Sonoma County


You know what they say about the miracle of turning water into wine? Well, Ron Rubin turned water into tea and tea into wine. Rubin, pictured below, ron-rubin-240x300went to work for his family’s wholesale wine and liquor business in Illinois in 1972, putting in 22 years managing distribution to 48 counties. In 1990, he started New Age Beverages, a company that was the master licensee for Clearly Canadian Sparkling Water in a 10-state area of the Southeast. Four years later, he sold the wholesale concern and bought The Republic of Tea, a young company based in Novato, Calif. The rest, as they say, is history, because you can find those distinctive cans of herbal, floral, black and green teas all across America — in tea bags and loose — to the tune of more than 200 products. Rubin studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis and in 2011 purchased the River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, in the Green Valley appellation of Russian River Valley. (In May, Rubin passed the reins of the company to his son Todd B. Rubin, now president of The Republic of Tea; Ron Rubin remains as executive chairman and Minister of Tea.) Hence, the two wines under review today. Winemaker for The Rubin Family of Wines is Joe Freeman. I’m sorry to say that what occurs today, as we pick up this series after quite a hiatus, is what often — too often — happens in tasting chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer: I like, even dote upon, the pinot noir and dislike the chardonnay. That’s the case here. These wines were samples for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Ron Rubin Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, went through a gentle oak regimen of eight months in small French barriques, only Rubin_RRV_Pinot_FACE15 percent of which were new barrels. The wine is composed of grapes from estate vineyards plus grapes from five other vineyards in Russian River Valley. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; scents of red currants and black cherries are permeated by gradually unfolding notes of cranberries and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood, briers and brambles and loam, all encompassed in an aura that feels deeply spiced and macerated yet fleet-footed, delicate and elegant. Super-satiny on the palate, this pinot noir displays surprising weight and texture for the finely-wrought nature of its bouquet; in fact, it’s saved from being sumptuous by a clean line of bright acidity and a fair amount of dusty tannic rigor, giving the wine a stones-and-bones structure upon which to drape delicious black cherry and plum flavors. The whole enterprise gains shading and darkness after some time in the glass, say, 30 minutes, lending an air of strangely graceful and somewhat enigmatic earthiness. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, grilled lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $25, a Remarkable Price for the quality, the depth and dimension.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I’m sorry that I cannot be as enthusiastic about the Ron Rubin Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, as I am about its pinot noir Rubin_RRV_Chard_FACEstablemate. Like its cousin, this chardonnay was produced from estate vineyards and a selection of other vineyards in the Russian River appellation. It underwent 66 percent barrel-fermentation, in 15 percent new French oak barrels, and also saw complete malolactic or secondary fermentation; the other 34 percent was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Somehow that combination did not make a balanced or integrated chardonnay. The color is pale gold; aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear, with hints of mango, clove and quince and high notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone, culminate in touches of jasmine and camellia; eminently attractive, yes, and so far so good, but a dried baking spice/spiced tea quality burgeons in the mouth and brings an element of stridency to a very dry, dense texture that feels hollowed out at mid-palate and leads to a grapefruit pith finish. 13.7 percent alcohol. Perhaps this imbalance will resolve itself in a year or two, but I wouldn’t take the risk, even at the price of $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Trione family, third generation grape-growers in Sonoma County, launched their eponymous winery in 2005. The family cultivates vines in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations, producing a broad range of fairly individually Trione-2011-Red-Wine-Henrys-Blendstyled wines. Winemaker is Scot Covington. Today’s Wine of the Day is the Trione Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2011, Alexander Valley. This is not an inexpensive wine, and it pushes above the limit I try to set for the Wine of the Day — not that this series is a vehicle for cheapness — but I wanted to feature something from a small family-owned and -operated estate. Henry’s Blend 2011 is a combination of 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each petit verdot and cabernet franc and five percent malbec, touching what we think of as the five classic Bordeaux red grape varieties, though in truth malbec plays little role in Bordeaux nowadays, its plantings having declined radically since the 1950s. The wine aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40 percent new. The color is an entrancing deep ruby-purple with a vivid violet-hued rim; vivid also are the scents of iodine, cedar and graphite, cloves and black pepper, all permeated by notes of quite ripe, spicy and fleshy black currants, raspberries and blueberries. This is a dry, dark and rooty wine, with layers of loam and granitic minerality, dusty and velvety tannins and the suggestion of oaken suavity and suppleness seamlessly animated by bright acidity; fruit is not forgotten, though, all those previous elements serving to bolster vital and tasty currant and plum flavors infused with lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Quite a performance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to 2022 with hearty, meaty fare. Production was 1,730 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $54.

