalyptus or bay laurel?) slightly earthy, and the usual cherry and cassis fruit profile. The flavors are bright and medium bodied, with hints of cocoa, cherry fruit, tea and lingering tannins. Classic and simple, slightly disappointing compared to expectations. Short notes upon re-tasting 10/03: cedary, lean, brambly, green pepper.

2000 Pinot Noir Dry Creek (tasted 10/03) ($28)
Pure pinot smells of earthy cherries, with tingling acidity on the palate, lots of glycerin, lingering liquorice on the palate. Needs time.




Dry Creek Road

2000 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($24) (tasted 7/04)
From eight vineyards around the valley, this zinfandel shows the red berry profile of Dry Creek in a spicy and soft framework. Nose of sweet ripe strawberry and spicy red raspberry, palate showing balanced clear acidity with a viscous mouth feel and soft berry finish.

2002 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley (tasted 7/04)
Crisp and refreshing, with no malolactic nor oak ageing, with a nose of sweet musk and limestone minerality and lemony fruit, with light lemon zest flavors on the palate and lingering lemon-oil finish. I thinkthis would pair excellently with a fruit salad.

2000 Zinfandel Growers Reserve ($33) (tasted 7/04)
Nose of black peppercorns and burlwood, chocolate and white pepper heat. Smooth round fruit in the mouth, with blackberries and dusty lingering tannins. Very nice, big wine.



1220 Canyon Road, Geyserville, CA 95441
800-836-3894, www.pedroncelli.com

Another Northern Sonoma County family winery that's been around for decades. Overall style of rustic, brambly, peppery wines. Priced very reasonably. Tasted 9/03 unless otherwise noted, very quickly jotted notes aren't complete.

1983 Cabernet Sauvignon Pedroncelli ($35)
Showing excellent longevity, retaining its brambly fruit with a characteristic cedar/pencil dryness.

1999 Sangiovese ($14)
Very bright fruit, peppery, spicy, toasty. Some odd smells like sulphur or soap.

2001 Pinot Noir, F. Johnson ($14.50)
Very fruity, high acidity, light balance between bright fruit and gentle oak treatment, with a fairly high tannin for pinot noir.

2000 Merlot, Bench Vineyards ($14)
Peppertree sap, a hint vegetal, very brambly on the palate. Obviously a cool weather Merlot.

2000 Zinfandel Mother Clone ($14)
Lovely red berry fruit, saturated flavors and smells, very clean with white pepper and raspberry.

2000 Zinfandel Midnight Run ($20)
More oak treatment than Mother Clone, mineral nose with raspberry and rose petals, very dry with a good balance of acid and tannin.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Vineyards ($14.50)
Brambly nose with cedar (pencil shavings) character, cherry/vanilla. Simple.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Morris Fay ($16)
Centered balanced big wine, still more rustic and brambly than anything from Napa. Dusty nose, light woody fruit, hint of tobacco, dry oak.

2000 Petite Syrah ($14.50)
Odd big nose of black liquorice, tar, spices, black cherries. On the palate, the tannins overtake the fruit and coat the mouth.




Preston of Dry Creek
9282 West Dry Creek Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tel: 707-433-3372, 800-305-9707, Fax: 707-433-5307

A family winery towards the north end of Dry Creek, with a focused selection good complex wines that show some of the typical Dry Creek characteristics. I like this winery a lot, perhaps in part because of the friendly family vibe (the family house, winery, tasting room and vineyards all share the same property.) Brief tasting notes 09/03 unless otherwise noted.

2002 Viognier ($25)
Nose of peaches, spicy cloves but not the sweet spectrum of spices. Smokey palate, very dry, high acidity. Crisp and probably very food friendly (shellfish!)

2001 Mourvedre ($20)
Light color, liquorice candy nose, cherry and cardomon, soft and warm, not much of the cocoa profile common in this grape. Viscous and velvety in the mouth, with oily lingering tannins. Fruity, deep, soft and supple.

