Let’s be honest: Sonoma’s most acclaimed and highest-quality wines are expensive.
Top-tier Sonoma Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, the current darlings of critics and collectors, command $60 a bottle and up. That’s painful for many of us, yet Sonoma wines are less pricey than Napa Valley bottles of similar quality. Heck, even some Napa types slink into Sonoma to source their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so admired are our county’s grapes.
While this list is studded with wines most would consider special-occasion purchases, there are also many reasonably priced bottles and some crazy-good values.
In addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, our Top 100 showcases rosé — its popularity soaring now that sweet White Zinfandel is firmly in the rear-view mirror. “Red” Zinfandel remains historically and deliciously important, with high-alcohol versions largely giving way to wines with balance and freshness. Sauvignon Blanc, Rhône Valley-style wines, Bordeaux varietals and sparklers are all represented here, underscoring Sonoma’s ability to produce a diverse range of fine wines.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
NV Carneros Blanc de Blancs, $22
This 100 percent Chardonnay scored 97 points at NCWC* and is a testament to the grape’s suitability for sparkling wine production. It’s spicy, crisp and slightly yeasty, with green apple, lemon meringue and white-peach flavors, lifted by bracing acidity.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2008 Royal Cuvée Carneros Brut, $37
Spanish-owned Gloria Ferrer’s Royal Cuvée was first served to the King And Queen of Spain in 1987. Today, this complex, Champagne-like wine has a keen balance of rich apple, citrus and honey flavors, with the fresh-bakedbread complexity and racy acidity prized by lovers of sophisticated sparkling wine.
Iron Horse Vineyards
2012 Classic Vintage Green Valley of Russian River Valley Brut, $44
Aromas of yeasty dough, apple and spice lead to a refreshing yet also rich palate of apple, pear and citrus fruit. The layering of the various aromas and flavors, with extended aging in the bottle, make for a multidimensional bubbly with grace and gravitas.
Iron Horse Vineyards
2013 Wedding Cuvée Green Valley of Russian River Valley Brut, $44
Year after year, this blanc de noirs-style sparkler — a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — dazzles with its copperypink color, floral and baked-bread aromas, and mouthful of Queen Anne cherry and strawberry fruit. It’s elegant, precise and slightly creamy, with a long, brisk finish.
I ONLY DRINK CHAMPAGNE ON TWO OCCASIONS: WHEN I AM IN LOVE, AND WHEN I AM NOT.
J Vineyards & Winery
NV Russian River Valley Rosé Brut, $38
Delicately floral and yeasty, this energetic bubbly wowed NCWC judges, who awarded it 98 points and the Best of Show Sparkling Wine award. Comprised of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a splash of Pinot Meunier, it’s a basketful of justpicked strawberries, raspberries and cherries, with tangerine, brioche and toastedalmond accents.
J Vineyards & Winery
NV Cuvée 20 Sonoma County Brut, $35
Created to celebrate former J owner Judy Jordan’s 20th anniversary at the Healdsburg winery, this nonvintage blend has depth and yeasty richness. Granny Smith apple, Meyer lemon and Asian pear aromas and flavors are enhanced by toasted hazelnut, brioche and vanillin oak notes.
2016 Reserve Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, $15 Bright and brisk, it’s laced with ruby grapefruit, honeydew melon, lime and kiwi fruit flavors. Fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks preserved the grapes’ juicy flavors. This wine delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
2016 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $19
NCWC judges awarded it 97 points for its zingy grapefruit, lime and kiwi fruit aromas and flavors, vibrancy and subtle herbaceous character. It’s a keen value, as well as a great mate with oysters, ceviche and petrale sole with lemon and capers.
Benziger Family Winery
2016 Frank Johnson Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $26
It scored 97 points at NCWC, earning kudos for its vibrant (and classic Dry Creek Valley) grapefruit, lime and lemon aromas and flavors. Subtle herbal notes add complexity to this thoroughly refreshing wine.
