Challenging doesn’t come close to describing the year Sonoma grapegrowers and winemakers had in 2020.
The coronavirus first closed tasting rooms entirely and later limited service to outdoors. Employees were furloughed or laid off. The shuttering of restaurants was a further gut-punch. And twice this season, wildfire forced evacuations and burned homes: in northwestern Sonoma County in mid-August and in eastern Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley in late September. Both the Walbridge and the Glass fires spewed smoke that stung the lungs of vineyard workers and, once the harvest is over and assessments are made, likely will have had a negative impact on grape quality.
So if ever there were a time for our Top 100 Wines survey, this is it. Not so much in that wine can take the edge off of difficult times, but rather as an elixir of life, a beverage to share with family and bubble friends, a companion to takeout and home-cooked meals. Wine rewards those who overcome hardship and celebrates those with resilience.
And wine production is Sonoma’s economic lifeblood, accounting for 54,000 jobs – one in four in the county. Consumer support for the industry and its many tourism extensions is more important now than ever.
Our 2020 Top 100 Wines list points the way to the best bottles from throughout the county. The winners are a diverse group, covering various viticultural regions, grape varieties, and production quantities. Many picks are found in local grocery stores, others can be purchased only from wineries. Pinot Noir, arguably Sonoma’s most popular wine (in a supreme compliment, Napa Valley wineries seek out Sonomagrown Pinot), gets a lot of attention, and high-end Cabernet Sauvignon is coming on strong. The finest bottles are indeed expensive, although it’s more often a reflection of increasing costs in labor, health care, grape prices and packaging materials, than it is outright gouging (though some of that exists).
Excellent values are found throughout the Top 100, and we’ve highlighted those picks with a special ‘value’ button. Wines grown and produced by people of color, women, and younger makers just getting their bootstrapped starts are also important to us this year. Consider giving them your business, because the smaller and less powerful they are, the more they’ve struggled financially during the Covid-19 crisis. It’s the neighborly thing to do, and you’ll enjoy some of the finest wines of your life.
Healdsburg-based wine critic Linda Murphy selected the Top 100 Wines of 2020 based on her yearlong tastings at wineries and of samples sent to her, as well as her blind tastings at wine competitions including The Press Democrat 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge. Only wines produced from Sonoma County-grown grapes, by wineries located in the county, are eligible for the Top 100. All wines were tasted in 2020.
A former managing editor of Sonoma magazine, Murphy earned two James Beard awards as the founding editor of the San Francisco Chronicle wine section. She’s evaluated Sonoma wines for 30 years, and always has the consumer in mind with her recommendations. Not all expensive wines are worth their price, and many value-priced wines deliver far more interest than their price would suggest.
Balletto Vineyards 2014 Russian River Valley Brut Rosé ($45) Dry, elegant, and precise, this blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay offers light cherry, raspberry, and baked pie-crust aromas and flavors, with touches of citrus and pear. There is a creaminess to the palate, and the finish is energetic and palate- cleansing.
Breathless Wines NV Sonoma County Brut ($27) VALUE Sisters Rebecca and Cynthia Faust and Sharon Cohn produce sparkling wines in Healdsburg, the brand name honoring their mother, Martha Jane Faust, who died from a rare respiratory condition. “Fourth sister” Penny Gadd-Coster produced this somewhat rich, beautifully balanced blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with red berry, citrus, and tropical fruit notes and a subtle yeastiness. It’s an excellent value in the highpriced world of serious California sparkling wines.
Flaunt Wine Co. NV Sonoma County Brut ($48) Dianna Novy spent more than two decades as co-owner and co-winemaker of Siduri Wines and Novy Family Wines in Santa Rosa. After selling those brands to Jackson Family Wines, she embarked on a sparkling wine project, Flaunt, using Champagne-making techniques to create this finessed bubbly with crisp green apple and citrus fruit, fresh-baked-bread yeastiness, and a long, mouthwatering finish.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Carneros Blanc de Noirs ($22) VALUE Under new ownership, it’s uncertain how Carneros’ first sparkling wine house will evolve, yet one thing is for sure now: This light-pink, fermented-in-bottle bubbly is serious stuff at a terrific price (and discounted in supermarkets), with bright red-fruit flavors and citrus backbone.
Iron Horse Vineyards 2016 Ocean Reserve Green Valley of Russian River Valley Blanc de Blancs ($55) Feel good about drinking this all-Chardonnay sparkler, not only for its taut structure and keen balance, but also because $4 from each bottle sold goes to National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative, which supports marine protected areas and sustainable fishing practices around the globe.The green apple, Key lime, and Asian pear palate gains richness and complexity from notes of barrel spice and brioche, yet the wine finishes bright and crisp.
