Seghesio Family Vineyards made the list with their 2017 Sonoma County Zinfandel. (Courtesy photo)
Could there possibly be a wine region in the world that offers more quality, diversity, affordability, and pure drinking pleasure than Sonoma County?
With its viticultural riches, agreeable climate during the growing season, and makers committed to excellence, Sonoma stands tall among the planet’s wine-producing elite. That makes choosing the finest wines of the year from thousands of candidates an excruciatingly difficult — and delicious — task.
Our list of the Top 100 wines of 2019 includes expensive bottles as well as many great deals. But value is relative. Like art, antiques, 11-course dinners, and Warriors playoff tickets, wines are worth what the market is willing to pay. It’s hard to feel sticker shock about a $70 Sonoma Pinot Noir when a Burgundy of equal quality costs three times that much. And top-tier Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons sell for $250 or more, so by comparison, Sonoma’s finest are true bargains. That calls for an end-of-year toast to a fabulously diverse wine region that produces something for everyone, across all price levels.
Healdsburg-based wine critic Linda Murphy selected the Top 100 Wines of 2019 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 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge.
A former managing editor of Sonoma Magazine, Murphy writes the LikeWine feature in each issue, was the founding editor of the San Francisco Chronicle wine section (earning two James Beard Awards), and contributes to The Press Democrat, jancisrobinson.com, and Decanter magazine, among other publications. She’s evaluated Sonoma wines for 30 years in a professional capacity but 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. This philosophy is reflected in our Top 100 Wines choices. Something for everyone.
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 2019, and some may no longer be available at time of publication. Fine wines sell fast, so if you can’t find a particular Top 100 wine, contact the producers.
They just might have a few extra bottles on hand or can direct you to retailers and restaurants that have the wine in stock.
And while this option isn’t for everyone, consider joining the wine clubs of wineries that appear on our Top 100 list every year. Their wines are consistently good, and in most cases great — and club members get first crack at purchasing them, often at discounts.
Flaunt Wine Co.NV Brut Sonoma County Sparkling Wine $48 This is Dianna Novy Lee’s personal project, following the sale of the Siduri Wines brand she founded with her husband, Adam Lee (now owned by Jackson Family Wines). Flaunt, an elegant blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, offers crisp green apple and citrus flavors enhanced by hints of brioche, almond skin, and toast.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards NV Carneros Blanc de Noirs $22 This moderately rich yet also racy wine scored 99 points and was voted best of class at the 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge (NCWC). It’s predominantly Pinot Noir with a splash of Chardonnay, and while its delicate pink color suggests a delicate wine, under that lacy veil lurks vibrant red berry, cherry, and strawberry aromas and flavors, and a gentle creaminess in the mid-palate. The finish is pert and persistent, the value excellent.
Inman Family Wines 2016 OGV Estate Russian River Valley Brut Rosé $68 Kathleen and Simon Inman’s OGV vineyard at the intersection of Piner and Olivet roads is the sole source for this fine, focused, 100% Pinot Noir sparkler. Delicate yeastiness and a hint of vanilla add interest to the crisp raspberry, citrus, and clementine personality.
Iron Horse Vineyards 2014 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Classic Vintage Brut $45 Vintage after vintage, Iron Horse’s flagship wine shines at an attractive price for refined fizz. The aroma is of fresh-baked bread, green apple, and citrus. The palate is compact and dry, with firm structure, tiny bubbles, and hints of Meyer lemon and Asian pear. It’s elegance in a glass, as Champagne-like as California sparkling wine can be, yet with sunny Sonoma fruit.
Kokomo Winery 2014 Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Blanc de Blancs $58 Grower and winery partner Randy Peters’ Chardonnay grapes from the cool Sonoma coast are the foundation of this wine. It spent some time in neutral oak barrels as a still wine and was fermented and aged on the spent yeast cells for two years. As a result, notes of brioche and hazelnut complement the Meyer lemon and white peach fruit, embraced by nervy acidity.
Longboard Vineyards NV Russian River Valley Brut Rosé $50 Fizz runs through the veins of Longboard owner and winemaker Oded Shakked. A former sparkling winemaker for J. Vineyards & Winery, he sells three bubblies at his Healdsburg cellar. This one is gorgeous in its strawberry color and fresh-fruit flavors. Fermentation of the grapes in neutral oak barrels help soften the crunchy natural acidity, and aging on the yeast cells add complexity and toasty mouthfeel.
Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2014 Russian River Valley Winemaker’s Release Grand Cuvée $43 Vine Hill Ranch Chardonnay (60%) and Owsley Vineyard Pinot Noir meld beautifully in this dry, four-year-aged sparkler with Champagne structure and sunny green apple and citrus flavor. Accents of brioche, yeast, and macadamia nut add complexity to Sonoma-Cutrer’s first sparkling wine.