2000 Preston Red ($24)
Rhone style blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, 15% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre. Complex and muscular, with some bitter tannins (probably from the Syrah.) This is still very young and may take years to soften.

2001 Zinfandel ($24)
Black pepper, strawberry, raspberry - typical Dry Creek Zin profile in the nose, but with a much bigger, more chocolatey palate than many in the area, almost as fruity and mid-acid/high-tannin as some of the Zins from the Gold Country. Lovely!

2000 Syrah ($18)
Surprisingly light considering the grape, not earthy, gamey nor rusty like some other Syrahs. More berry character, simple vanilla and some spice. Good but not immensely complex.




F. Teldeschi Winery
3555 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448
707-433-6626, www.teldeschi.com

Visiting Teldeschi in September 2003, I discovered the excellent wines made by associate winemaker Scott Lindstrom-Dake, under the Thumbprint label. I think the Thumbprint wines are much better than Teldeschi's, which tend toward vegetal flaws. We were somewhat amused by Dan Teldeschi's brusque personality and cheapness when it came to opening fresh bottles of wine in the tasting room. At night he had the employees put remnants of reserve wines into tiny vials to prevent oxidation. Alas, the wines had still gone downhill on the following day. Most of my tasting notes were very simple... "oxidized, vegetal, acidic, thinning on the palate" etc. These are notes for the only few drinkable wines I tasted:

1997 Terranova, Dry Creek Valley ($27, discounted to $22)
An unusual blend of Carignane, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Valdegui. A huge fruit profile with a big dark tannic finish. Tart/sweet red berry fruit, some earthiness and woodiness.

1997 Petite Syrah ($26)
Nose a bit vegetal, not as flawed as the others, with some paint-like terpines. Very intensely tannic, otherwise a bit thin on the palate. (Re-tasted 5/04):
Odd herbacious nose, slightly "green" like spinach, with some rust and Cool-aid style black cherry fruit. Black olives and bubblegum on the palate, with a lingering pinched finish tasting of tartaric acid.

2000 Cabernet Franc Pedroni Vineyard ($26)
Soapy smells, a bit vegetal, brambly with green pepper. The fruit comes on the palate more than the nose, with good lingering tannic structure.





Thumbprint Cellars
3555 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448
707-579-6252, fax 707-579-0539, www.thumbprintcellars.com

Made by Teldeschi's ex-associate winemaker Scott Lindstrom-Dake, who is making much better wine than his employer. Tiny lot sizes of 60-100 cases, very age-worthy and serious wines. Excellent value.

2000 Pinot Noir FR Schneider Vineyard Russian River ($24)
Floral perfumey smells almost like french milled soap, dusty rose petals. Cherry cola on the palate, with very bright acidity. This will benefit from several years of ageing.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($24)
Lavender nose, with raspberry/blackberry aromas, young and still very tough, large acidic palate with a minty finish. Might be really good in about 5 years.

2001 Threesome Meritage Dry Creek Valley ($32)
Three years in French oak didn't overpower this huge young wine. Blueberry fruit, floral violet aromatics and spicy cinnamon oak, slightly astringent on the palate with big tannin and acid, which should soften into a beautiful big wine.



Other Dry Creek Wines:

1995 Rafanelli Terrace Select Cabernet Sauvignon (Dry Creek Valley)
This must have tasted very rough when it was young. It's absolutely lovely now. Nose of cherry, butterscotch, mulched earth (worm castings), bitter chocolate, minty Greek oregano, clay dust, rust, hint of VA. Big acids and big tannins on the palate, black cherry fruit in a rather serious tough framework of drying cocoa tannins. This gives an honest sense of the burly but still ripe wines that can come from the cooler Healdsburg climate.




Russian River and Sonoma Coast Appellations

Dutch Bill Creek
P.O. Box 238
Occidental, CA 95465
Phone: 877-874-3852

Husband and wife team of Charles and Deborah Heintz started by farming grapes in Occidental near the Russian River. They began making their own wine in 1997, and have just released an exceptional first pinot noir. When I met them toward the end of the Family Winemekers tasting, my mouth was rather numb from a day's worth of tannin, but their 2002 pinot noir had such a huge round mouth-feel that it clearly stood out among the best I had tasted recently.