Dry Creek Vineyard
2016 Dry Creek Valley Fumé Blanc, $15
Buy this Sauvignon Blanc by the case for its mouthwatering citrus, lemongrass and green melon aromas and flavors … and also for its age-worthiness. Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blancs from the late 1970s still taste lively and refreshing.
Dry Creek Vineyard
2016 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $20
Best of Class winner at NCWC, at 98 points this wine is “as expressive as a just-lit firecracker,” as one judge described it. It’s utterly refreshing and zingy, with kiwi fruit, green melon, guava, leafy herb and Meyer lemon complexity. Racy and complex.
2015 Equitem Knights Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $30
Made by Spanish native Laura Diaz Muñoz, this sophisticated wine delivers brisk grapefruit, lime and mineral character. Half of the blend was aged in new and older French oak barrels, lending textural complexity to the vibrant fruit character.
Kunde Family Winery
2016 Magnolia Lane Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $17
This well-priced crowd-pleaser — often discounted at grocery stores — delivers juicy citrus, peach and mango flavors. Hints of honey and bell pepper add interest to a refreshing wine that is generously fruity and on the less assertive side for the varietal.
Martin Ray Winery
2016 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $20
Lean yet not at all mean, it offers pungent lime, honeydew melon and white grapefruit aromas and flavors, with bracing acidity on the mouthwatering finish. Try it with fresh-shucked Tomales Bay oysters.
Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
2016 Estate Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $32
Striking grapefruit aromas and flavors, racy acidity and background melon and herbal notes are the signatures, year after year, of this iconic wine, produced from vines first planted in 1959.
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards
2015 Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $35
Fermentation and aging in a mix of stainless steel and oak gives this wine mouth-filling texture and complexity. It’s refreshing and lively, with Meyer lemon, green apple and pear fruit accented by barrel spice.
2016 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $25
Winemaker Scot Covington compares this wine to the assertive, herb-tinged Sauvignons of France’s Loire Valley and Marlborough in New Zealand, and he’s right. It has hints of fresh-cut grass, gooseberry, lemon-lime, passion fruit and guava, with a juicy mid-palate and zesty finish. Downright delicious.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
2015 Alexander Valley Estate Chardonnay, $18
Straightforward and delicious, it’s a fine value, with rich apple and pear aromas and flavors, subtle oak and a long, juicy finish.
There’s a lot to like at this price.
2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $38
The Best of Show White Wine at NCWC, this 98-pointer is beautifully balanced and textured, with just the right amount of oak spice accenting the layered Meyer lemon, pear and peach flavors. It’s juicy and vibrant, with great tension and a forever finish.
2015 Three Sisters Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay, $48
The Martinelli family’s Three Sisters Vineyard is chilled by its close proximity to the ocean, and the grapes are always late to ripen. The wait was worth it for Benovia winemaker Mike Sullivan, who produced this complex, beautifully textured wine redolent in golden apple, Meyer lemon curd, mineral and floral character.
Benziger Family Winery
2015 Signaterra West Rows Sangiacomo Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay, $30
Tangerine, candied citrus peel and orange marmalade aromas and flavors mark this wine, which is medium-bodied and focused, delivering dramatic tropical and citrus personality and seamless texture.
Carol Shelton Wines
2015 Wild Thing Sonoma County Chardonnay, $18
This gold medal-winner at NCWC is as good as many Chardonnays sold at twice the price. Shelton, best known for her bold Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs, also has a deft hand with white wines, as evidenced by this ripe, rich Chardonnay showing tropical fruit, Asian pear and Meyer lemon aromas and flavors.
2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $20
Here’s a relative steal in Russian River Valley Chardonnay: an expertly made wine with fabulous balance and clarity. Granny Smith apple, citrus and unripe pear flavors are wrapped in gentle oak spice and vanillin, finishing long and crisp.