Iron Horse Vineyards 2015 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Classic Vintage Brut ($45) The winery’s flagship bubbly and a consistent Top 100 wine, it’s Pinot Noir-dominant, rich and supple. Yet the 23% portion of Chardonnay makes its presence known in the tart apple and Meyer lemon palate. It’s for those who appreciate the toasty, autolytic yeast character that comes from long aging in the bottle.
J Vineyards and Winery NV Russian River Valley Cuvée 20 ($38) This non-vintage blend should please all sparkling- wine palates, as it delivers a little bit of everything: honeysuckle, hazelnut, and baked-bread aromas, sunny white peach and apple fruit, gingery spice, and a finish that’s crisp and lingering.
Beltane Ranch 2019 Drummond Block Estate Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($29) Lean and racy, this scintillating Sauvignon Blanc has green melon, quince, flint, and gooseberry notes and a brisk finish. Partial fermentation in neutral oak barrels adds some vanillin roundness to the mid-palate, and the finish pops with lemony zest.
The Dreaming Tree 2018 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($15) VALUE Rocker Dave Matthews partnered with Sonoma winemaker Sean McKenzie on The Dreaming Tree brand, named for one of the band’s songs. Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia and is a serious oenophile; this Sauvignon Blanc is seriously good and at a great price; it’s perfumed and juicy (lime cordial and tangerine), with a long, fresh finish.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) VALUE The runner-up Best White Wine winner of the 2020 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge shows Tim Bell’s talents for making Sauvignon Blanc. He added Sauvignons Musque and Gris to Sauvignon Blanc, and aged a portion in acacia, chestnut, and oak barrels. The result: a layered, luscious wine with unfolding aromas and flavors of Meyer lemon, lime zest, pineapple, passion fruit, and white peach. There is a gentle creaminess to the mid-palate, and the finish lasts forever.
Paradise Ridge 2019 Vineyard Selection Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28) This highly drinkable wine combines juicy tropical fruit and zesty citrus in a yin-yang balance of pleasure. Winemaker Dan Barwick has a way with Sauvignon Blanc, and this particular bottling demonstrates his skill at producing delicious wines.
Pedroncelli Winery 2019 East Side Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($17) VALUE Straightforward, widely available, and utterly delicious, this wine offers green apple, lemon-lime, and light pear flavors, with a pleasant herbal, grassy character in the background, not aggressively front and center.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards 2019 Dry Stack Vineyard Bennett Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22) The vineyard is planted to a somewhat obscure (in California) Italian clone of Sauvignon Blanc, and it produces wines with more floral aromatics and tropical-fruit flavors than the citrus and herb-flecked styles more common in Sonoma. It’s generous in flavor, with crisp acidity balancing its forward-fruit nature — and an inviting representation of the grape variety.
Simi Winery 2019 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($15) VALUE Fifteen bucks (less in chain stores) buys a lot of wine from this landmark Healdsburg winery. Inviting aromas of pear and honeysuckle lead to a mouthful of lemon, pink grapefruit, and clementine flavor, with zesty freshness on the finish.
Sutro Wine Co. 2019 Warnecke Ranch Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28) This wine from Alice Warnecke Sutro and her husband, Eliot Sutro, is crisp and sassy, without being overtly herbaceous, a common characteristic for the grape. Grapefruit, lemon-lime, green melon, white cherry, and texture-lending beeswax notes meld seamlessly, rounded nicely by partial fermentation in neutral oak barrels.
Carol Shelton Wines 2018 Wild Thing Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($19) VALUE Zin master Carol Shelton purchased an Alexander Valley vineyard a few years ago, with the intent of building a winery there. Life changed that course, yet the Chardonnay from this site proved to be so good — particularly when she blended it with splashes of Marsanne and Viognier — that it’s become a fan favorite. It’s generous in pineapple, mango, and apple fruit, with oak spice and a creamy vanillin center.
Chalk Hill Estate 2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay ($40) For lovers of rich, unctuous Chardonnays, this is your bottle. The wine has inviting aromas of honey and lemon curd, then a gush of ripe golden apple, pineapple, and Meyer lemon flavors on the palate, with baking spice and a buttery accent. For all its richness, it finishes with snappy acidity.
Dutton-Goldfield 2017 Rued Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($55) There is a nervy, minerally edge to this medium-full-bodied wine, plus hazelnut and caramel notes enhancing the green apple, Asian pear, and white peach fruit. Complete and complex, it finishes fresh and crunchy, lingering on the palate.