2001 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Heintz Ranch ($30)
Complex nose of butter, apples, apricots, candied pineapple, bubblegum, taffy, chalk, lemon custard. Coats the mouth with buttery softness, showing full malolactic, with a hint of nutmeg oak in a long lingering finish. Good acidic backbone keeps the palate open rather than cloying, helping it pair with food despite the soft texture and oak. 452 cases made. (14.2% alc.)

2002 Pinot Noir Sonoma County Heintz Ranch ($40)
Warm candied black cherry fragrances deepened by smells of earthy humus, hayloft, vanilla créme brulée, violets and tropical fruit (papaya?). As the wine opens in the glass the bouquet turns darker, more barnyard and damp earth mixed with the black cherries, but not particularly bretty. Round and oily in the mouth, one of those rare pinot noirs that delivers a larger mouth-feel than its nose, with floral perfumes rising to the back of the palate, lingering notes of peach nectar. Soft and sensual, velvety and smooth. 473 cases made. (15.5% alc.)




Pappapietro Perry
4441 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
707-433-0422, 877-467-4668
I tried two Pinot Noirs from this small winery at the July 2004 Sonoma Showcase, and they impressed me: premium price and premium quality. I look forward to trying more of their offerings in the future.

2002 Pappapietro Perry Pinot Noir Russian River ($38) (tasted 7/04)
Creamy sweet vanilla cherry nose, rich with oaky sweetness. Bright and spicy fruit on the palate, with clean crisp cherry profile, integrated with somewhat strong oak.

2002 Pappapietro Perry Pinot Noir Peter's Vineyard ($42) (tasted 7/04)
More earthy than the Russian River, with a less-sweet nose, a hint of coffee and buttered dark toast. Round and light on the palate, with a good balance between fruit and oak, rich clear finish and good acidity. This should age into a deep and complex wine.




Pax Wine Cellars
Phone: 707-591-0782
Email: mail@paxwines.com

Pax Mahle makes only Syrah. The 2000 vintage marked his first releases, and judging from the crowd around his booth at the Family Winemakers Tasting, I'll guess I'm not the only person who thinks he's starting with a bang. Pax has a goal to express the pure flavors of cooler climate syrah vineyards in Northern California, steering towards organic practices and traditional winemaking methods. His Syrahs show inky dark extraction, huge fruit and deep tannins, artfully combining the soft and hard sides of this giant grape.

2002 Syrah Sonoma Hillside ($25)
Pax's entry level Syrah, with a blend of three hillside vinyeards, aiming at the reference point of a ripe Crozes-Hermitage. This wine shows a fruit-forward blackberry nose with violets, liquorice and smoke, slightly grassy or minty, with mineral earthiness. Tannic but very rich on the palate, dark ripe fruit. An amazing wine for "low end". 507 cases (14.9% alc.)

2002 Syrah Castelli-Knight Ranch ($45)
A massive wine by anyone's standards, almost over the top. Huge alcohol and high pH (4.0) it shows what happens when extremely ripe grapes extract to their full extent. Nose of blueberries, raw meat (rust), schezuan peppercorns, star anise and black pepper. Tastes sweet and plummy in the mouth despite full dryness. The tannins take over after a few sips and completely coat the tongue. 253 cases (16.9% alc.)

2002 Syrah Walker Vine Hill ($50)
Notes from quick taste at Family Winemakers: Softer than the Castelli-Knight, with a bit more finesse, more fruity, lush and floral. Tannins in control, less spicy, but the nose shows beautiful perfumes of rose petals and violets, in the mouth the fruit dominates with deceptive sweetness. Long and lingering palate, soft and huge. 184 cases (15.2% alc.)




Rodney Strong
A medium-large winery with good distribution, Rodney Strong makes reasonably priced, honest, bright wines with an acidic backbone that softens nicely with age.