Aperture Cellars 2018 Dry Stack Vineyard Bennett Valley Barrel-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc $40 On Old Redwood Highway south of Healdsburg, Jesse Katz is developing a winery and visitor center on land he purchased from the Ponzo family in 2016. Zinfandel was planted there in 1912, and it remains today alongside new plantings of Bordeaux red grapes. Yet when it comes to white Bordeaux — Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon — Katz looks to the cooler Bennett Valley east of Santa Rosa. This full-flavored, barrel-fermented wine delivers waves of green-flesh melon, white peach, and citrus, finishing with spice and tension.
Belden Barns 2018 Sonoma Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc $28 At once bold and crisp, this unfiltered wine from Nate and Lauren Belden is luscious and exotic, with white peach, ruby grapefruit, pineapple, and lemon-zest character. It finishes with lingering flavors and mouthwatering acidity.
Davis Bynum 2018 Virginia’s Block Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc $25 Gentle fresh-herb and freshgrass notes add interest to the succulent kiwi fruit, lime, and tropical flavors. Winemaker Greg Morthole aged approximately 60% of the wine in neutral oak and acacia barrels, which enhanced the mouthfeel without interfering with the wine’s vibrancy.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc $20 Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Gris join traditional Sauvignon Blanc grapes in this full-flavored wine with lemon- lime, tropical fruit, nectarine, and honeydew-melon aromas and flavors. A small portion of the wine was aged in chestnut, acacia, and French oak barrels, slightly softening the natural acidity of the grapes while adding a layer of complexity.
Geyser Peak Winery 2018 Winemaker Selection Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc $24 Styled very much like a Marlborough, New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc, this wine has energetic acidity and vibrant grapefruit, passion fruit, fresh-cut grass, and lime aromas and flavors. A bit of Gewürztraminer adds floral and spice notes. Best of show white-wine winner at NCWC.
MacLeod Family Vineyards 2018 Indian Springs Ranch Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc $24 The MacLeod family’s Kenwood ranch delivers a crisp, classy Sauvignon Blanc year after year. The 2018 bottling is loaded with lemon, lime, white peach, and honeydew melon goodness, finishing long and juicy.
Saini Vineyards 2018 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc $23 Inviting aromas of jasmine, lemon verbena, and fresh-cut grass lead to a crisp palate of lemon-lime, grapefruit, and honeydew melon. It’s the sort of balanced, vibrant wine that works beautifully as a sipper and as a mate for shellfish, grilled fish, and roast chicken.
Ferrari-Carano 2017 Sonoma County Chardonnay $23 Bargain alert. This Dry Creek Valley winery does great things with its reserve, site-specific, and mountain-grown wines, yet this county-appellation Chardonnay stands out as a wonder for its price (typically discounted at chain stores). A full-bodied yet elegant wine, it charms with aromas and flavors of citrus, pear, white peach, apple, graham cracker, and vanilla.
Flanagan Wines 2016 Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay $68 This is a textural wonder, made from grapes grown in Kent Ritchie’s vineyard, where plantings date to the early 1970s. The wine is elegant, multilayered, and mouth-filling in a beautifully subtle way, with green apple and Asian pear aromas and flavors enhanced by subtle oak spice. The crisp finish goes on and on.
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2016 Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay $45 The Pellegrini family planted this vineyard in 1976 on a benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, and the grapes have been highly prized ever since. Gary Farrell winemaker Theresa Heredia’s version of Olivet Lane Chardonnay is crisp and complex, with nuances of apple, tangerine, curd, and brioche. It’s medium- full-bodied and gently oaked, and has a long, satisfying finish.
Hartford Family Wines 2016 Three Jacks Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay $65 Here is a Chardonnay that has both power and purity. It’s full-bodied and rich, with peach, Meyer lemon, guava, and fresh-baked bread character, and a thread of minerality running from the aroma through the finish.
LaRue Wines 2017 Charles Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $60 Katy Wilson is a noted winemaking consultant and taps some of her favorite vineyards for her own brand, named for her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell. From the Heintz Vineyard, located east of Occidental, Wilson achieved a fruit-filled, flavorful wine at just 12.5% alcohol. Striking minerality and acidity plump the Meyer lemon and green apple flavors.
MacRostie 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $25 Multiple vineyards, including Sangiacomo, Dutton Ranch, and Steve MacRostie’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, combine in an exceptional wine for the price and vineyard pedigree. A mélange of lemon meringue pie, pineapple, blood orange, and baked apple is supported by caramel and spice notes from oak aging.
Ramey Wine Cellars 2016 Westside Farms Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay $65 Chardonnay master David Ramey and his wife, Carla, own just one vineyard and this is it: Westside Farms on Healdsburg’s Westside Road. This wine offers generous aromas and flavors of pear, Fuji apple, and citrus, plus a touch of flint. Oak fermentation and aging add spice and mouth-filling texture to this complex wine.
