Napa Valley or Sonoma County?

As 2016 comes to a close, we are wrapping up a fun and delicious year of wine tasting with two California chardonnays.

For this tasting, we chose two different chardonnays from Trader Joe’s. Both chardonnays are the Trader Joe’s brand, and both $12.99 a bottle, but one is from the famed Carneros wine region in Napa Valley, and the other is from Chalk Hill in Sonoma County. Here’s what we found:

Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve – Chalk Hill, Sonoma County 2015 Lot #28

The nose on this wine has slight toasty oak and vanilla notes. It is light in color and has a polished and balanced acidity. I am tasting layers of citrus zest and pear, with a butterscotch flavor in the finish. The wine is 15.1% in alcohol.

Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve – Carneros, Napa Valley 2014 Lot #51

This wine is also light in color, but the nose opens with a subtle fragrance of honeysuckle. Although the bouquet is subtle, the flavors of the wine, coconut, pear, and vanilla come through nicely. It has a soft, smooth finish and is 14.5% in alcohol.

The Napa wine is more flavorful and pronounced while the Chalk Hill wine is softer, more subtle all the way around. I’m normally a lover of Chalk Hill, but this time I think I prefer the Carneros wine. At just $12.99 a bottle, I’m definitely headed back to Trader Joes to round out my New Year’s Eve wine selection.

Thank you for following us in 2016. We are looking forward to much more tasting, even heading to Australia to enjoy the delicious chardonnays from the Barossa wine region. So stay tuned. Come back and visit us often.

Wishing you the best in 2017! Happy New Year!

 

Sonoma County Wine Region – Rodney Strong

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Rodney Strong is a striking and dramatic winery. Upon arrival you might quickly draw the conclusion that this is one of those wineries owned by a giant corporation charging $20 per tasting and drawing throngs of wine lovers to its tasting room. But it’s not; in fact Rodney Strong is family owned and proud of it. The winery makes great wine but a visit there provides so much more. During the summer time, the winery sponsors concerts in its outdoor amphitheater and wine and food pairings on the terrace. It was the latter that brought us back to Rodney Strong for another exceptional wine tasting experience.

On this particular trip to Sonoma, we were seeking “exceptional” wine tasting experiences. We first got the idea when we visited Rodney Strong last fall. By exceptional, I mean we are seeking either a beautiful setting, or a leisurely seated wine tasting experience, or a gourmet food and wine pairing, or an otherwise unique and special wine tasting experience.

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For $55.00 per person, the winery offers a leisurely paced food pairing of small, gourmet bites with five different wines. Seated at an umbrella shaded table overlooking the expansive picnic grounds and vineyards, we were offered an envelope with cards describing the menu of soon-to-come food delights and winemakers notes for each of the wines. The food was prepared by Chef Tara Wachtel and served by Greg, a long-time employee, former home winemaker, jazz pianist, and general expert of our favorite drink, wine.

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Rodney Strong did not disappoint. Nearly two hours, six courses, and five wines later (plus a few extra tastings), we were feeling thoroughly relaxed and very satisfied. We walked away with a greater knowledge and appreciation for the wines that are produced in Sonoma County and thoroughly impressed with the Rodney Strong staff that made us feel like special friends just visiting for lunch.

Call ahead and reserve a time for your own exceptional wine tasting experience. You’ll find it hard to go back to the old process of standing in a crowded wine tasting room, elbowing your way to the wine counter.

Sonoma County Wine Region – Sbragia

Next stop on the tour was Sbragia Winery, north of Healdsburg on Dry Creek Road.  We visited this place last October and had an exceptional wine tasting experience then.  The view is beautiful, too, so we decided to add this to our list of wineries to visit on this trip in search of unique wine experiences.   Sbragia offers a variety of different options including tasting on the terrace with a charcuterie and cheese plate for $30, a chocolate and wine pairing for $30 per person or $15 for wine club members, or a sensory tasting for $50 per person or $20 for wine club members. The winery will also conduct customized tastings such as a compare and contrast of one varietal (a chardonnay to chardonnay or vintage to vintage), with advanced notice.

We called ahead and signed up for the sensory tasting.  Wow!  What an experience!  Arriving early, we got a lot of good photos from the spacious deck overlooking Dry Creek Valley while we waited for our tasting to begin.  Our host was Andrew McPherson.  A wine collector for 20 years now working in the wine industry, this man was a wealth of knowledge.  Andrew reserved the library for this special tasting, and supplied us with a generous and sumptuous charcuterie board.  The sensory tasting is almost a sommelier like experience where visitors get to learn what aromatics are using the La Nez Du Vin wine aroma kit, along with tasting five different Sbragia wines. The kit contains 54 little jars of different aromas.  We used ten, two per tasting, for this exercise.

We started with a sauvignon blanc, then a chardonnay, before working our way into the reds.  The way the sensory tasting works is you start smelling and tasting the wine to try and detect the different characteristics.  Then Andrew would hand us two different vials and ask us to guess what the smells were from.  He also supplied us with a wine aroma wheel that separates the fruits in white wine to fruits in red wine, floral scents and flavors, vegetal, oak aging characterics and even off odors that sometimes show up in a bad wine or a wine with a bad cork.

