Sonoma Plaza – A Great Way to Sample Sonoma County Wines – Part 4

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.

Sonoma Plaza – A Great Way to Sample Sonoma County Wines – Part 3

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.

Inside Bennett Valley tasting room

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!”

Bennett Valley Cellars chardonnays

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.

The Girl and the Fig

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.

Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards – 2015 Margaret River

Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards 2015

From the Margaret River, Western Australia, the Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards, delivers another delicious chardonnay. With its cool climate, this is a region that produces the style of chardonnay I prefer.

The color of the wine, Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards 2015, is bright, clear and light yellow in color. The nose displays aromas of ripe pears, fig, crème brulee, and slight oak. Subtle fruit flavors of peaches and apple, with a hint of biscuit, make this an easy drinking wine. The style is clean and light, almost refreshing in taste, with a medium body. It is 14.0% in alcohol.

One of the many that we purchased on our trip to Australia, I bought this one at Dan Murphy’s in Melbourne. For our USA readers, it’s available at FineWineHouse.com for $35.98. Or, you can just hop on a plane and head to Australia and taste all these yummy chardonnays I’ve been writing about these past few months, and see for yourself. It’s a long flight, so you’ll want to stay awhile. ?

Cassein Chardonnay 2016 and Richard Hamilton Signature Chardonnay 2015

Through all of my “research” here in Australia, I’ve learned that winemakers in this country, like elsewhere, have shifted from making the “old” style of round, buttery, full-bodied chardonnay, opting for a leaner, unoaked style that tends to let the flavor of the chardonnay grape come through. In fact, I’ve tasted a few of those over the past several weeks and they aren’t too bad.

There are, fortunately, still plenty of winemakers out there, particularly in the Margaret River, Orange and Yarra wine regions that are still making my style of chardonnay. Thanks to a knowledgeable wine server at a Dan Murphy’s in Melbourne, a sales rep for Wine Selectors based out of the Sydney Airport Domestic Terminal, and numerous wine makers and experts at the recent Sydney Good Food and Wine Show, I’ve started finding those round and luscious chardonnays that still exist in Australia! It really does help to hunt around and ask other people…

Two rich and full bodied chardonnays from Australia.

The two wines I’m reviewing were purchased from Wine Selectors, a company that represents boutique wineries from all over Australia. Without signing up for a wine club, or committing to any recurring orders, you can just become a member and order wines by the six pack or by the case, at a reasonable price. We ordered a six pack of chardonnays “for lovers of the rich style” to sample a few. Today I’m reviewing the Cassegrain Chardonnay 2016 and the Richard Hamilton Adelaide Hills Signature Single Vineyard 2015.

The Cassegrain Chardonnay comes from the cool climate of the Central Ranges of New South Wales. There are notes of tropical fruit with hints of hazelnut and creme Brule. Pale yellow in color, clean and bright, this medium bodied wine ends with a soft, round finish. It has layers of stone fruit and hints of pineapple. I find the Cassegrain Chardonnay to be delicious and imminently drinkable.

The winery sells this wine for $23.95 a bottle, but we paid closer to $15 through Wine Selectors. Enjoy with chicken, fish or seafood, or simply by itself.

The Richard Hamilton Adelaide Hills Signature Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, of course, hails from the Adelaide Hills. The oak in the nose is a little too strong for my taste so let it breathe for a few minutes before sipping. Another light golden yellow, but clean and bright wine, it is elegant, stylish and full bodied. Fruit flavors come through in the taste.

The winery sells this for $30.00 a bottle, but again, through Wine Selectors, the cost was approximately $15.00. Enjoy with poultry, seafood or pasta.

Alpha Omega Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013

Alpha Omega Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013

I am so excited to try this wine and share it with you!

I first discovered it at a dinner party at the home of our next-door neighbors, frequent visitors to Napa Valley.

When I first tasted it, I immediately fell in love with this wine. Full of flavor and aroma, this wine has the characteristics I’m looking for in a chardonnay.

Being the good friends that our neighbors are, they gave us a bottle for Christmas. It’s hard for me to believe that I could leave it in the basement this long.