1999 Rodney Strong Merlot (tasted 7/04)
Clean chocolate blackberry nose, with a sweet oak profile, a hint of black pepper and brambles. Very ripe dark fruit in the mouth, with a balanced medium-tannin finish.

1999 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alden Vinyard (tasted 7/04)
Bright red cherries, still tight after four years, with coffee and chocolate notes, with some herbal minty leafiness. Large spicy chocolate/cassis palate, with bright acidity and a finish of toasted peppercorns. Delicious.

2000 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander's Crown (tasted 7/04)
Lower acidity than usual, with spicy cherries, black pepper and earth. Lingering tannins balance the black cherry/cassis fruit.





A small family winery at the northern tip of the Russian River region, positioned perfectly between cool and warm climates. Excellent quality.

2002 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay Alexander Valley Estate (tasted 7/04)
Deep and musky nose with a woody, creamy quality intertwines with lemon and toast to create a decoy for the crisp, clean, lemony bright palate. I like this style of crisp chardonnay, with only 40% malolactic retaining the clarity. It should pair well with many foods.

2002 Stuhlmuller Zinfandel (tasted 7/04)
Dark berry fruit and caramel oak in the nose. At first the palate shows soft blackberry fruit, then deepens into strong extracted tannins towards the rear, with spicy exotic notes.

2002 Stuhlmuller Cabernet Sauvignon (tasted 7/04)
Blackberry fruit, caramel oak and milk chocolate ripeness. On the palate, it shows the same ripe berry and chocolate implied by the nose, soft smooth tannins, balanced centered acidity. A surprisingly gentle and fruit driven Cabernet for this supposedly cool climate vineyard.




Other Russian River and Coastal Wines:

2000 Philip Staley Syrah, Russian River Valley (tasted 5/05)
Discovered half price ($6) at BevMo, I bought a case of this for topping wine in my own winemaking efforts. Not a brilliant wine, but very good for the price. Nose of chocolate liquer, or maybe Kahlua and cream, gravel and dry grass, rust, trout skin and hospital bandages. Not as off-putting as that might sound. Palate resembles soft milk chocolate, blackberry fruit, with slightly coarse chalky tannins. 14.2% alc.

2001 Armagh Syrah, Sonoma Coast ($20) (tasted 6/04)
With saturated cool weather fruit farmed in the region between Petaluma and Tamales Bay, this mid-priced Syrah delivers immense earthy smells. At first, upon opening, some sulfites had to blow off and left behind Bretty grassy smells. Then, after about an hour, the nose blossomed into dense complex fruit. Sweet boysenberry, leather, coffee, damp earth, pomace (the seeds and skins of fermented wine leftover from the press), musk and tin. Very dense dark grapey palate, tart acidity with a layer of berry jam, well integrated tannins that leave behind a soft oily quality on the tongue, not drying, with a lingering finish reminiscent of Kahlua.

2001 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Rudy Vnyd. (tasted 7/04)
Stirred lees, full malolactic, yet this chard still shows great lemony crispness. Slightly chalky mineral nose with lemon and caramel, hints of mint and dust. Crisp flavors show clean acidity, with a lemon custard creaminess.

2002 Keller Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (tasted 7/04)
Surprising floral nose with clover blossoms, sweet alyssum and distinct hints of saffron. Crisp lemony grapey palate with a cleansing grassy finish. This saw no malolactic and only neutral oak, showing only the pure fruit profile. Very refreshing.

2002 McMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Two Rock Vineyard Sonoma Coast (tasted 7/04)
Light crisp red berry fruit nose, with notes of green tea, sour cherry, sage and flint. Earthy and clean flavors, with a slightly creamy finish.

2001 Russian Hill Winery Pinot Noir Terra Vineyard Russian River (tasted 7/04)
Grassier than it is fruity, with musky pepper spice nose. On the palate, the oak takes over with a somewhat splintery finish. Hopefully that will dissipate in a few years. If so, it may leave behind an excellent earthy Burgundian style Pinot.

