On a recent trip to Australia, I had the good fortune to visit the Hunter Valley for a long weekend of wine tasting. And what a gorgeous wine region!
Our first stop was the delightful Scarborough Winery where we were treated to a first class, sit down wine tasting at a linen covered table cloth in their dining room. I fell in love with this winery at first glance. Quiet. Elegant. This was an exceptional wine tasting experience.
Walked through our wine tasting by the super friendly, knowledgeable wine server, we sampled two current release chardonnays from their Classic Range and one from their Obsessive Range. But it was this Classic Yellow Label Scarborough 2013 from their museum collection that caught my attention and came home in my suitcase. (I know. The name “yellow label” conjures up images of another Australian wine that’s not so great. But this Scarborough Yellow Label chardonnay is not related, and it’s delicious!)
Aromas of pear, pineapple, peach and biscuit can be found in the nose. It’s medium bodied with a soft, round finish. Its flavor evokes mild stone fruit, perhaps partly from the peachy aroma. It’s a complex wine that keeps delivering more flavors. The color is golden yellow and the alcohol content is 13.5%. At six years old, this wine doesn’t suffer from its age – it was made to last. Back in 2016, the wine critics were recommending laying it down for a couple of years. Perhaps it’s because it was fermented and aged on lees in French oak for 12 months.
The best part of this wine? It was under $20. Can’t make it to “the Hunter?” Try wine-searcher.com or contact the winery directly. And come back again soon for more wine tasting in Australia…
Where have you been Chardy Girl? I’ve been to Australia, sampling chardonnays from one side of the country to the other. And I’m so excited to share more about my adventures!
But today, I want to tell you about a wine I tasted in the Mornington Peninsula just outside of Melbourne, Australia. This is one of the prettiest wine regions in Australia. This area has it all – beaches, sun, and wine tasting.
We rented a house from one of the local wineries in the town of Rosebud – Nazaaray – and they left a bottle of chardonnay for us as a welcome gift. How could they have known?
I employed my favorite wine tasting partner, Gary, and our daughter (who does not like chardonnay!) in sampling this delightful wine. Here are our thoughts:
Australia’s chardonnays are typically lighter in flavor and body than the California chardonnays I’m used to. This one is lightly toasted oak with a hint of vanilla in the nose. So far so good. The body is light, the wine is clean, and the color is pale straw yellow. It has a soft mouth feel with a smooth finish.
My fellow wine drinkers agreed, it’s elegant and clean. It was aged for over 10 months. Malolactic fermentation was part of the process.
The chardonnay sells for $45 Australian dollars or about $32 US dollars. The winery itself is gorgeous. If you find yourself in the Melbourne area, I highly recommend a visit to the Mornington Peninsula. You’ll love the wines, the beauty of this region, and the close proximity of the wineries to each other and to the beach towns of the Peninsula.
Mendocino County in Northern California offers a refreshing change of scenery and pace for wine lovers looking to taste more of California’s bounty. Harder to reach than busy Napa and Sonoma Counties, Mendocino County wineries just feel a little less crowded.
A trip to Mendocino usually means, for me, a weekend away with my sister and our husbands and that makes the winetasting experience so much more fun.
On our last trip, I realized we often return to the same wineries. I’m drawn to the chardonnay, of course, while my sister loves pinot grigio. Although we always try someplace new, these three wineries are my favorite places to drink chardonnay in Mendocino wine region:
Navarro Vineyards and Winery
One of the most beautiful wineries in Mendocino County, Navarro Vineyards, 5601 Highway 128, is a perfect stop for wine lovers. The tasting room is small but the patio and picnic grounds, overlooking the vineyards and surrounding hills, are spacious. Even on weekends, when the winery sees plenty of visitors, there are always adequate picnic tables and comfortable chairs to sit and sip wine.
My sister loves to pull one of the large comfortable wooden chairs close to the pinot grigio grapes planted adjacent to the picnic grounds and talk to them. That’s her favorite Navarro varietal and she thinks it helps them grow. I think she’s crazy but it’s fun!
I’m all about the chardonnay, obviously, and Navarro sells seven – count them – seven chardonnays! From the 2013 Premiere Reserve to their 2016 Barrel Fermented, all are delicious, making this one of my favorite places to wine taste.