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery 2017 Mother of Pearl Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay ($60) Winemaker Jeff Pisoni struck a lovely balance here, producing a crisp, bracing, florally aromatic wine from the chilly coastal vineyard, with judicious oaking adding spice while maintaining minerality. Lemon curd, green melon, and grilled white peach flavors finish long and succulent.
Gary Farrell Winery 2017 Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($60) Winemaker Theresa Heredia mined Kent Ritchie’s vineyard for this wine, which is as crisp as biting into a green apple, then having that apple burst with citrus and tropical fruit. Background notes of crème brûlée, Meyer lemon, pear, and white peach add interest to this complex, layered gem.
Gundlach Bundschu 2018 Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($27) Want a fresh, zingy, palate-awakening Chardonnay? This is it: flinty and refreshing, it offers peach, tangerine, and Asian pear flavors, with oak well in the background, showing itself as a shake of spice but not toast. Scintillating finish.
Hartford Court 2017 Jennifer’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($65) Winemaker Jeff Stewart makes several Chardonnays, but this is one is outstanding: A blend of freshness, mouthwatering acidity, gentle oak spice, unripe pear, and tangy citrus. It smells of peach blossoms, and lemongrass with a core of spiced apples, and poached pears. The palate delivers layer upon layer of savory, citrus, and stonefruit flavors, long and spicy.
La Crema 2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($25) VALUE This wine is easy to find, easy to drink, and easy on the pocketbook, as it’s typically sold at discounted prices. It offers a little bit of everything: sweet, ripe pineapple, white peach, apple and Meyer lemon fruit, caramel spice, and a clean, mouthwatering finish.
Landmark Vineyards 2017 Overlook Sonoma County Chardonnay ($27) Intriguing for its mélange of tropical, melon, and citrus character — the result of blending across multiple vineyards. Crisp and with lively acidity, it boasts medium-full body and a tart, Granny apple note on the finish.
Lombardi Wines 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($44) PR professional Tony Lombardi has worked with numerous Sonoma County wineries for years, and in 2013, launched his own brand, with his wife, Christine. Their winemaker, Cabell Coursey, produced this mouthwatering wine with green apple, white peach, and citrus flavors. A streak of perceived minerality runs from start to finish.
MacRostie Winery & Vineyards 2017 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($46) Dutton Ranch encompasses multiple vineyards, and winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen tapped three of them for this multi-layered wine. The honeyed nose leads to ripe golden apple, peach, and tropical fruit, and a Meyer lemon brightness balances the finish.
Ramey Wine Cellars 2017 Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($70) Winegrower Joe Rochioli is a Russian River Valley legend, as is winemaker David Ramey. They combine their expertise in this has-it-all Chardonnay. It’s fresh and complex, with golden and green apple fruit and tangy citrus notes. Oak is there, but in the background, adding texture to the mouthfeel.
Ram’s Gate Winery 2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($46) The style is lush, exotically tropical, with pineapple, papaya, pear, nectarine, and golden apple flavors. Brisk acidity keeps the palate fresh through the long finish, and hints of almond skin, oak spice, and crème brûlée add interest.
Sangiacomo Vineyards 2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($55) This supremely balanced wine was chosen Best of the Best at the 2020 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge, a testament to the winegrowing skills of the Sangiacomo family. Winemaker James MacPhail blended fruit from the family’s Green Acres and Robert Road vineyards, in the Carneros and Petaluma Gap regions, respectively. Spiced apple, citrus, and poached pear flavors mingle with notes of nutmeg and vanilla in this moderately rich and refreshing wine.
Sonoma-Cutrer 2018 Russian River Valley Late Harvest Chardonnay ($36) A dessert lover’s dream, this succulent sweetie is just short of syrupy, with vibrant acidity balancing the unctuous apricot, poached pear, caramel, and honey palate. If the meal-ender is a cheese plate, this wine pairs beautifully with dried fruit and nutty hard cheeses.
Three Sticks 2018 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($55) Three Sticks proprietor Bill Price also owns Gap’s Crown Vineyard, which has quickly become an iconic site for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from other producers. This wine offers a cornucopia of acacia blossom, honeysuckle, lime, peach, citrus, and earthy minerality essence, with snappy acidity keeping the bounty of goodness fresh and lively.
Abbot’s Passage Winery 2019 Rossi Ranch Vineyard Sunblink Sonoma Valley ($35) Proprietor Katie Bundschu blended Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc to achieve this bright, crisp wine. The Grenache Blanc adds a kiss of honey to the white nectarine, tangerine, and unripe pear flavors. The finish is mouthwatering, thanks to great acid structure.
Anaba Wines 2018 Landa Vineyard Sonoma Valley Viognier ($36) The expected honeysuckle, peach, and pear characteristics of Viognier are here, though this one has an extra yum factor, with inviting baking spice and tangerine notes, on a crisp, clean, refreshing finish.