2002 Paradise Ridge Pinot Noir Russian River (tasted 7/04)
I recognize the winemaker, Dan Berrick, from Fellom Ranch up on Montebello Road in Cupertino, and I like his style of big winemaking. This warmer weather Pinot shows rich ripe fruit, with a chocolatey caramel toast and dark earthy humus. The flavors become very round in the mouth, with a sense of sweetness, and fairly strong tannins for a Pinot.

2002 Acorn Zinafandel Russian River (tasted 7/04)
A field blend with some Petite Sirah and other fruit. Very floral nose of rose petals, musk, light red berries and sweet cinnamon taffy oak. Spicy fruity palate, big, round and mouth filling, with lingering resolved tannins.





Sonoma Valley and County Appellations

Arbios and Praxis
561 Mission Blvd.
Santa Rosa CA 95409
Phone: 707-539-5641
Email: bill@arbioscellars.com, susan@arbioscellars.com

Bill Arbios and his wife have run their family winery for two decades, making small batches of honest Sonoma Cabernet. He seems to aim for good structure and balance in a clean and uncomplicated style. With grapes coming from the Alexander Valley, his wines typically show fairly high acidity and tannin, big in the nose and light on the palate. His Praxis sub-label makes very good affordable table wines selling mostly to restaurants or direct from the winery.

Arbios 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($38)
Nose of light cherry, dry grass and delicate caramel oak slowly opening into leathershop and cigar box earthy tones. The palate seems a bit thin at first, with bright acidity and lingering clean dry tannins, hints of tea, leather and cedar in an open body of red cherry fruit. Very clean and light overall, mostly delivering in the nose.

Arbios 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($38)
Active and complex fragrances, richly nuanced with cassis, clay dust, butterscotch, iodine, graphite, chocolate, toasted stems (briar), menthol (balsam or pine?), capsicum. Very clean and bright palate with dusty tannins, plummy fruit and graphite in the finish. Shows a lot of finesse.

Praxis 2000 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands ($15)
Fragrances of a classic light pinot, grassy and dry, crisp cherry, a touch of barnyard and dusty clay. Palate is light and not lingering, with clean acidity, leathery tart cherry fruit, well controlled light oak with a bit of toastiness. Very food-friendly. (13.5% alc.)

Praxis 2002 Viognier Lodi ($15)
Deeply layered and complex nose, slightly woody, with nutmeg, clamshells, a hint of caramel, honeycomb wax, and malolactic popcorn. Rich and buttery mouthfeel, with smooth fruit oils that imply sweetness, but finishing with dryer woodiness, lingering notes of smoke and pineapple. This wine paired very well with tofu in spicy black bean sauce, and I think it would taste perfect with oysters. (14.5% alc.)

Praxis 2002 Merlot Dry Creek Valley ($15)
A small batch of grapes came available for sale in Dry Creek, and Arbios made a beautiful balanced Merlot with them. Deep ripe fragrances of cassis and black cherry fruit, not brambly like many Merlots from Dry Creek, with nuances of liquorice, chocolate, and tobacco. Palate shows oily soft tannins that linger on the tongue, medium acidity, round ripe fruit and lasting fatty oak sweetness.



Castle Vineyards
1105 Castle Road, Sonoma, CA 95476

A small family operation that started from Vic McWilliams' hobby winemaking, after he began tending vineyards for neighbors 24 years ago. The winery is still at the McWilliams' home on Castle Road in Sonoma, with an annual production of 5,000 cases. Although some of their wines show minor flaws, they have unique character, with a few excellent stand-outs.

2001 Viognier California (tasted 10/03) ($16)
Dusty, bright, smokey, slightly metallic nose. Very dry on the palate with hints of orange blossom, lemony citrus and bright acidity. Cleansing.