The second stop we make is Scharffenberger Winery at 850 Highway 128. Scharffenberger’s shaded garden in front of the white house, converted to a tasting room, provides a delightful place to enjoy a picnic and share a bottle of wine. Best known for their sparkling wines, Scharffenberger does make a tasty unoaked chardonnay. But it’s the amazing sparkling chardonnay that draws me back there time and time again.
And last, I always visit Husch Winery at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo. Around since the early 80s, this unpretentious tasting room is housed in a converted pony barn dating back to the late 1800s. Their chardonnays reflect the typical Mendocino County characteristics for this varietal – luscious, complex and vibrant with flavors. Their 2016 chardonnay boasts pear and apple flavors. The finish is soft. And their prices are easy on the wallet.
Pack a Picnic Lunch and Enjoy the Scenery
So, if you make it up to this neck of the woods, pack a picnic lunch, prepare to slow down and enjoy the scenery. You’ll love the wines and you’ll love delightful Mendocino County.
Welcome back to the final blog in a series on small town Sonoma wine tasting. If you missed the prior articles, you can catch up here.
With 25 tasting rooms right in town, it was hard to choose and certainly not enough time to cover them all! But I have one more to share with you, located in the Ledson Hotel, on 1st Street East. The lobby of this historic hotel transforms into a comfortable lounge around a glowing fire (most welcome on the cold day we were there) and a long bar with chairs along the side wall. The tasting room offers samples of wines from Ledson Winery and Zina Hyde, with plenty of chardonnay options.
My favorite was the Ledson 2015 Russian River Chardonnay Reserve. A little pricey at $52.00, but this full bodied, creamy wine was delicious with subtle notes of toasted oak in the nose. The palate was layered with hints of crème brulee and butterscotch, typical characteristics of a Russian River chardonnay.
Two More Restaurants Worth Trying
In the first three blogs, I covered some excellent restaurants, especially La Salette and the famous Girl and The Fig. To add to the list, here are two more I would recommend:
Mary’s Pizza Shack at 8 West Spain street, a chain restaurant in Northern California, might not be your top choice in this town full of gourmet restaurants. But the fire on the patio drew us in on a cold, rainy day and we’re glad we stopped by. The menu is full of Italian and comfort food options, but the wedge salad was one of the best we’ve ever eaten. Drizzled with Italian and chunky blue cheese dressing, topped with tomatoes and bacon, focaccia bread on the side, this was the perfect size lunch. Gary ordered a bowl of their homemade minestrone soup with ham. Also, delicious!
Sonoma Grille and Bar, at 165 W. Napa Street, frequented by locals and tourists alike, was packed on this cold, rainy night in the middle of the week. Thinking that was a good sign, we stopped in there for dinner on our second night. Seafood and steak are both great options at this place. The fact that our server from the Lake Sonoma wine tasting room earlier that day was dining there that evening just confirmed our guess about the quality of the restaurant.
The vibe here is comfortable and wait staff super friendly. A handful of window seats make this place a little more fun – people watching while eating and dining. The restaurant includes a bar with ten seats that were fully occupied with locals enjoying a conversation, hand crafted cocktails, and appetizer plates of crispy calamari, cheeses and artichoke topped flatbread.
Places to Stay
For overnight stays, there are plenty of hotels on the Plaza or within nearby walking distance including MacArthur Place, a 64-room luxury hotel and spa just four blocks from the Plaza; the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn, just one block from the Plaza; Sonoma Hotel, a 16-room historic boutique hotel on Sonoma Plaza; and Ledson Hotel, a luxury hotel with six guestrooms on Sonoma Plaza.
For more information on the town of Sonoma, wine tasting rooms, lodging, and restaurants, visit: SonomaPlaza.com.
Now park your car, wander through the historic trappings of small town Sonoma, and enjoy some of the best wines that Sonoma County has to offer.
Welcome back to my series about small-town Sonoma! Gary, my favorite wine tasting partner, and I spent three days exploring the town’s many wine tasting rooms in search of the perfect chardonnay. If you missed Part One or Two, you can get caught up here.
With 25 tasting rooms in easy walking distance of each other, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choices. We visited several, but by far, my favorite was Bennett Valley Cellars. Located at 127 E. Napa Street, this small but comfortable tasting room features bar stools at a long white L-shaped bar, as well as three nearby tables available for seated tastings. We cozied up to the bar and quickly got to know Iliana from Italy, a lively and knowledgeable hospitality hostess.