The color is straw yellow, bright and shiny. The nose displays pronounced aromas of lightly toasted vanilla, caramel and crème brulee. In fact, it’s so full of aroma I almost want to just smell this wine instead of drink it. But it’s too delicious not to drink!  

The bouquet in the nose transitions into a mouthful of flavor, making this wine a pleasure to drink from start to finish. Sometimes a wine will have a delightful bouquet but the taste is not that terrific. Other times, a wine won’t have much of an aroma in the nose but the wine tastes delicious. The Alpha Omega has both.

This is a complex wine with layers of apple, pear in the flavor and butterscotch in the finish. It has a zippy or zesty finish due to the acidity.

It is 14.5 in alcohol and sells for around $50 at a variety of websites like wine.com, garyswine.com and others. It is no longer available at the winery as they are featuring their 2014 release, but plenty of online sites still have it available and it is holding up well.

Now to be honest, I don’t usually spend that kind of money on a chardonnay, but this one is a real treat. I’m glad we saved it and savored it.

Wine Tasting on a Rhone River Cruise with Petaluma Gap Winemakers

Cruising down the Rhone River on a wine themed river cruise was a great way to see the South of France and taste the wines of Provence. But we were even more fortunate to be sailing on a wine-themed cruise sponsored by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance out of Sonoma County.

To promote its efforts to become their own designated appellation and raise a little money, the Alliance sponsored the cruise and sent along several cases of wine supplied by 12 wineries from within Petaluma Gap. The Alliance also sent four winemakers to represent the Gap, educate guests on the ship, conduct wine tasting sessions, and host winemaker dinners.

Lucky me, one of the first wine tastings featured four chardonnays from the region.

Pellet Estate 2015 Un-oaked, Sun Chase Vineyard

First on the tasting menu was a Pellet Estate 2015 chardonnay, unoaked from the Sun Chase Vineyard.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know that I lean towards chardonnays that are barrel fermented. But, I’ve tasted a few unoaked versions lately that have opened my eyes and palate a bit. The beauty of the unoaked chardonnay is the flavor of the fruit comes through and this Pellet Estate is no exception. Aged 8 months in stainless steel, the wine was clear and shiny with lemon yellow hues. The nose offered hints of pear, apple and pineapple aromas. The high fruit flavors of citrus, apple and pineapple were layered with a hint of almond and melon. It finished with depth and complexity. Alcohol is 14.5%. The wine retails for $36 at the winery.

Agnitio 2013 Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard

Next, we tasted the Agnitio 2013 Chardonnay, also from the Sun Chase Vineyard. This turned out to be my favorite. I was very pleased and surprised when a bottle of this showed up in our cabin later, thanks to the generosity of the winemakers.

This is Agnitio’s first vintage of Sun Chase Chardonnay. 100% fermented in oak barrels, this wine displayed the luscious Sonoma County chardonnay flavors that I love. The nose expressed aromas of lemon, white flowers, and pear and vanilla. A wine more full bodied than the Pellet, the mouthfeel had depth and complexity. There was some minerality in the flavor, layered with pear, vanilla and a hint of butterscotch. Alcohol is 14.1% and the wine sells for $40 at the winery.

Pfendler Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay

Pfendler is a small production winery that only has three wines in its current release, producing just 400 cases of this chardonnay.

Aged 10 months in French oak, the Pfendler was a beautiful wine with aromas of honeysuckle, apple, spice and lemon crème. The mouthfeel was lush and the color bright golden straw. The wine was layered with flavors of lychee, pear and a touch of minerality. Alcohol is 14.1% and it retails for $8 at the winery.

Rodney Strong 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Rodney Strong makes several different chardonnays and is one of my favorite Sonoma County wineries.

Barrel fermented in new French oak, the wine had aromas of toasty vanilla, apple and pear. The mouthfeel was rich and creamy, with flavors of pear, pineapple and a touch of spice. This was my second favorite in the tasting. 14.0% in alcohol, the wine retails for $25 at the winery.