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Each time we tasted, sniffed, and wrote down our guesses.  Then Andrew would tell us what the actual scent was and let us smell the vial again.  It was pretty laughable how many times we got it wrong but the experience was an important step for us in helping develop our palates.  After two and a half hours and a sampling of some of Sbragia’s other reserve wines, we were done!  Thankfully, this was the only appointment we scheduled for the day.  Because there were only the two of us with Andrew, we really got a crash course on wine tasting.  But, I would definitely go back again with friends and do it all over again.

For those of you looking to teach yourself at home, you can actually buy the kit for $399 at winearomas.com. This is often a required kit for enology students at UC Davis.  You know how students sell their text books back at the end of the semester to get some money back?  I think I’ll head over to the UC Davis book store and see if I can’t pick up a used aroma kit sold back by a recent, broke graduate.  Who knows?  Maybe next time I’ll get more than two out of ten right!

 

 

 

Hop Kiln 2012 North Bridge Chardonnay – Russian River Valley

Hop KilnThis is HKG’s Sonoma County estate grown chardonnay and a good example of barrel fermented and Sur Lie aged wine.  This chardonnay is fermented in French oak barrels, and a secondary fermentation also takes place in the barrel.  The result is a lot of oak in the nose and the flavor.  The wine is a solid gold color, lots of legs in the glass.  It’s complex, smooth, medium bodied and well structured.  The mouthfeel is creamy and I like that, but oak dominates the flavor and I’m not a big fan of that.

After tasting this one, I think I prefer less oak and more of the vanilla, butterscotch flavors you often see in the Russian River.  My husband and tasting partner, Gary, however, loved the big oak in this chardonnay.  14.7% alcohol.

We purchased this at the winery and although I’m not crazy about their chardonnay, I do think the winery is beautiful and worth a visit.

We are headed back to Sonoma County for a special three days of extra special wine tastings and I’ll be blogging along the way.  Stay tuned…

Wine Tasting in Northern California’s Delta Region

The Napa Valley is renowned throughout the world for its premier wines, and the Santa Barbara wine tasting region was made famous by the movie “Sideways”. Sonoma County is known for its quaint towns, luscious wines, and scenic vineyards. The Lodi and Amador wine regions are well known in Northern California for their robust reds and the Paso Robles wine region now boasts nearly 300 wineries in its appellation. But hidden in the backyard of California’s state capitol, the undiscovered wine tasting region of the Sacramento River Delta beckons to residents as well as visitors looking for a convenient, yet local getaway.

Take a leisurely drive along the meandering Sacramento River on a warm summer day and experience unhurried, uncrowded wine tasting at family run, local wineries. Enter the Delta and be instantly transported to a world of pear farms, and grape vines, and small towns full of California history still occupied by real people living a small town life.

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I just love the Delta. I fell in love with it the very first time I drove down the river road, past Rio Vista, where suddenly, the Sacramento River widens and changes, flowing toward the Antioch Bridge, eventually making its way to the San Francisco Bay.   Discovering wine tasting in this region that I love just makes it even better.

Enter the region through the tiny town of Freeport, gateway to the Delta. Cross the historic Freeport Bridge, once used to film the movie “The Prize” to the west side of the river. Continue south about 2 miles to the Old Sugar Mill, a repurposed sugar mill that now houses wine tasting rooms for eleven area wineries. It would be easy to spend all day here, but see more of the region and move on to Bogle Winery, just a few miles further south, past Clarksburg on the South River Road.

Bogle is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic on the spacious grounds, surrounded by vineyards. The grassy area is dotted with picnic tables and chairs, or take advantage of the balcony seating upstairs outside of the tasting room, while enjoying a bottle of wine. My favorite wines are the Reserve Chardonnay, the Viognier, only produced about every other year, and the Phantom Red, a blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and mourve`dre.

Bogle Outside

Back on the river road towards Clarksburg, cross over the Freeport Bridge and head south on the River Road (Highway 160) to Scribner Bend Vineyards, owned by Mark and Lorraine Scribner. The winery offers a small, but lovely picnic area surrounded by rose bushes, and a giant outdoor tent used for weddings and winery events.   Staff are friendly and knowledgeable and always happy to pour a second taste of something you tried but aren’t quite sure about.

Scribner Bend

I love the Reserve Chardonnay, one of the newer additions to their wine selection. This wine only comes in a 375 ml bottle and is reminiscent of that old fashioned, oaky, buttery chardonnay.

There are now twenty wineries in the Delta wine region. Not all have tasting rooms yet, but look for that to change in this wine growing region as more and more Northern Californians begin to discover what has quickly become my favorite place to wine taste.

Places to Eat:

Looking for a fun place to eat before hitting the wineries, or in-between? Try Husick’s in Clarksburg. This restaurant, opened in October 2014, by Katherine Van Diest, boasts barbeque ribs, tri tip, and other meats.  The atmosphere is funky and the restaurant serves 14 different beers on tap plus wine tasting from four local wineries.

Alternatively, the Dinky Diner is across the street on the river side and serves what I would describe as an old-fashioned hamburger grilled right there in their old fashioned road side trailer.  Sit outside  at picnic tables and enjoy the river view while you eat your lunch.

Delta Tours:

Wine tasting tours are available through Delta Heartbeat Tours, Thursday through Sunday at a cost of $60 per person. The company uses comfortable mini-buses to visit some of the Delta’s best wineries and also offers tours to 9 Delta towns as well as custom tours. www.deltaheartbeattours.com  or (916) 776-4010.