The original founder, Emilio Zanin, also hails from Italy. Pictures on the walls show the 60-year generational history of this family winery established on the 40-acre Simpatico Ranch Vineyard in the Bennett Valley AVA. In Italian, “Simpatico” means “likable” and that is exactly how I found the 2015 Chardonnay, a Reserve Limited Release. As close to “perfect” as a chardonnay could be, it exudes rich, buttery characteristics with complimentary oak nuances and a silky yet crisp finish. Like Iliana says, “You’ll dream about it!”
California State Route Highway 12 traverses Northern California’s iconic Wine Country and cuts directly through the town of Sonoma, turning westward at the Sonoma Plaza. Naming a winery Highway 12 then strikes me as perfectly appropriate. With a tasting room located just off the southeast corner of the plaza, tucked into a retail store in a glass fronted building, Highway 12 offers a rare opportunity to sample complimentary tastings of premium wines. Reserve wines have a tasting fee, but it’s waived if you purchase.
With no chairs for seating, this is old fashioned, “belly up to the bar” wine tasting by the glass. But I found it worth standing around for when I tasted the three chardonnays they produce. I loved the Carneros Highway Chardonnay. At just $19.50 a bottle, this one came home with me!
For dinner we headed to The Girl and the Fig. Popular with locals and tourists, this locally owned restaurant is famous for its Cal-French gourmet food. Just across the street from the northwest corner of Sonoma Plaza, this restaurant has been serving fine, farm-to-table country French entrees for over 20 years. Proprietor, Sondra Bernstein, specializes in pairing “Rhone-alone” wines with her Sonoma-French cuisine. Wine flights are served in a quirky assortment of water, wine and compote glasses, and provide an opportunity to sample more wines from Sonoma County.
Gary said the pastis-scented mussels with garlic, leeks and herbs were best he’s ever tasted. This casual bistro comes equipped with a full cocktail bar, great dessert offerings and its very own newspaper, the “Fig Chronicles.”
In Part 4, and the last of this series, I’ll share one more wine tasting room to visit, and places to stay.
Be sure to sign up for my distribution list or follow me on Twitter (@chardygirl) and I’ll let you know when the next in the series is out! Until then, I’ll keep on the hunt for the “perfect” chardonnay.
Welcome back to my series about small-town Sonoma! We spent three days exploring the town’s many wine tasting rooms in search of the perfect chardonnay. If you missed Part One, you can catch up with it here.
With 25 tasting rooms in easy walking distance of each other, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choices. We loved our first stop at Lake Sonoma Winery, but it was time to find lunch.
Just on the other side of the Plaza, we stopped by the Sonoma Cheese Factory, specializing in authentic barbeque, on 2 Spain Street.
The pulled pork sandwich caught our attention and was just as delicious to eat as it looked on the plate. Sonoma Cheese Factory also offers wine tasting. You can enjoy a flight of wines if you want to sample more of Sonoma’s offerings or just order a glass of local wine with your lunch. A gourmet store as well, this place is perfect for putting together a picnic lunch. In business for over 85 years, it’s easy to see why this place Is so popular.
Next, we headed to Pangloss Cellars Tasting Lounge, at 35 East Napa Street. Housed in a refurbished building built in 1902, the tasting lounge is cavernous. Visitors can relax at the large tasting bar in the back of the room or enjoy food and wine pairings in the vintage arm chairs and couches nested around coffee tables along either side of the room. At the back of the room, facing the tasting bar, is a dramatic wall of wine bottles. The lounge itself is handsomely appointed. Rock walls, rustic timber supports, exposed beams in the ceiling, and wood floors harken back to the building’s original purpose – a general store.
Seated at the tasting bar, we were served by the knowledgeable and gracious, Allisa. The tasting fee was pricey, at $25 per person, but the experience was well worth it! Plan to spend the afternoon here – as the pace is relaxed, educational, and the tasting menu generous. We tried the 2015 Chardonnay made with 30% new French oak. As Allisa, explained, the winemaker doesn’t like “a stick of butter or an overly oaked chardonnay” so he doesn’t do anything to affect the malolactic fermentation. Whatever happens, the winemaker lets it happen naturally. With a clean nose, this chardonnay is bright and crisp but still creamy and lightly oaked. 376 cases produced, the wine retails for $35.
After nearly two hours enjoying a delightful tasting experience of whites and reds, it was time to think about dinner.