Donelan 2018 Kobler Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Viognier ($34) An elegant style of Viognier, with delicate floral aromas and crisp, crunchy, high-acid citrus, light pear, and yellow peach fruit and whiff of honeysuckle. Whereas some Viogniers are viscous and high in alcohol, this one is laser-focused at just 13.4% alcohol.
Emeritus Vineyards 2018 Hallberg Blanc Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40) Winemaker Dave Lattin gently pressed the juice from red Pinot Noir grapes before the skins added any color. The juice was fermented in neutral oak barrels and concrete fermenters, and the result is a revelation: A flat-out delicious wine with floral aromas, peach, and Meyer lemon flavors and mouth-filling texture, framed by brisk acidity.
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery 2019 Sonoma County Pinot Grigio ($16) VALUE Simply put, it’s yummy, and I hope it remains so under new owner Foley Family Wines. Forget the thin, neutral-tasting Italian Pinot Grigios that sell at this price point, and embrace the ambrosial peach, apricot, and pineapple fruit in this rewarding wine, which has the acidity to balance the lush flavors. Aperitif time.
Joseph Swan Vineyards 2017 Catie’s Corner Russian River Valley Grenache Blanc ($26) Light, crisp, and refreshing, it offers come-hither floral aromatics and a hint of honey to the Granny Smith apple, unripe pear, lime zest, and tangerine flavors. Rod Berglund also produces an intriguing “orange wine” version of this wine by leaving the Grenache Blanc skins in contact with the juice during fermentation.
Unti Vineyards 2018 Dry Creek Valley Cuvée Blanc ($35) Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, and Picpoul Blanc come together in this energetic wine with aromas and flavors of Meyer lemon, green apple, and honeydew melon, and a pleasantly saline aroma and finish. Mick Unti embraces palate-cleansing acidity in his white wines, and this is proof of that commitment.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2019 Alexander Valley Dry Rosé of Sangiovese ($16) VALUE AVV was well ahead of the rosé rage, first making this wine in 2006 from the Italian varietal Sangiovese. Affable and affordable, it boasts juicy raspberry, cherry, and watermelon aromas, finishing crisp and spicy.
Anaba Wines 2018 Sonoma Valley Rosé of Grenache ($30) Co-winemakers Katy Wilson and Ross Cobb produced a wine that’s juicy and substantial on the palate, yet also crisp and refreshing. It sports cherry, strawberry, and nectarine aromas and flavors, with hints of berry.
Angels & Cowboys Sonoma County Rosé ($15) VALUE This perennial bargain is Grenache-based, with smaller amounts of other grapes adding complexity to the blend. It’s lip-smackingly brisk and mouth-fillingly juicy, with red fruits accented by lime and white peach.
Capture 2019 Alexander Valley Rosé of Sangiovese ($25) The wine smells like a field of wild strawberries, with Queen Anne cherry and pink grapefruit joining the palate mix. It has a lovely balance of richness and freshness, and despite its light body, floods the mouth with flavor.
Gehricke Wines 2019 Los Carneros Sonoma Rosé ($29) Though it doesn’t say so on the label, this pink is 100% Pinot Noir. It packs a load of bright watermelon, cherry and cranberry fruit, kissed by gentle Meyer lemon and white nectarine notes. For all its generosity, it remains vibrant and refreshing, and at just 12.8% alcohol.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2019 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) Watermelon, wild strawberry, red raspberry, blood orange, and lime commingle in this tangy, refreshing wine. It has more complexity than many Pinot-based blush wines on the market, many of them selling for higher prices than this one.
Sonoma-Cutrer 2019 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) Light and refreshing, it delivers strawberry, raspberry, and watermelon aromas and flavors, with hints of citrus zest and blood orange.
AldenAlli 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($60) This brand is a partnership of Dan Kosta (formerly of Kosta Browne) and Alden Lagasse (wife of chef Emeril Lagasse). The Sonoma Coast blend comes from the Campbell Ranch, Sunchase, and Gap’s Crown vineyards, and is brambly and spicy, with a core of juicy blackberry and boysenberry and hints of graham cracker and modest toast in the racy finish.
Benovia Winery 2017 La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($65) All of winemaker Mike Sullivan’s wines (sparklers, Chardonnays, Grenache, and Zinfandel) are marvelous, but from the 2017 vintage, La Pommeraie (apple orchard in French) stood out for its verve and balance of luscious black currant and boysenberry fruit and tight acid structure.