A sample for review.

When I was first learning about wine and tasting more wine and taking notes — back in early 1980s — Pedroncelli was a name I often saw in the local liquor stores, along with other venerable family-owned labels like Parducci, Sebastiani, Louis M. Martini, Concannon, Mirassou and Fetzer. Pedroncelli survived since 1927 by never wavering from its mission of producing well-made, though rarely ped sbexciting, wines sold at reasonable prices. I’m pretty excited, however, about the Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley. I have been tasting lots of sauvignon blancs recently, or sauvignon blanc-based wines in the case of Bordeaux, and I will be composing posts about the different regions soon. I couldn’t resist, though, making this one a Wine of the Day. Made completely in stainless steel and not allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, the Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, practically shimmers in the glass in its pert, tart and sassy character. The color is very pale gold, and the aromas of lime peel, spiced pear and lemongrass, just touched with mango and honeysuckle, fig and pink grapefruit, are intensely beguiling. Deep and crisp and even as the famous snow of the Balkans, this sauvignon blanc is quite dry but features a lovely almost powdery texture that delivers a piercing sense of tension and resolution among supple vibrancy, tangy limestone/chalk minerality and a bracing saline/savory nature. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 as an appealing aperitif or with spice-rubbed salmon and swordfish and grilled shrimp. Excellent. About $15, a Raving Great Value.

A sample for review.

A sort of milestone, I suppose, the 50th post in a series, and on this momentous occasion I offer for your delectation and edification the Amici Cellars Pinot Noir 2013, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, a trove of fine pinot noir and chardonnay if they’re not messed about with excessively in the winery. This one was not. Winemaker for these friends is Joel Aiken, who spend almost 30 years as winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and now has his own brand as well as making the wines for Amici. The Amici Pinot Noir 2013 has the deft touch of a veteran all over it. The wine, which is “cellared” rather than “produced,” derives from a number of vineyards in Russian River Valley — in other words, very simply put, it’s not an estate wine — and aged 12 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; an enticing bouquet of black and red cherries and raspberries is suffused with subtle notes of cloves and sandalwood, blueberries and rhubarb and a tantalizing hint of cocoa powder. This pinot noir is super satiny and supple on the palate, mixing ripe, spicy and moderately juicy black and red berry flavors with undertones of loam, briers and brambles and a touch of heather. While moving through the mouth with sensual allure, this pinot noir is neither opulent or obvious, letting its energy — propelled by brisk acidity and slightly dusty tannins — dictate a more delicate, elegant and nuanced approach. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,650 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, seared magret of duck or a veal chop grilled with rosemary. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