That evening we dined on gourmet Portuguese cuisine at La Salette, 452 First Street East, a popular restaurant. We added the optional wine pairing with dinner. Generous pours, perfectly paired with the appetizers, entrees and dessert, allowed us to sample more Sonoma County wines and provided an extra special dining experience. I do recommend making reservations in advance as this sophisticated, tile-mural trimmed bistro has quite a local following.
After dinner, a leisurely stroll around the Plaza was the perfect way to end a perfect day. In Part Three of this series, I’ll tell you about two more delightful wine tasting rooms that I highly recommend and why, plus another restaurant that you’ll want to try!
Be sure to sign up for my distribution list or follow me on Twitter (@chardygirl) and I’ll let you know when the next in the series is out! Until then, I’ll keep on the hunt for the “perfect” chardonnay.
Sonoma County, along with Napa and several other areas in California, suffered devastating wildfires last fall. Tragically, lives, jobs, homes and businesses were lost. The fires also took a toll on tourism, the lifeblood for wine regions, as many out of towners still think that Napa and Sonoma burnt down. But they didn’t and are advertising heavily for customers to come back. So, we decided to head to Sonoma County and do our small part for the economy. And, of course, enjoy some fabulous wines.
Renowned for its chardonnay, and just a one-hour drive from my home, Sonoma County is one of my favorite wine regions. Rolling green hills planted with miles and miles of grapevines, pedestrian friendly small towns, and more than 400 wineries, located in six wine growing regions, make this part of Northern California a big draw for wine lovers.
With 18 different AVAs spread over 1,768 square miles, it would take even the most dedicated wine lover to properly sample this region’s chardonnays. Fortunately, the small town of Sonoma – not to be confused with the County of Sonoma – provides 25 wine tasting rooms all within walking distance in the center of town. Spread around Sonoma Plaza, an 8-acre historic, Mexican-era style plaza, the biggest dilemma was where to start.
After parking the car at our hotel, my husband and favorite wine tasting partner, Gary, and I walked a few short blocks to the Lake Sonoma tasting room at 134 Church Street. The winery converted one of the town’s older houses into its tasting room and this recently refurbished tasting room feels like visiting the home of a friend. As Kelly, the tasting room manager, explained, “the life of the party is always in the kitchen. The winery turned the kitchen counter of this former home into the tasting room’s serving bar. Surround by barstools, this feels like a comfortable spot to sit, sip, and savor the wines. What a refreshing change from the usual, crowded “belly up to the bar” seen at so many other wineries.
The adjacent lounge, fashioned out of the former living room, is designed for customers who want to relax and enjoy a glass or bottle of wine. A comfortable couch with pillows and a blanket, as well as leather chairs are nicely arranged for this purpose. And the former dining room, complete with a dining table and comfortable chairs, serves as a place for wine club events and special wine and food pairings.
But we went there for the wines, so we settled onto bar stools to sample chardonnays from this well-known winery. They make five chardonnays, four from the Russian River Valley. Sonoma County is home to some of the most diverse terroirs and micro-climates in the world and the Russian River Valley, I think, produces some of the most outstanding chardonnays. We tasted the 2014 Lake Sonoma Winery, Russian River Valley and the 2016 Madrone Estate Winery (their sister winery in Glen Ellen), Sonoma Valley Chardonnay.
The 2014 chardonnay is an excellent example of fruit from the Russian River Valley. Hints of light oak and orange blossoms in the nose, followed by layers of vanilla and lemon cream in the palate combine for a delightful wine from start to finish. Partial fermentation in stainless steel produces a medium bodied wine with crisp acidity. Light-straw in color, 14.4% in alcohol, sells for $30.00 at the winery.
The newly released 2016 Madrone Estate Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley was my favorite of the two. The winery’s first estate grown wine from their Sonoma Valley estate produced a soft and creamy chardonnay. Aromas of vanilla and toffee come through, followed by flavors of crème brulee and a hint of butterscotch in the palate. With the perfect amount of acidity, this wine is delicious on its own, but would pair well with creamy foods. Light-straw colored, 14.1% in alcohol, retails for $40.00 at the winery.
We dined, shopped, talked to locals and tasted at four wineries in a few short days and I have so many more recommendations for you. But, I’ll stop here today and follow with more about the other wineries we visited, and even a few restaurants, in a short series of blogs on Sonoma, California.
Be sure to sign up for my distribution list and I’ll let you know when the next in the series is out! Until then, I’ll keep on the hunt for the “perfect” chardonnay.