Blue Farm Wines 2017 Anne Katherina Estate Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($65) Anne Moller-Racke’s personal Pinot Noir project, Blue Farm, is an evolution of her previous work with Buena Vista Winery and Donum Estate. This wine’s highlights are its earthy truffle aroma, vibrant red and black cherry flavors, note of Asian spice, and crackling acidity, which counters the plush mid-palate.
Dutton-Goldfield 2017 Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($62) Winemaker Dan Goldfield’s wines tend to be medium- full-bodied and moderately ripe. Fox Den pushes the ripeness envelope just a bit, flooding the mouth with voluptuous strawberry, Bing cherry, raspberry jam, and cranberry flavors, with background notes of cola, rose water, and allspice.
Emeritus Vineyards 2016 Hallberg Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($44) COO Mari Jones and winemaker Dave Lattin have taken over for Emeritus founder Brice Jones, now retired — and the wines have never been better. Hallberg, an estate vineyard, produced this perfumed, medium-full-bodied wine showing bright black cherry fruit, savory spice, smooth tannins, and palate-cleansing acidity.
EnRoute 2017 Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($85) Lush in style, it brims with black raspberry, kirsch, and pomegranate personality, with lovely lavender aromas. It’s full-bodied and “big” for a Pinot, yet there is grace and freshness on the long finish.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery 2018 Gloria Estate Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($68) Gloria is Akiko and Ken Freeman’s estate vineyard, which they planted to Pinot Noir on land they purchased in 2005. They named it after Hurricane Gloria, which brought them together in 1985 (it’s a long story). The wine is gloriously balanced, with silky tannins wrapped around vibrant black cherry, blackberry, and blueberry fruit, with hints of pipe tobacco and cola.
Gracianna Winery 2018 Westside Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($76) Trini and Lisa Amador’s top-tier Pinot Noir is all about ripe red fruits: cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, and red plum. The texture is soft and caressing, thanks to velvety tannins and a judicious use of oak during aging.
Hirsch Vineyards 2017 Sonoma Coast Reserve Pinot Noir ($85) David Hirsch pioneered cold-climate viticulture in what is now the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. His daughter, Jasmine, now runs the business, and the Pinots remain remarkably Burgundian in style, with elegance, low alcohol levels, and the natural acidity required for long aging; this bottling is near-perfect for the style, with minerality, pretty cranberry and other red fruits, forest-floor spice, and seamless texture.
Kanzler Vineyards 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($60) The Kanzler family planted a vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills in 1996. For years, it was a source of grapes for Kosta Browne and other wineries, but the family now keeps most of the grapes to themselves. Alex Kanzler is the winemaker, and this Pinot Noir, from the estate and three other vineyards, is a beauty: fragrant and precise in its cranberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry purity.
Keller Estate 2018 El Coro Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir ($55) This is the Petaluma estate’s most balanced Pinot Noir to date, made by Julien Teichmann. Aromas of rose petals, violets, and Asian spice lead to a palate of precise black cherry, pomegranate, cranberry, and vanilla cola flavors. The acidity structure is refreshingly firm, yet the tannins are supple and the finish lingering. Wonderful complexity.
Kendall-Jackson Estate 2018 Cloud’s Landing Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir ($55) The Petaluma Gap’s cool temperatures and wind help produce fruit with crunchy natural acidity. That comes into play with this vibrant and polished wine, where the acidity plumps up the blackberry and blueberry fruit character. Asian spice, sarsaparilla, and a hint of dark chocolate are also present, upping the complexity level.
Kutch Wines 2018 Bohan Vineyard Graveyard Block Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($54) Jamie Kutch seeks out the chilliest vineyards on the Sonoma Coast for his Pinots and hit, ahem, pay dirt in the Bohan Vineyard, just three miles from the Pacific Ocean. Kutch picks less ripe than many other winemakers, seeking flavor at low alcohol levels, and nailed it with this supple, long-finishing wine (13.1%) with dark cherry, pomegranate, forest floor, mint, and gentle vanillin characteristics. Worth a search.
Lynmar Estate 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50) Pete Soergel makes a dozen remarkable Pinot Noirs for Lynmar, and this one is the flagship, a multisite, multi-clone blend that screams Russian River Valley style winemaking. Vibrant dark cherry and blueberry fruit is accented by cola, baking spice, and a hint of vanillin oak. The wine’s crisp acidity makes for a long, mouthwatering finish.
Papapietro Perry 2017 Leras Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($62) It’s light on its feet in texture and weight, yet full of vibrant red and black cherry and plum fruit, with touches of blueberry and cola. Pretty and appealing, it closes with mouthwatering acidity. Beautifully made. Also worth checking out is the Papapietro Perry 2017 777 Clones Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($72), chosen the best red at the 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge.