2015 Walker Hill Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $50
From the coolest part of Russian River Valley comes this bracing wine with layers of flavor that unfold with each sip: green apple, pear, white peach and Meyer lemon, with hints of spice, fresh cream and toasted hazelnut. It’s lively and lingering.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
2015 Ryo-fu Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $42
Ryo-fu is Japanese for “cool breeze,” and Akiko Freeman is the maker of this wine. Five vineyards in the path of breezes contributed grapes for the blend, which begins on the nose with evident toast and hazelnut aromas, followed by a refreshing mouthful of green apple, pear and citrus fruit.
2014 Fog Dance Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $65
Density is balanced by crunchy acidity in this generously flavored wine. Golden apple, nectarine, Asian pear and crème brûlée notes meld beautifully, and the finish is fresh and clean. Hello, crab cakes.
2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $32
This citrus- and green-apple-based wine is lean and mouthwatering now, yet has a history of evolving into a richer, broader wine in the cellar. Think of it as Chablis-like, with crackling acidity and a flinty note in the aroma.
2014 Pratt Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $58
This 97-point wine from NCWC is lean and elegant, with a toasty, yeasty, creamy component to the racy Meyer lemon and Gravenstein apple flavors. Its yin and yang contrast makes for a fascinating wine.
MacRostie Winery & Vineyards
2015 Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $46
A new wine for MacRostie, it’s rich and polished, with unfolding layers of pear, green apple, hazelnut and caramel. The finish is lemony and brisk, making it a great mate for Caesar salad, grilled salmon cakes, chicken salad and seafood pasta.
Martin Ray Winery
2015 Limited Release Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $30
The contrast of tart grapefruit, lime and Granny Smith apple, and smooth vanillin and spicy oak, make for an intriguing, refreshing Chardonnay. Crisp acidity and low alcohol (13.7 percent) make it a fine aperitif and great mate for pan-roasted halibut.
Patz & Hall
2014 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay Patz & Hall, $44
James Hall produces Chardonnays and Plnots from single vineyards, yet this multiple-vlneyard blend always delivers consistently exceptional Chardonnays with floral aromas, tropical mango and papaya flavors, Granny Smith apple-llke acidity and judicious oak influence.
Ramey Wine Cellars
2014 Westside Farms Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $65
This Is the first Westside Farms Chardonnay produced by David Ramey and his family since they purchased the vineyard in 2013. In 2014, the site produced a scintillating wine with great freshness, mlnerallty and vibrant citrus and green apple flavors, gently kissed by oak spice. It’s a keen contrast to Ramey’s more boldly flavored Chardonnays, and a great addition to the portfolio.
Rodney Strong Vineyards
2015 Sonoma County Chardonnay, $17
This is a straightforward and honest wine that delivers everything one could want at this price: well-ripened citrus, apple and pear fruit, subtle toast and caramel notes and a bright, fresh finish. It’s a party-pleaser, with no apologies.
2015 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $55
This new wine from Three Sticks proprietor Bill Price and his winemaker, Bob Cabral, comes from Price’s Gap’s Crown Vineyard In the chilly Petaluma Gap east of that city. It’s supremely balanced, with just the right amount of oak spice, caramel, citrus, yellow stone fruit and minerally acidity. Elegance In a glass.
“WINE IS BOTTLED POETRY.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson
2016 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Shop Block Pinot Blanc, $30
Crisp honeydew melon, white peach and pear flavors ride a wave of mouthwatering acidity, with a minerally finish. It’s not a fruit bomb, but rather a layered, elegant wine that’s compatible with a wide range dishes and is a great quaff, too.
2015 Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Dry Gewürztraminer, $22
Textbook rose petal, ginger and lychee aromas lead to a juicy palate of pears, apples and citrus. It’s a dry wine that gains subtle natural sweetness from the ripe, exotic, spicy fruit.
2015 Knights Valley Viognier, $24
The classic peach and honeysuckle aromas of Viognier lead to a bright, lush palate of yellow peach, grilled pineapple, citrus and honeycrisp apple. There’s a hint of vanilla on the refreshing finish.