2002 Cinsault, Lodi, Ripkin Vineyard (tasted 10/03) ($18)
A very unusual and unique wine, one that could pair with almost any meat from fish to fowl to four-legged. Nose resembles a Pinot Noir, with earthy cherries and a hint of pondwater, some Christmas spices. Crisp, spicy and smokey on the palate, low tannin, with lingering floral cherry fruit and not too much oak.

1999 Pinot Noir Carneros Durell Vineyard (tasted 10/03) ($35)
Nose of smoke, dark chocolate and cherries, big soft fruit, low acid, sensual, velvety mouth feel with a spicy oak finish.

2000 Pinot Noir Carneros (tasted 10/03) ($24)
Not soft, slight pondwater nose, higher acidity than Durell, oily and lingering mouth feel. Will probably benefit from a few years aging.

2000 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, Parmelee-Hill (tasted 10/03) ($25)
Some sweet floral smells mixed with more austere, very ripe blueberry and cocoa; clean dry palate, crisp and balanced between fruit, tannin and acidity, with a sweet oak finish. Good one.

2000 Syrah Sonoma Valley (tasted 10/03) ($24)
A difficult and inky syrah, with opaque black/purple color, nose of caramel, blueberry, lavender and violets, black tea, chocolate. Big in everything: drying tannins, bright acidity, intense almost metallic fruit extraction. Coats the mouth with very drying tannins. Could age well for at least five years. Lovely.

2000 Syrah Port (tasted 10/03) ($25)
A very intense and uniquely tannic port, not over-oxidized nor vegetal like many California ports. Huge nose of black mission figs and walnuts, a bit leafy. Clean on the palate with similar fig/walnut profile. Ageworthy.



Chateau St. Jean

Despite the wide availabilty and marketing behind this big winery, they make some excellent wines that rival Napa for ripe fruit and earthy profile.

1997 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepage, Sonoma (tasted 11/03)
What a beautiful, big, multilayered and balanced wine. Warming up from the cellar into smells of cherry, cassis, and ripe blackberries, cedar, dark chocolate, and toasty well-integrated oak. Mouth-filling cocoa butter tannins with tobacco, brambly stems, and leather, all on a pillow of ripe dark fruit.

1999 Chateau St. Jean Merlot (tasted 2/04)
A rich, low acid wine with deep fruit character and balanced oak. With age, some flaws have shown, but overall it shows good developed character. Nose of blueberry, cassis and tar, tobacco, hints of iodine, dirty socks and fish pond. Ripe and tannic dark fruit on the palate, with chocolate and black cherries, cigar box and a bit of band-aids (the iodine), opening up into some vegetal low-acidity. (14.2% alc.)



Tel: 707-938-5277, email: info@gunbun.com

A very old family-run winery with a large vineyard and busy tasting room on the Southeast side of the town of Sonoma. Some of their wines are very good, although prices look more like Napa than Sonoma. Brief tasting notes from October 2003.

2002 Gewurztraminer Rhinefarm Vineyard ($22)
Very crisp with grapefruit and orange smells, not much minerality though. Hi acidity in the mouth, slightly spicy with a hint of dust and good viscosity. This would pair wonderfully with spicy Chinese food.

2001 Chardonnay Rhinefarm Vineyard ($24)
Lightly tropical and a bit yeasty in the nose, with perfumes of apricot, peaches and cream. Low mlf retains good acidity, not buttery. More woody and smokey in the mouth, crisp with a creamy finish. Also excellent food-pairing wine, I can imagine it with halibut and beurre blanc.

NV Red Bearitage Lot 10 ($14)
Their low-end blend, pretty good for the price point, but with some flaws. A hint vegetal in the nose, with sweet caramel oak, cassis, cedar pencil shavings. Crisp in the mouth with a cedary note, but a fast thin finish.

2001 Pinot Noir Rhinefarm Vineyard ($32)
A beautifully balanced pinot, with a burlwood nose, chocolate, brambles, and dark cherry fruit. Deep and bright palate with red liquorice and a lingering finish that moves from velvety tannins to caramel oak.