Red Car 2018 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir ($75) A Sonoma Coast cool-climate wine with a piney, forest-floor nose and crisp acidity. There’s plenty of dark-berry fruit flavors here, with scintillating acidity and structure. Not plump, not juicy in its youth, it’s a stark wine that pairs beautifully now with red meats, yet should mellow with time in the bottle.
Ron Rubin Winery 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($25) VALUE This wine delivers tons of deliciousness, with juicy dark cherry and berry fruit, creamy vanillin oak, and background notes of woodsy earth and forest floor. It’s both savory and fruity, a neat trick to pull off at this price.
Siduri 2018 Barbieri Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($55) A near-perfect Russian River Pinot, it delivers crowd-pleasing, vibrant black cherry, blueberry and boysenberry fruit. It’s hugely aromatic — violet and rose petal—supple and succulent, with a generous, brisk finish.
Three Sticks 2018 Price Family Estates Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($65) Three Sticks, under winemakers Bob Cabral and Ryan Pritchard, produces several outstanding single-vineyard Pinot Noirs; this blend is a composite of them. Elegance and complexity are its hallmarks, with forest floor, black tea, and spice accenting the vibrant raspberry, dark cherry, and Santa Rosa plum fruit. It’s medium-bodied, beautifully textured, and harmonious.
Tongue Dancer 2017 The Sly One Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($59) Suave and seamless from start to finish, it has inviting aromas and vivid flavors of wild raspberry, boysenberry, vanilla, and leather, thanks to a low-oak influence. Winemaker James MacPhail sourced the Van Der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain and the Placida Vineyard in Green Valley of Russian River Valley for this beautiful, low-production wine.
Trombetta Family Wines 2016 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir ($65) Blackberry, blueberry, and pomegranate are the primary flavors, but the wine also has floral aromas, hints of spice, and fresh-turned earth, and a bright, high-acid finish. A velvety mid-palate smoothness adds to the texture, with forest- floor and black-tea elements held in savory contrast.
J Vineyards & Winery 2017 Sonoma Coast Edition No. 2 Pinot Noir ($95) This is Gallo-owned J Winery’s finest Pinot Noir ever, though it comes at a hefty price. Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock harvested grapes from the Annapolis Ridge, Canfield, and Two Rock vineyards, which meld into a greater sum of the parts. It has an enticing violet perfume, vivid red, black, and blue fruit, and a long list of complexing notes, among them sarsaparilla, blackberry seed, anise, and brown spice.
Bordeaux Varietal Reds
Aperture Cellars 2017 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) Very young and slightly raw now, this Cab from Jesse Katz has the stuff to improve for years. From its saturated purple color, to the deep black currant and dark plum fruit, to the accents of sandalwood, black olive, and bay leaf, it’s a rich, modern wine just beginning to show its personality.
Benziger Family Winery 2017 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) VALUE Approachable and affordable, this wine offers soft tannins, juicy black cherry and dark plum fruit, along with hints of licorice, black olive, and toast. The finish is plush, countered by a pleasant bitterness of high-quality dark chocolate.
deLorimier Winery 2016 Rockpile Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($68) There is lots of energy to this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which leans toward dark-red fruits over black. It’s compact yet juicy, with smooth tannins and lively acidity, and expertly oaked, with mere hints of vanilla, mocha, and spice.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2017 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) VALUE As prices rise for exceptional wines, Dry Creek Vineyard holds the line across its range. This youthful Cabernet Sauvignon delivers great value for money, with full-bodied richness, bright blackberry and black currant fruit, and shadings of mocha, sage, clove, and pipe tobacco. It’s lively and ready to enjoy now and over the next decade.
Aldina Vineyards 2016 Fountaingrove District Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) Al and Dina López planted Cabernet on their hilly Fountaingrove District property in 1998. They lost their home in the 2017 Tubbs fire, yet most of the vineyard survived. Now their daughter, co-owner Monica López, and winemaker Belén Ceja oversee production of this wine, which is a refreshing contrast to the rich, viscous Cabs made elsewhere. Hints of cedar, tar, tarragon, tobacco leaf, and green herbs accent the crisp, food-friendly palate of black cherry, tart red cherry, and cranberry. Toast and vanilla lurk in the background of this European- styled wine.
Goldschmidt Vineyard 2016 Yoeman Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) Density and richness are the major attributes of this wine — “power and glory” is what winemaker Nick Goldschmidt says the Yoeman Vineyard gives to this Cab. It is indeed a mouthful of red and black fruit, but not overripe and with all the secondary characteristics one expects in fine Cabernet Sauvignon: cedar, dried herbs, tobacco leaf, and sandalwood. It’s intense and complex.