Leo Steen Wines
2015 Saini Farms Dry Creek Valley Chenin Blanc, $18
Versatile with brunch, lunch and dinner, it offers generous pear, citrus, honeysuckle and toasted almond aromas and flavors. Mediumbodied, dry and refreshing, it’s made from 40-year-old vines by Leo Steen Hansen, a former sommelier in Denmark who relocated to Sonoma to make wine.
Seghesio Family Vineyards
2016 Russian River Valley Vermentino, $22
Brilliantly focused and brimming with juicy apple, pear and tangerine flavors, this version of the rather obscure (in California) Italian Vermentino grape has a lime-infused minerality on its lingering, snappy finish.
2015 Sonoma Coast Albariño, $22
Its white peach, apple and grapefruit aromas and flavors, generosity of fruit and refreshing finish earned this wine 97 points at NCWC. The grapes are estate-grown, near Sonoma Raceway off Highway 37.
2016 Alegria Vineyards Russian River Valley Rosato, $25
Unusual for rosé, this one was aged in oak barrels (Hungarian) for four months, yet remains fresh and bright, without any toasty character. It’s a “field” blend of Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, and sports a spicy kick to the strawberry, watermelon and cherry aromas and flavors.
2016 Sonoma Valley Rosé of Grenache, $28
This elegant wine has a complex mix of flavors, including peach, raspberry, mandarin and pleasantly tart plum skin. Brisk acidity balances the fruitiness and adds foodfriendly structure and refreshment.
Brick & Mortar
2016 Sonoma Coast Rosé, $22
Winemaker Matt Iaconis combined Pinot Noir and Syrah and came up with a dry, racy wine with tangy Meyer lemon, ruby grapefruit and strawberry personality. A streak of wet-slate minerality runs start to finish.
2016 Pauline’s Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Rosé, $24
Winemaker Erik Miller purchases the grapes for this perennial NCWC favorite from Randy Peters; Pauline is Randy’s mother. Freshcut watermelon is the signature characteristic in this pretty wine, joined by hints of succulent strawberry, nectarine and ruby grapefruit.
Lasseter Family Vineyards
2016 Enjoué Sonoma Valley, $28
Under winemaker Julia Iantosca, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre come together in this vibrant, beautifully made wine. Organically grown grapes from Nancy and John Lasseter’s Glen Ellen vineyard make for a wine loaded with tangy strawberry, cherry and blood orange flavors. Serve it throughout the Thanksgiving meal.
2016 Ma Fille Sonoma County Rosé, $17
A former winemaker at Paul Hobbs Wines, Kosta Browne and Lynmar Estate, Shane Finley now devotes most of his efforts to his own brand. Ma Fille is a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache and offers bright strawberry and cherry fruit, with a tangy citrus note on the palate-whisking finish.
2016 Russian River Valley Syrah Rosé, $21
Sidebar is a more casual companion label to Ramey Wine Cellars’ bottlings. Two vineyards provided the grapes for this generously flavored wine that is also admirably dry and refreshing, with zesty red fruit, citrus and spice notes.
Taft Street Winery
2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir, $22
Judges at NCWC selected this luscious pink wine as “Best of the Best” — meaning the finest wine of the 2017 competition. Inviting aromas of cherry, wild strawberry and lemon lead to similar flavors, plus cranberry and blood orange. Dry and crisp, it closes with snappy, palate-cleansing acidity.
2016 Annadel Gap Vineyard Sonoma Valley Rosé, $25
This unique blend of Counoise, Tannat, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre and Syrah scored 97 points at NCWC and impressed judges with its seamless texture, juicy flavors and refreshing, minerally finish.
2014 Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $60
Benovia’s estate vineyard gave winemaker/partner Mike Sullivan the grapes he needed to produce this vibrant wine loaded with floral aromatics, spice, and pomegranate, cranberry and wild-berry flavors. Supple and seamless, it has the structure to age beautifully.
2014 Bucher Vineyard Pommard Clone Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $50
The Bucher family has grown grapes in Russian River Valley for 25 years, selling them to such producers as Williams Selyem and Merry Edwards. They launched their own brand in 2013. This wine is juicy and lush, with vivid red cherry, cranberry and pomegranate fruit, baking-spice complexity and refreshing acidity. It’s sumptuous and satisfying.