Monte Vallon 2014 Pays D’Oc Chardonnay

From the South of France, “this exuberant Chardonnay has a pronounced buttery-vanilla bouquet with deep, intense, rich fruit on the palate.” Or, so says the description on the wine label. Sounds like the perfect chardonnay for me!

We are about to head to the South of France for a long-awaited wine cruise through the Rhone Valley. What’s interesting about this cruise is it is sponsored by Petaluma Gap Association out of Sonoma County and they’ll be bringing along several cases of Sonoma chardonnay. So, we’ll get to taste Sonoma chardonnay alongside French chardonnay. What more could a girl ask for! 

To wet our whistles and prepare for this glorious trip, we are tasting the 2014 Monte Vallon Chardonnay purchased at our local Nugget Supermarket.

This wine does indeed display a buttery, vanilla nose with slight toasty oak notes and a hint of caramel. I love the bouquet. It displays a bright golden color and the alcohol volume is 13.5%. The mouthfeel is textured and creamy. The flavors are pear and peach with a pineapple finish.  It is a full bodied, Languedoc styled white wine representative of the south of France.

Can’t wait to taste more French chardonnays. I’ll be blogging along the way, so stay tuned for more wine and more adventures!

Mallee Point Chardonnay from Australia

Malle Point Chardonnay 2014 – Casella Winery

One more Australian chardonnay from Total Wines, this one was only $6.99. I mentioned in my last blog that our daughter moved to Australia, so we are getting reacquainted with Australian chardonnay. Unfortunately, Total Wines did not have a lot to choose from on our last visit there, but what the heck, we’re having fun drinking Australian wine and thinking of our daughter “down under.”

This wine hails from South Eastern Australia, which we learned is a large wine growing area where wineries may grow or purchase grapes from several different vineyards to blend together and maintain consistency for their particular brand and varietal.

The bouquet in this wine has hints of coconut and oak. It’s a medium bodied wine, medium yellow in color, with some peach and some melon notes with nuances of green apple. The wine is not particularly complex or flavorful but chilled and served as a party wine, it would be okay.

We’ll be making a trip back to Australia soon and plan to visit both the Yarra Valley (one of the most beautiful wine regions I have seen) and Hunter Valley, both well known for chardonnay. In fact, I think Yarra may be similar to Sonoma County. They both specialize in chardonnay and pinot noir and their cool climates.

Stay tuned, Mate!

Tyrrell Chardonnay from Australia

In celebration of our daughter, Ashley, who moved to Sydney recently, we are tasting two Australian chardonnays today, both from the Hunter Valley.

Although we visited Australia a few years ago and had a delightful time tasting wines in two of the country’s more well-known wine regions, the Barossa and Yarra Valleys, we did not make it to Hunter Valley.  Fortunately for us, we’ll need to make a return trip, to visit our daughter, of course, and Hunter Valley is calling my name. Stay tuned for more on Australian wines!

Tyrell’s Old Winery Chardonnay 2014

Barrel fermented for 6 months, this medium bodied wine displays subtle oak in the nose, with some hints of stone fruit. The mouthfeel is smooth. The wine is clean and accessible with delicate flavors of white peach and citrus. The color is light golden yellow and alcohol is 13.0%

This Old Winery chardonnay is a decent wine and imminently drinkable, but a little light in flavor for my taste. Can be purchased at Total Wine for $12.59

Tyrrell’s Reserve Hunter Valley 2010

While a vintage of 2010 seems a little old for a white wine, this reserve chardonnay holds up well. The bouquet displays notes of honeysuckle and slight perfume. A richer, more fruit forward chardonnay than the Old Winery chardonnay described above, it is similar as it also has some flavors of peach and citrus. I’ll be curious, when we make it to Hunter Valley, to see if those are characteristics distinct to that wine growing region.

This wine tastes clean and well made, medium bodied, complex, round, with a smooth finish. As it opens up, the Reserve grows more complex.

Medium yellow in color and 13.0% in alcohol. Retails for $21.59 at Total Wine.