Hamel Family Wines 2017 Sonoma Valley Isthmus ($85) From its saturated purple color to its viscous texture, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (15%), Cabernet Franc (12%), and Petit Verdot (2%) reminds me of opulent Napa Valley Bordeaux-style reds, though with the savory bits left in. Notes of cigar box, cedar, and green peppercorn add layers to the plump black cherry and blackberry fruit; the firm tannins suggest cellaring it for a few years, though fans of concentrated young wines will be rewarded for their impatience.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) Maggie Kruse was promoted to winemaker when Rob Davis retired in 2019 after 43 years as winemaker, a remarkable run. Kruse and Davis worked together on this Cab, and it continues the winery’s history of bottling elegant, restrained wines that don’t scream ripe fruit but rather seamless balance. Supple and polished, it likely will blossom with five years — or 15 — in the bottle.
Robert Young Estate Winery 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($56) All five Bordeaux red grapes are here, with Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc joining Cabernet Sauvignon in this nicely balanced wine. There are ripe tannins and succulent, dark-fruit juiciness at its core, accented by hints of cigar box, semisweet chocolate, and red currant.
Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards & Winery 2015 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($130) Owners Mac and Leslie McQuown set their sights on producing first-growth-quality wines from their three Sonoma Valley vineyards in the Moon Mountain District AVA. It’s a lofty goal and they’re making progress. This is a first-class, full-bodied Cab with freshherb and chocolate accents to dark fruit. Yes, it’s expensive, though not among the priciest from Sonoma. The McQuowns aged this just-released vintage so you don’t have to wait to enjoy it.
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($34) The Geyserville-area winery, recently sold to Foley Family Wines, has a track record for making superb red wines, many of them from mountain- grown grapes. This mid-priced Cab is a winner: juicy, rich, vibrant, seamless, and structured, with a supple finish.
Trestle Glen 2017 Hillside Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) Trestle Glen is Bruce Cohn’s newest project, after selling his BR Cohn brand in 2015 to Vintage Wine Estates. He and his longtime winemaker, Tom Montgomery, are back with this sturdy, muscular wine loaded with blackcurrant, black cherry, and dark plum fruit. Savory notes of espresso, dark chocolate, and thyme add great interest to this very complex wine, which should improve with age over the next decade.
Nick Goldschmidt 2018 Fidelity Alexander Valley Red Wine ($17) VALUE Merlot (77%) is joined by Cabernet Sauvignon (13%) and Petit Verdot (10%) in this supple, everyday-drinking Bordeaux-style red that punches above its weight and features floral aromas and a juicy palate of blackberry, plum, dark cherry, espresso, and chocolate.
Vision Cellars 2018 Red Wine Sonoma County ($65) Mac McDonald is known for his Pinot Noirs made from grapes grown throughout California, yet he stuck close to his Windsor home for this crowd-pleasing, succulent blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s vibrant and juicy, with supple tannins and a wealth of black cherry and dark-plum fruit. Deep and delicious to drink now and over the next five years.
AldenAlli 2017 Limerick Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($65) This is a beauty — as polished and pure as Zinfandel gets — with tangy boysenberry and black raspberry fruit, hits of anise and black pepper, and a vibrant juiciness that invites gulp after gulp. Shane Finley makes this wine for Dan Kosta and Alden Lagasse, already well-known for their brilliant Pinot Noirs. This Zin is something special.
Carlisle Winery 2018 Montafi Ranch Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($50) The 92-year-old Montafi Vineyard, planted to 89% Zinfandel and a mixed-black mélange of a dozen other varietals, is a Sonoma treasure. Carlisle owner/ winemaker Mike Officer, a proponent of preserving old vines, produced this blackberry- loaded wine, with accents of mint, savory sage, and licorice.
Enkidu “E” 2018 Sonoma Valley Old Vine Zinfandel ($25) VALUE The Houghland Vineyard, with an average vine age of more than 100 years, produced the Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, and Petite Sirah grapes for this fruity, juicy wine. Brambly raspberry, black cherry, and plum flavors are coated in dark chocolate and seasoned with fresh herbs; moderate tannins make for easy drinking now.
Hawley Wine 2018 Old Vine Sonoma County Zinfandel ($38) Bright and jazzy, this wine hits the palate with tangy raspberry, dark cherry, and boysenberry fruit, accented by blueberry, vanilla, white pepper, and sarsaparilla. This is the brisk, refreshing side of Zinfandel, doing double-duty as a pre-meal sipper and a pairing at the table.
Pedroncelli Winery 2018 Mother Clone Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($19) VALUE Slightly jammy and quite spicy, it offers ripe blackberry and black raspberry fruit and a pleasant savory note that ties it to grilled meats. Grafts from old vines to newer ones have kept the Pedroncelli Zin tradition going, and this bottling delivers a fine wine at a fine price.