Buena Vista Winery
2014 Carneros Pinot Noir, $25
This fairly priced Pinot has a forest-floor edge that adds interest to the dried cherry and fresh berry fruit. It’s medium-bodied and lithe, with a citrus note on the clean finish.
Davis Family Vineyards
2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $45
Guy Davis makes a range of Pinots from Russian River Valley, and this is his flagship, a blend of grapes grown throughout the region. It offers lively cherry fruit, hints of cola, sarsaparilla and spicy oak, and goes down ever so easily, thanks to its silky texture.
2014 Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $62
Savory spice, forest floor, black truffle and licorice notes join rich red, black and blue fruit in this luxurious wine with velvety tannins and mouthwatering acidity. It’s heady and “big” for a Dutton-Goldfield wine, yet clocks in at just 13.9 percent alcohol.
“I COOK WITH WINE, SOMETIMES I EVEN ADD IT TO THE FOOD.”
~ W.C. Fields
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $44
Silky tannins, bold black cherry and plum fruit, toasty oak and savory spice highlight this concentrated, full-flavored Pinot. Refreshing acidity ties it all together for a balanced drink.
J Vineyards & Winery
2015 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $40
Smoky oak and inviting violet and cola aromas lead to a mouthful of juicy black cherry and blackberry fruit in this generous wine. A licorice note adds interest, and the finish is crisp and lengthy.
2014 El Coro Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $52
From the Petaluma Gap region in the Sonoma Coast AVA comes this firm, savory wine that displays black cherry, blackberry, forest floor and sandalwood character. Vanillin oak and spice add a layer of complexity.
Kobler Estate Winery
2015 Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $60
This wine is elegant and enticingly aromatic, with violet and rose petal aromas leading to a supple, soft and sultry palate of fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit. It’s an elegant expression of Pinot Noir.
Merry Edwards Wines
2014 Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $62
Edwards has sourced grapes from Bob Pellegrini’s Olivet Lane Vineyard for more than 25 years. From there in 2014, she made a medium-full-bodied wine with purity of fruit (juicy dark cherry and wild berry), seamless texture and a savory, woodsy element that appears upon aeration in the glass. Be sure to swirl.
D & L Carinalli Vineyards
2014 Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $25
Purchase this wine now, before its price escalates to match its quality. Effusively floral aromas lead to a palate of juicy black cherry and boysenberry fruit. Bright acidity and solid structure make it a wine for cellaring, yet ready to drink now.
MacRostie Winery & Vineyards
2015 Thale’s Vineyard Terrace Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $56
Named for chief winemaker Steve MacRostie’s wife, Thale (THAY-lee), this inaugural bottling from the estate vineyard on Westside Road is arguably the winery’s “biggest” Pinot Noir. Yet it’s still balanced and refined, with silky texture and refreshing acidity carrying the juicy black currant and blueberry fruit and hints of mocha and spice.
Ordaz Family Wines
2014 Placida Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $38
“Grape whisperer” Chuy Ordaz and his winemaking son, Eppie, have a long-term lease on the Placida Vineyard in Sebastopol, which allows the Sonoma Valley-based duo to produce this Pinot Noir from the cooler Russian River Valley. It’s bright and juicy, with cherry, strawberry, cola and woodsy truffle notes.
2015 La Reine Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $42
Layers of forest floor, spice, sarsaparilla, blackberry and pomegranate unfold from first sniff to finish in this structured, focused wine. It’s boldly flavored yet balanced, with uncommon complexity for a Pinot Noir at this price.
2015 Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $50
A vivid floral aroma leads to a nicely balanced, energetic palate of juicy red cherry, raspberry and cranberry fruit, with subtle spice from oak aging. Finessed rather than powerful, it’s complete and charming.
2015 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $65
This producer makes a number of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, though this easier-to-find wine is a multi-vineyard blend. It’s silky and luscious, with sweet-tart cherry, raspberry and pomegranate aromas and flavors. The finish is saliva-inducing, begging for a bite of salmon or mushroom risotto between sips.