In making the Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, the Wine of the Day, I don’t mean that you should rush right out and buy a case or even a bottle, because the production was very limited. I know, that’s not fair. On the other hand, I don’t mind using this venue or series of posts to inform My Readers of the wines that are out there in the world and available with a telephone call or a visit to a website. The family has owned Heintz Ranch, atop the second ridge back from the Pacific Ocean, since 1912. Charles Heintz is in charge now, growing chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes that he sells to a handful of highly regarded producers, reserving some for his own wines, usually fewer than 1,000 cases annually. Consulting winemaker since 2012 has been Hugh Chappelle, winemaker at Quivira and former winemaker at Flowers Vineyard and Winery. The Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013 was made from grapes grown on 42-year-old dry-farmed vines; it’s the first stainless steel-fermented chardonnay produced at Heintz, and it reveals the delightful, fresh and engaging qualities that such a wine can possess, while offering, in this instance, plenty of depth and dimension. After fermentation, the wine undergoes 11 months of aging in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The color is pale-straw-gold with a glint of leaf-green at the center; the entry is incredibly clean and attractive, with notes of spiced pear, green apple and lime peel; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of pineapple and grapefruit, a hint of almond blossom and a slight edge of limestone. Propelled by purposeful acidity and scintillating flint and limestone minerality, the wine nonetheless flows gently and brightly on the palate, its citrus and stone-fruit flavors (deepened by hints of ginger and quince) enhanced by a lively yet supple texture lent subtlety and sleekness by the deft wood influence; this is a chardonnay that illustrates what I frequently say about the relationship between wood and wine: “Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible.” 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 50 cases. Excellent. About $44.

A sample for review.

We had been drinking lots of white wines and rose wines, and finally LL said, “I need something red!” So with medium-rare cheeseburgers from Belmont Cafe — cheddar for LL, Swiss for me — I opened the Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, and found a cabernet made exactly the way that I want a cabernet to be made. Stonestreet was launched when Jess Jackson, founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson, acquired the Zellerbach winery and vineyards in Chalk Hill in 1989. This became the prestige label for K-J and was a part of what was called the Artisan and Estates division of Jackson’s growing empire. Between May 1996 and May 1999, for my newspaper column, I reviewed the Stonestreet Chardonnay 1994 and ’95, the Pinot Noir 1994, the Pinnacle Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1995, the Merlot 1994, ’95 and ’96, the Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and ’96, the flagship Legacy 1994, the Sauvignon Blanc 1997 and, oddly, a Gewurztraminer 1997. Many changes have come upon Stonestreet since that period. The winery and estate now occupy 5,100 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, ranging from 400 to 2,400 feet up the western flank of the Mayacamas Range. Nine hundred acres are planted in grapes divided into 235 individual vineyard blocks. Winemaker is Lisa Valtenbergs; vineyard manager is Gabriel Valencia. The focus is on chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.

The Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is 100 percent varietal; it aged 16 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a magenta-violet rim. The immediate impression is of tremendous vitality and vigor, as aromas of cedar and thyme, graphite and lavender, hints of black olive, green peppercorns and bell pepper seethe in the glass, opening to notes of ripe but spare black currants, cherries and blueberries; there are undertones of black tea, iodine, tapenade and flint. I love how on the palate this cabernet reveals stones and bones through its potent and seductive ferrous and sanguinary nature, its wash of roots and branches and underbrush, its granitic aplomb. Give this wine 30 or 40 minutes and it calls up an extraordinary core of violets, black licorice, pomegranate, potpourri and sandalwood, all anchored in sleek, lithe dusty tannins and bright propulsive acidity. Those tannins, and the wine’s granite-backed mineral character, dominate the finish, which grows a bit austere but never astringent or undernourished. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with such suitable fare as grilled steaks, pork chops, barbecue ribs — or hamburgers. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