The Edna Valley American Viticultural Area—part of the San Luis Obispo County wine region—is often compared to Italy’s Tuscany Region in central Italy for its beauty. Spread across just 22,000 acres, nearly 30 wineries call this home.
With a continuous stream of coastal marine air, Edna Valley’s cool climate is perfect for producing chardonnay. Today, I am tasting the 2015 Central Coast Chardonnay from Edna Valley Vineyard, one of the area’s best-known vintners.
The bouquet displays aromas of soft peaches and quince. I taste butterscotch, so often found in California’s Central Coast chardonnays, and clove flavors. This is not a big wine. It’s light-bodied but elegant with bright acidity and a slight bite in the finish. The alcohol is 13% in volume.
The Edna Valley Vineyards 2015 Central Coast Chardonnay is not a high end wine like their Heritage Chardonnay, Reserve Chardonnay, or the Chamisal Chardonnay that I previously reviewed. But, it does make the perfect weeknight wine and at $10 a bottle, that’s good enough for me. I picked up a bottle at our local Raley’s grocery store, but you can also purchase it on Wine.com for the same price.
We paired this with a potato, pancetta flatbread with white sauce and found the combination to be delightful.
Sonoma County, one of my favorite wine regions, has been burning for almost a week. The nearby regions of Mendocino and Napa are also suffering catastrophic losses. With more than 5,000 homes destroyed, 36 people dead, and more than 50,000 people under evacuation orders, it doesn’t feel like the right time for a wine review. Instead, I ask that you consider ways to assist. Supplies, and especially monetary donations are needed.
Here are a few ways you can help:
The Red Cross needs volunteers to help with fire evacuees. Sign up online here or contact the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County at email@example.com or call (707) 573-3399.
United Way of Wine Country created a relief fund to help those affected by the fires. Donate here.
The Salvation Army has multiple teams providing meal services at evacuation centers and is seeking monetary donations. 100% of your donation goes to the relief effort. Donate here.
For other ways you can help, visit the Santa Rosa Press Democrat website for a comprehensive list of evacuation centers and volunteer opportunities.
Thank you for your kindness and generosity! I’ll be back soon with more wine reviews and stories.
Somewhere in the McLaren Vale wine region, South Australia, lives a winemaker after my own heart. Determined to reintroduce a style of chardonnay that has gone out of favor in Australia, Fred Howard of Dog Ridge Winery began making an old-fashioned, creamy, buttery chardonnay called “Butterfingers.”
In fact, enamored with Fred’s new/old style of chardonnay, Harry Fisher from The Times on the Coast, in Victor Harbor, Australia, wrote a story about “Chardonnay Recovered from Fumble.” A copy of that article proudly graces the back label of every bottle of Butterfingers. Fisher writes, “A local winemaker is winding back the clock and looking to bring bold and full-bodied chardonnays back in to popularity with a new generation of wine drinkers.”
Introduced to this charming, energetic winemaker at the Sydney Good Food and Wine Show, we got a chance to stop by Fred’s booth, taste his wines, and learn more about his passion for making what I call the “old-fashioned” style of chardonnay. You know – the kind I’m always hunting for…
So, of course, I brought a bottle of this golden sunshine home with me from Australia. Aged in brand new French oak barrels, this chardonnay is lightly oaked. It’s golden in color, clean, clear and well, just plain pretty! Aromas of crème brulee and pear with a faint, sweet floral note fill the glass. It is a full structured, big, round, creamy and luscious wine, with flavors of stone fruit. The wine is 13.5% in alcohol.
We paid $20.00 AUD ($15.79 USD) for this chardonnay at the food and wine show, most likely a promotional price. But, it can be purchased for $27.99 AUD at BlackSheepBottleShop.com.au or $25.00 AUD on the Dog Ridge website.
McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide is one wine region we didn’t make it to when we visited Adelaide three years ago. With only time for one wine tour, we chose the famous Barossa Valley. But now that I’ve tasted several wines from the McLaren Vale, I’m definitely anxious to visit when we return to Australia. The list is growing longer with the Margaret River wine region calling my name and the Hunter Valley still on my bucket list. Mornington Peninsula, just outside of Melbourne and an easy side trip from Sydney, also came highly recommended. Until then, I’ll be saving my pennies for a return trip to this lovely wine producing country. Australia, keep making those lovely chardonnays. I’m coming back!