Gordian Knot Winery
2014 Winberrie Vineyard Old Vine Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $36
The intensity of fruit and spice that comes from old Zinfandel vines (Winberrie was planted around 1906) is evident in this wine. The first thing that stands out is the essence of black pepper, which adds depth to the ripe, succulent dark berry/ dark cherry profile. Crisp acidity cuts through the richness.
2015 Pauline’s Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $36
Boldly flavored, plump and powerful, this Zin smells like a briary blackberry patch, with flavors of wild blackberry, dark cherry, licorice and baking spice. Fire up the grill.
Kunde Family Winery
2014 Reserve Century Vines Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, $50
Just as its name implies, this wine comes from 100-plus-year-old vines on the Kunde estate in Kenwood. Deep aromas and flavors of black cherry, red raspberry, licorice, brown sugar and bittersweet chocolate all come at just 14.8 percent alcohol, quite low for a wine this intense and rewarding.
“WE ARE ALL MORTAL UNTIL THE FIRST KISS AND THE SECOND GLASS OF WINE.”
~ Eduardo Galeano
2014 Estate Grown Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $42
The Bilbro family has the magic touch when it comes to Zinfandel production. This flagship bottling, sourced from vines planted by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, is a field mix of Zinfandel, Peloursin, Negrette and Petite Sirah. It’s remarkably poised and polished, with vibrant dark-berry fruit, exotic spice and juicy acidity.
2015 Mother Clone Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $19
Affordability has long been a Pedroncelli calling card, and the winery — celebrating its 90th birthday in 2017 — delivers again with this supple, juicy Zin with wild berry, black cherry, vanilla and baking spice aromas and flavors. The finish is clean, fresh and long.
2015 Geyserville Alexander Valley, $35
This bottling celebrates the 50th vintage of the Geyserville label, and it’s comprised of 70 percent Zinfandel and lesser amounts of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet. Though the amount of Zinfandel in the blend varies from year to year, it’s always the key component in this suave, supple wine with a track record for aging beautifully, thanks to its solid structure.
Vineyards 2014 Home Ranch Alexander Valley Zinfandel, $58
This wine comes from a vineyard originally planted in 1895 by Edoardo Seghesio. Wines from such old-timer plantings can come at a steep price, since their grape production is so low as to be nearly financially unviable. So $58 is a small price to pay for drinking history, in the form of brambly blackberry and plum flavors, suave tannins and graham cracker character.
Tom Mackey Cellars
2014 Montecillo Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, $30
Mackey, founding winemaker at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, retired in 2011 after 29 years. He’s back, with his own brand (with partners Clyde Galantine and Graham Parnell) and a Zinfandel that is old-vine and old-school, with intense blackberry fruit, lots of spice and the structure to stand up to the boldest of grilled flavors.
Valdez Family Winery
2013 St. Peter’s Church Vineyard Alexander Valley Zinfandel, $45
Ulises Valdez has farmed this 120-year-old vineyard near Cloverdale for more than two decades, and handles it with the same care he would a newborn child. This zin is densely colored and intensely flavored, with ripe black cherry and plum fruit accented by hints of sandalwood, black pepper, menthol and mocha. Rich and muscular, it deserves service with medium-rare steak.
Wilson of Dry Creek
2014 Cypress Ridge Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $36
Wilson, a Zinfandel specialist, won the Best of Class award at NCWC with this wine, topping all other Zins. Plush and jammy, it offers generous blueberry and blackberry flavors, hints of vanillin, cherry cola and licorice, and finishes long and slightly sweet. Great with glazed ribs.
Canihan Family Vineyards
2014 Exuberance Sonoma County Syrah, $49
Bill Canihan’s vineyard is at a cool conjunction of the Carneros and Sonoma Valley appellations. His wine is a refined example of cool-climate Syrah, with Pinot Noir-like precision, vivid red and black fruit, and accents of anise and black olive.