A blend of grapes from four vineyards and a plethora of classic clones, the Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, offers a medium ruby color that shades into ethereal transparency at the rim; first come smoke and loam, then an earthy briery-brambly quality, followed by touches of black cherry, cranberry and a hint of pomegranate seemingly macerated with cloves and sandalwood, mulberry and rhubarb; yes, that’s quite a sumptuous panoply of effects. The wine is dense and super satiny on the palate, a pretty wine with pockets of darkness and something sleek, polished and intricate that reminded me of the line from Keats’ sonnet “To Sleep”: “turn the key deftly in the oiled wards.” Not that this pinot noir feels too carefully made — winemaker is Mike Sullivan — because it concludes on a highly individual and feral note of wild berries, new leather, fresh linen and finely-milled tannins, all propelled by bright acidity. Alcohol content is 14.1 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted chicken, seared duck breast, lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Oh, what the hell, let’s have a bottle of sparkling wine! Surely you can come up with something to celebrate. Or not. I would just as soon drink Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine for any purpose, any whim, any occasion, even if it’s merely standing around the kitchen preparing dinner. For our category of sparkling wine today, then, I choose the Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, a non-vintage blend of primarily chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with a dollop of pinot noir, the sources being the Carneros regions in Sonoma County (58 percent) and Napa County (42 percent). The wine rested sur lie — on the residue of dead yeast cells — five years in the bottle after the second fermentation that produces the essential effervescence. The color is an entrancing medium copper-salmon hue riven by an upward-surging torrent of glinting silver bubbles. Notes of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry unfold to hints of lime peel, quince and ginger, with, always in the background, touches of limestone, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and orange marmalade; think of the tension and balance between the subtle sweet fruitiness and bitterness of the latter. On the palate, this sparkling wine works with delicacy and elegance to plow a furrow of juicy red berry and citrus flavors — with a bit of pomegranate — into a foundation of slate and limestone minerality and lively acidity for a crisp, dynamic texture and long spicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

Here’s a beautiful rosé wine that you’ll have to make a little effort to find, because it was produced in a limited quantity. The Joon Coryelle
Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast, was made by Michael Lancaster at the Tin Barn winery. The grapes derived from the six-acre vineyard — lying at an elevation of 1,000 feet — owned and managed by Carolyn Coryelle. Made all in stainless steel, the wine delivers an entrancing smoky topaz-salmon skin hue that glows like a platonic Summer sunset. Aromas of pomegranate, macerated strawberries and orange rind have a slightly candied effect, while a bracing background of pink grapefruit and lime peel contribute notable zest and character. Unusually dense and satiny for a rosé, the wine, with its flavors of red currants and dried raspberries, nonetheless is animated by brisk acidity and a limestone-like mineral element that burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish, where clean touches of thyme, lavender and loam add depth. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 158 cases. A rosé substantial enough to serve as a table-wine and picnic libation. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.

For a guy who doesn’t much cotton to chardonnay wines, I have probably been paradoxical in my inclusion of chardonnays in this “Wine of the Day” series, now at its 22nd entry. I won’t bother to extemporize upon the manifold ways in which I think chardonnay wines can be over-done, over-blown, exaggerated and over-oaked; I have done that more than a sufficient numbers of times on this blog. I will say, however, that when I try a chardonnay that seems to touch on all the points of perfection that I will clasp it to my heart as not only an exemplar but a talisman, and I will shout its virtues from the roof-tops. Such a one is the Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine was made by Richard Arrowood, and if ever a winemaker in California deserved the accolade “legendary,” he is certainly at the top of that brief list. Joseph Belli’s certified organic vineyard lies at the extreme western edge of the Russian River AVA in Sonoma County, where the land begins to slope gently upward. Facing east, the terraced and well-drained acreage receives full sunlight in the morning and early afternoon but is shielded by the hills from the harsh light of late afternoon. The color is pale gold with a faint green cast; the entire impression is of a chardonnay that is clean, pure and fresh, balanced yet forward, fervent, almost emphatic in its intensity; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are layered with hints of cloves, yellow plums, baked pear and undertones of ginger, quince and damp limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of jasmine and lilac. The wine flows on the palate with sleekness and subtlety, in a texture almost talc-like in its packed nature yet riven by resonant acidity and a brisk chalk-and-flint mineral quality; though quite dry, it offers juicy, spicy and engaging citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lead to a finish finely-sifted with fruit, acid, oak and minerals. The wine went through barrel-fermentation and aged 11 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels; its presence is apparent as a shaping element, and its tangible influence emerges primarily through the elegance but powerful finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 475 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Next Page »