2000 Temperanillo Rhinefarm Vineyard ($28)
A tight and tannic wine, with a nose of olive oil and leather. Coriander and tobacco on the palate, with high minerality and drying tannins, but very low fruit profile and a thin watery finish.

2000 Mayacamas Cuvée ($20)
Blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 56% Merlot, and 1% Cab Franc, with brambly smells of merlot fruit, pepper, coffee, green pepper. Leather and coffee in the mouth with a hint of smoke. Might improve in a few years.

2001 Zinfandel Morse Vineyard ($20)
Clear varietal characteristics, smells on the sweeter fruity side of the zinfandel profile: strawberry/blackberry, chocolate, black pepper. More fruit in the nose than the palate, which tends toward astringent with a very tannic finish.

2001 Zinfandel Rhinefarm Vineyard ($32)
Riper fruit than the Morse Zin, with deep chocolate, more oily tannins, cherry liquorice, and barbecue sauce. Woody spicy finish with lingering white pepper.

2000 Merlot Rhinefarm Vineyard ($28)
Caramel oak nose, briar patch, simple cherry fruit, hint of roses. Not much going on, but pleasant.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)
Dark brambly nose with blueberry and cedar. Woody cedar palate with big structured tannins, a hint of tobacco. Not a generous fruity cab, a bit on the tight side.

1997 Merlot ($65)
Fruit Bomb, a serious big merlot in a Bordeaux style, tannic and woody, with undertones of chocolate. Huge and round in the mouth. Overpriced.

2000 Bartholemew Park WInery Apparition ($22)
62% Melot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon. A winery on Castle Road owned by Gundlach Bundshu, tasted at the GunBun tasting room, and actually one of the best wines tasted that day. This has a dual personality - feminine in the nose and masculine in the mouth. Perfumes of violets and lavender with soft fruit hide an acidic palate of muscular cherry fruit, cedar and leathery tannin. The finish is a bit thin and very tannic. This wine shows more complexity than most at this winery.




The first time I tasted Kunde, they were presenting a triple tasting rank of three Zinfandels, the Old Vines, Ancient Vines and Robusto vintage 1997. The Robusto floored me as one of the biggest zins I had ever tasted, yet balanced and complex. It could have substituted for a port to pair with bleu cheese and candied walnuts. I recently learned that Kunde removed many of its 113 year old vines for more vigorous new plantings, and they would not make more Robusto. They still make a pretty good big wine, although I can't help but feel a sense of loss about those old vines.

2000 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (tasted 4/03)
Nose of ripe strawberry and raspberry, a typical bright Sonoma Zin profile, with added chocolate and spices. The palate is dry with tobacco character, forward black pepper, raspberry and cocoa. Not particularly surprising, but good.

2001 Chardonnay (tasted 12/03)
A bright clear acidic chardonnay, with woody nose full of butterscotch and green apple, salty limestone, not cloying (the malolactic buttery qualities seem subdued under residual crisp acidity.) Palate of lemon meringue and caramel, with a refreshingly low-oak lightness. Good with crab.



Mayo Family Winery
13101 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Tel: 707-938-9401, Fax: 707-938-3569

The Mayo family opened their new tasting room and winery in October 2003, and came recommended by an excellent wine shop in Sonoma. Their general style tends toward soft, fruity, almost feminine wines. Their Pinot Noir, however, seem different from the others in style: quirky, acidic, with some eucalyptus tones, not to my taste. I loved their beautiful floral Syrah, and their big deep Cabernets. A bit pricey.

2001 Chardonnay Estate ($20)
Some dust and tropical citrus in the nose, apple butter, some grassy tones. Good balance between buttery and bright with delicate oak treatment. Clean mouth feel, crisp with citrus and green apple.

2000 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros ($30)
Slightly minty leafy nose, menthol from eucalytus? Green olive and tart earthy mouth feel, very bright acidity, signs of low maturity in the fruit?

2001 Pinot Noir, Piner Ranch Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($30)
Nose dominated by brown sugar caramel, some eucalyptus and oxidized slightly vegetal qualities, some volitile acidity, with an odd astringent mouth-feel. Not a favorite.