Carol Shelton Wines
2013 Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah, $40
Jack Florence’s vineyard in northern Dry Creek Valley produced this bold, fruity wine in the hands of Carol Shelton. Jammy like Zinfandel, this Petite Sirah offers black raspberry and blackberry fruit coated in melted chocolate and sprinkled with baking spice, with a bright, crisp finish.
2013 Rotie Sonoma Coast, $54
Syrah and a splash of Viognier meld in this seamless, smoky, meaty wine with blueberry compote, black raspberry and spice aromas and flavors. It’s full-bodied yet balanced, with a fresh finish.
2014 Sonoma Valley Grenache, $32
A gold medalist at NCWC, this supple, energetic wine gushes with ripe cherry pie and raspberry fruit character on the first sip. With aeration, savory notes of peppercorn and sweet spice emerge. Excellent tannin structure.
2013 Cherry Camp Sonoma Coast Syrah, $32
It’s as supple as a Pinot Noir in texture, yet the aromas and flavors are all Syrah: White pepper, potpourri, blueberry pie, blackberry, black cherry, baking spice and subtle meatiness.
Trione Vineyards & Winery
2013 River Ranch Road Syrah Russian River Valley, $32
Scoring 97 points and awarded Best of Class status at NCWC, this wine boasts vibrant black cherry and blackberry fruit melding seamlessly with savory notes of allspice, dried herbs and smoke. Its density and richness is offset by mouthwatering acidity.
Truett Hurst Winery
2014 Old Vine Burning Man Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah, $42
Brooding in the way Petite Sirah fans expect, this NCWC Best of Class winner is powerful and dense, with muscular structure, black cherry, plum and blueberry fruit, oak toast and savory spice.
Red Bordeaux Varietals & Blends
Alexander Valley Vineyards
2015 Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc, $30
Medium-full-bodied and supple, it’s packed with blackberry, black cherry and plum fruit. At a reasonable 14 percent alcohol, and with bright acidity, it satisfies with a lamb burger and lamb roast.
Dry Creek Vineyard
2014 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $26
Here is an outstanding value in Cabernet, with all the personality one would expect in a more expensive wine, conjuring rich black cherry and black currant fruit, cedar and oak spice. It’s got a lengthy, fresh finish and a firm tannic backbone for aging, yet is also delicious now.
Ferrari Carano Vineyards and Winery
2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $34
Oak gets top billing on the nose, with sandalwood, spice, mocha and ground coffee aromas. Yet there is plenty of rich dark-berry and black cherry fruit to maintain balance in this broad-shouldered, rewarding wine — a 97-point scorer at NCWC.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
2013 Archimedes Alexander Valley, $90
NCWC judges gave it 95 points for its firm structure, textbook cedar, forest floor and cassis character, and toasty French oak. A flagship wine from Francis Ford Coppola, Archimedes is as serious as Cab gets and should age beautifully for a decade or more.
2015 Fidelity Crazy Creek Estate Alexander Valley Red, $16
This amazing-value wine, a Meritage-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, is medium-bodied, rich and smooth, with a lingering, juicy finish. The tannins are supple, the oak influence slight and the drink-now factor high. It’s a superb wine for a crowd.
2013 Mountain Cuvée Sonoma County, $20
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from the winery’s Rhinefarm vineyard and sites in the Mayacamas Mountains mesh in this bargain red. It’s soft and easy, with blackberry, black cherry and pepper character. An honest drink at a great price.
Imagery Estate Winery
Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Malbec, $45
This NCWC Best of Class wine is plummy and supple, with hints of smoke, earth and spice. The black plum and black cherry fruit is accented by complex notes of cola, black olive and mint.
Lasseter Family Winery
2013 Paysage Sonoma Valley, $62
John and Nancy Lasseter, with winemaker Julia Iantosca, produce wonderful wines at every turn. This Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec-Cabernet Franc blend is a standout, sumptuous and supple, with plum and black cherry flavors and a savory herbal edge for interest.