Ridge Vineyards 2018 Pagani Ranch Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($40) Alicante Bouschet and Petite Sirah meld with Zinfandel in this classic representation of old-vine history in a bottle. Ridge has produced a Pagani Ranch wine since 1991. These family-farmed 100-year-old vines yield consistently high-quality fruit. Ridge’s Pagani Ranch is a Zin-based field blend that shows plum and cherry aromas, and complex mineral notes. Its full-bodied brambleberry fruit is backed by elegant tannins and a lingering finish.
St. Anne’s Crossing 2018 Rowe Vineyard Reserve Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($60) This wine has it all: brambly boysenberry and black cherry fruit, intense black spice, cola, plush tannins, and a lip-smacking, juicy finish.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards 2017 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($22) VALUE For a refreshing change of pace and price, this smooth, spicy wine can often be found in markets for less than the winery sticker price. It’s medium- bodied for everyday drinking and loaded with briary blackberry and rich cherry fruit, plus black pepper and warm baking spice.
Wilson of Dry Creek 2017 Sawyer Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($42) This wine is bold and mouth-coating, yet has a strong acid backbone and tannin structure. It’s layered and complex, with dark fruit flavors and great balance.
Cline Cellars 2018 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($20) VALUE The Cline family’s Diamond Pile Estate vineyards in the Petaluma Gap AVA produced this young, exuberant wine, which balances savory notes of black pepper, espresso, and olive tapenade with sweet, ripe blackberry, blueberry, and dark cherry fruit.
Jeff Cohn Cellars 2016 Misc Stuff Sonoma County ($45) The “stuff” is actually a “GSM” – a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre – and it packs a wallop, with sinfully rich dark cherry and berry fruit, complex waves of anise, espresso, dark chocolate, and fresh herbs, and mouth-coating texture. A wine for hedonists, it begs for service with barbecue.
Rockpile Vineyards 2017 Buffalo Hollow Rockpile Petite Sirah ($60) Here’s a big, brawny wine, as one would expect from Petite Sirah, yet there is plenty of jammy blueberry, blackberry, and black plum fruit to soften the sizeable tannins. With a crack of black pepper and hints of licorice and ground coffee beans, it offers complexity as well as muscularity.
Thirty-Seven Wines 2018 Paradise Vineyard Petaluma Gap Grenache ($26) Al and Lisa Brayton’s wines have shed their Sonoma Coast designation in favor of the more precise Petaluma Gap AVA labeling. Their energetic and floral Grenache, made by Shane Finley, is richly flavored, with juicy wild berry, pomegranate, and black raspberry fruit, supple texture and a bit of smoky oak on the finish.
Two Shepherds 2016 Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Grenache Noir ($32) Grenache can be bold and potent, delicate and nuanced, and everything in between. William Allen’s version is decidedly on the elegant side, pretty rather than powerful, and Pinot Noir-like, with charming red fruit, medium body, smooth tannins, and brilliant natural acidity.
Bedrock Wine Co. 2018 Bedrock Vineyard Sonoma Valley Heritage Red ($50) Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson tapped his old-vine Bedrock Vineyard for this crisp, crunchy blend of Zinfandel, Carignan, and Mataro. It has an earthy minerality, ripe black fruit, lashes of savory spice, and fine complexity.
Imagery Estate 2017 Sonoma County Tusca Brava Red ($56) This is Sonoma’s version of a “Super Tuscan” wine from Italy, a mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. The Sangiovese shows itself in pert acidity, brilliant red cherry and berry fruit and dried herbs; the remaining grapes contribute palate depth, tannins, dark berry, and cherry flavors, and a semisweet chocolate note adds interest. Be brave.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards 2018 Sonoma Coast Sangiovese ($28) Jacuzzi and its sister Sonoma winery Cline Cellars get great results from their estate vineyards in the Petaluma Gap AVA of the Sonoma Coast region. There is a solid acidity in this medium-bodied wine, with red cherry and berry flavors and subtle shadings of dried oregano and tomato leaf. It’s Chianti Classico, Sonoma style.
Kenwood Vineyards 2016 Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Red Wine Blend ($35) This unusual blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah works beautifully, creating a succulent wine brimming in dark cherry and red-berry aromas and flavors. The finish is long, spicy, and juicy.
Robledo Family Winery 2018 Seven Brothers Sonoma Valley Tempranillo ($45) This wine might be too easy to drink, with juicy blackberry, dark cherry, and plum aromas and flavors and hints of spice and leather. The texture is plush, the tannins round, and the finish long and satisfying.