2001 Meritage, Sonoma County ($30)
Gentle ripe soft fruit, sweet oak nose with a hint of woodshop. Rounded mouth feel, gentle ripeness, well integrated soft tannins. Not for long-ageing, but oak might resolve in a year or so.

2001 Merlot, Lourent Vineyard, Sonoma County ($35)
Spicy fruit nose of black cherry, a hint of bubblegum, feminine and floral. Rose petals on the palate, gentle oak, mild acidity and lingering light tannin. Like a big feather pillow.

2001 Cabernet Franc, Los Chamizal Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($40)
Light peppery violets warming into brown sugar oak, some VA but clean. Low acidity in the mouth, medium tannin, gentle and floral. Good but overpriced.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Chamizal Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($30)
Big deep serious nose, chocolate, spice and vanilla, good light oak treatment. A hint of cedar and mint on the palate with simple red fruit and some alcohol qualities. Not immensely complex but very solid and well rounded.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa ($35)
Very soft chocolate nose, sweet floral tones, deep earthy humus with a bit of mint. Giant fruit at the beginning in the mouth, but with a slightly watery finish of tannin and cherries. Should resolve beautifully in a couple years.

2001 Syrah, Page-Nord Vinyard, Napa Valley ($35)
The best of the bunch, for my tastes. A beautiful explosion of fruit in the nose, more black currant than typical blueberry syrah smells, with candy caramel oak and meaty qualities. Rich smooth fruit hides giant lingering tannins that coat the mouth.

2001 Zinfandel Old Vine, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($25)
Very ripe for a cold climate zin, with a hot chocolate cherry nose with raspberry notes, sweet qualities in the mouth with large but integrated tannins. Light oak treatment.

2001 Zinfandel Port, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($30)
Fortified with 7 year old cognac instead of the more typical neutral spirits. Big sweet and very spicy, with simple raisiny character. Chewey tannins, finishing with a slightly straightforward sweetness.

2002 Libertine, Sonoma County ($15)
A good value blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Barbera. Ready to drink with supple fruity flavors. Smells slightly reminiscent of Fruit Loops breakfast cerea (coriander perhaps), with some notes of cinamon sawdust oak, cherry, chocolate, blueberry. Soft in the mouth with a silky and rather long finish, low tannin, medium acidity.


Other Sonoma Wines

1998 Arrowood Malbec, Sonoma (tasted 10/03)
Some smells reminiscent more of Carneros, cherry red vines, brambles, Schezuan peppercorns, maybe a hint of unripeness. Palate of red berry/cherry and green bell peppers (grapes that weren't mature when picked). The long lingering finish shows some bitterness, with a distant medicinal iodine twist that pops up long after the other flavors have faded.

1999 Chalk Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (tasted 11/03)
At first this appeared to be just a really good, slightly austere, industrial cabernet, but it started to open up into some interesting herbal complexity. Nose of cedar and graphite (pencil) with dust and herbs. Simple on the palate, with good ripe cherry fruit, tobacco, cedar, cocoa, black olives and structured tannins. Lovely and big with no flaws, except perhaps the mere lack of flaws made me keep searching for a personality.

2002 Kendall Jackson Merlot Highland Estate Series Bennet Valley (tasted 7/04)
I must confess to having misgivings about the wines from such a huge maker; but I have to admit that this is an extremely well made and complex merlot. The nose shows red cherry fruit with a twang of tartaric acid, some herbal qualities like thyme or mint, and a rusty component from red rock volcanic soil. Big bright cherry fruit in the mouth, with equally big tannins, and a light open finish with lingering sweet oak. This should improve over the next five years at least.

2003 Moon Mountain Vineyard Merlot (tasted 7/04)
Young bright fruity wine, with hints of VA around a ripe chocolate and black cherry nose, with overtones of dusty ash. Hard tannins with brambly ripe jammy flavors, lingering dryness and balanced oak treatment.


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