Laurel Glen Vineyard
2013 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Cabernet Sauvignon stands alone in this wine, made from organically grown grapes on the Sonoma Mountain estate. It has a distinctive mineral note in the aroma and taste, with scintillating acidity adding brightness and succulence to the black cherry and black currant fruit.
2014 Carneros Reserve Merlot, $45
Velvety tannins wrap around the rich black cherry and plum fruit, and notes of wood spice and café au lait add to the complexity and balance of this NCWC gold-medal-winning wine.
Seaton Family Vineyards
2014 Red Buzz Dry Creek Valley Red, $35
Buzz Seaton is the man behind this brand and Red Buzz, a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine, which scored 97 points at NCWC, is big, bold and full-bodied, with solid acid and tannin structure that suggests long-term aging.
St. Anne’s Crossing
2013 Estate Dry Creek Valley Merlot, $24
It’s rich, soft and juicy, just as many love their Merlots, with luscious plum and dark berry fruit accompanied by notes of dark chocolate, vanilla, espresso and toast. It was awarded 97 points at NCWC.
2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $45
This is textbook Alexander Valley Cab, unafraid to show its savory side. Dried herbs, licorice, cedar and forest floor notes add interest to the well-ripened black cherry and black currant core. Medium-full-bodied and muscular, it will benefit from aeration now, or a few years in the cellar.
2014 Sonoma Coast Merlot, $46
Merlot from the Sonoma Coast? You bet, as the appellation extends from the coast to eastern Sonoma County, near Sonoma Raceway and Highway 37, where Thirty Seven is located. Growing-season temperatures are warm enough to ripen Merlot, and this NCWC Best of Class wine (96 points) delivers impressive plum and dark berry fruit, silky mouthfeel and crisp acidity.
Buena Vista Winery
2015 The Sheriff of Buena Vista Sonoma County Red, $34
This blend of Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache sounds like it’s made from leftovers, yet the stew melds beautifully. NCWC judges awarded it Best of Class for its deep, dark and decadent black fruit seasoned with spice and cocoa.
Chateau St. Jean
2013 Eighty-Five Fifty-Five Sonoma County Red, $70
Named for the winery’s address on Highway 12 in Kenwood, this Margo Van Staaverenmade wine is a blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah. It’s unusual and delicious, with jazzy raspberry, blackberry and Santa Rosa plum aromas and flavors kissed by hints of mocha, spice and blueberry pie. Its polished elegance earned it a gold at NCWC.
Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Malbec, $36
Black and blue fruit (blackberry, blueberry) fills the mouth in this gold-medal winner from NCWC. It has elegant texture and sparkling acidity, adding lift to the powerhouse fruit and sturdy tannins.
Imagery Estate Winery
2014 Upper Ridge Vineyard Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Sangiovese, $42
It scored an impressive 98 points at NCWC for its textbook varietal character of tart cherry tinged with dried herbs and balanced by bright acidity. Perfect for any tomato-based dish, it also has notes of plums and red currants, with an earthiness and herbaceous elements that marry harmoniously. It’s sleek, full flavored and balanced to perfection.
Sonoma wine critic Linda Murphy selected the Top 100 Wines of 2017, combining her yearlong tastings with the highest-scoring wines from The Press Democrat 2017 North Coast Wine Challenge.
Only wines produced from Sonoma County-grown grapes, by wineries located in the county, were eligible for the Top 100. Diversity in price, grape variety and geography were important factors in determining the list.
All Top 100 wines were released in 2017, although some may no longer be available. Hot wines sell fast, so it you can’t find a particular Top 100 wine, contact the winery for information.
Also consider purchasing an older or newer vintage of the wine, particularly for reds. Sonoma-made wines are remarkably consistent in quality, year after year, so it’s difficult to go wrong.
A former managing editor of Sonoma Magazine, Linda Murphy writes the LikeWine column in each issue, was the first editor of the San Francisco Chronicle wine section, and contributes to Decanter magazine, jancisrobinson.com, Sunset magazine and Food & Wine magazine’s annual wine guide.
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