Sangiacomo Family Wines 2017 Home Ranch Carneros Chardonnay $65 The Sangiacomo family has farmed in Sonoma for more than 50 years, custom-grooming their vineyards for winery clients. Beginning in 2016, the Sangiacomos began producing their own wines — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon — with James MacPhail as their winemaker. This wine is representative of their style: vibrant citrus and green apple character, judicious use of oak as a seasoning to build texture, and palate-cleansing acidity.
Sojourn 2017 Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $48 This is a rich, juicy wine, powerful yet pure, with poached pear, pineapple, white peach, and citrus aromas and flavors. Fruit from Durell, an iconic Sonoma vineyard, is sold to several producers. At Sojourn, those grapes become a crowd-pleasing wine with toasty oak on the lingering finish.
Thirty-Seven Wines 2016 Sonoma Coast Reserve Chardonnay $36 This wine scored a whopping 98 points and was voted best of class at NCWC. There is some toasty oak on the aroma and finish, which brackets the scintillating lemon curd, green melon, and Granny Smith fruit. Brisk more than luscious, it’s a mouthwatering rendition of coastal Chardonnay.
Three Sticks 2017 Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $55 Three Sticks proprietor Bill Price purchased Durell Vineyard 20 years ago and takes grapes from the oldest blocks in the site, in the hills above Sonoma Valley, for his Chardonnay. Full-bodied and remarkably complex, it delivers a mouthful of green apple, Asian pear, white peach, and citrus flavors, finishing with a hint of oak and juicy acidity.
Trombetta Family Wines 2017 Gap’s Crown Petaluma Gap Chardonnay $60 Winemaker Erica Stancliff and her parents, Rickey and Roger Stancliff, are among the new rock stars in Sonoma winemaking — as evidenced by this exceptional Chardonnay, which combines vibrant lemon curd and tropical fruit with light-handed oak influence and sturdy structure. Delicious now, it’s also worthy of cellaring.
Barber Cellars 2018 Rougissant Keller Estate Petaluma Gap Pinot Gris $26 Alsatian in style, this wine is invitingly aromatic, with acacia blossom, lemon, and mandarinorange scents. The palate is dry, nog sweet, with crisp pear and white peach flavors, and a hint of honey on the racy finish.
Cline Cellars 2018 Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Gris $15 Spicy and fruity, this is a fun quaffer, particularly for its price. Light amber in color (typical of the varietal) and florally aromatic, it gushes with clementine, grapefruit, and green apple flavors, and finishes with a hint of honey and brisk acidity.
Comstock Wines 2017 Russian River Valley Viognier $42 Winemaker Chris Russi has a deft hand with Viognier, and it shows in this pretty wine with inviting honeysuckle aromas and juicy pear and white-peach flavors — and without the alcohol heat of some Viogniers. It’s both rich and refreshing, with wonderful balance and a lingering finish.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2018 Estate Carneros Pinot Blanc $25 Among the bold, generously flavored white wines in the sweepstakes round at NCWC, this Alsatian varietal stood out for its delicate balance, medium-light body, and spiced apple, Asian pear, and citrus zest palate. It’s incredibly crisp, refreshing, and a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.
J. Rickards Winery 2018 Salem Ranch Dry Creek Valley Viognier $28 This NCWC best-of-class winner was partially fermented in neutral oak, adding texture and body, without any toastiness to mask the honeysuckle and white-blossom aromas. Bright pear, apple, and white peach are the palate stars, with citrus notes on the clean finish.
Gundlach Bundschu 2018 Sonoma Valley Gewürztraminer $27 This exotic wine is a perennial on the Top 100 list, and one of the finest Gewürztraminers made in California. From the rose petal, ginger, and lychee aromas to the juicy mouthful of pear, apple, and citrus flavors, it has a sense of sweetness from the ripe fruit, yet is remarkably dry and crisp.
Leo Steen2018 Saini Farms Dry Creek Valley Chenin Blanc $18 It took a Danish native, Leo Steen Hansen, to find one of the few plantings of premium Chenin Blanc in Northern California and bring it to glory in the bottle. The white flower and white pepper aromas and sunny peach, pear, and citrus flavors come from vines planted 40 years ago. The finish offers mouthwatering acidity and a hint of minerality.
Peterson Winery2017 Bradford Mountain Estate Dry Creek Valley 3V White Wine Blend $28 The three Vs — Vermentino, Vernaccia, and Verdelho – combine in this lip-smacking wine. Crunchy apple, pear, and citrus dominate the palate, with background notes of pineapple, guava, and green apple. Proprietor Fred Peterson is known largely for his red wines, yet this brilliant white is a winner.
Ram’s Gate Winery 2018 Carneros Estate Pinot Blanc $38 Joe Nielsen, formerly of Donelan Family Wines, joined Ram’s Gate in summer 2018 as director of winemaking. Right out of the gate, he released this crisp, floral, and textured white wine. Aged in a mix of stainless steel and neutral oak, it has laser-like acidity supporting the complex lemon, lime, peach, and grapefruit palate.
Thirty-Seven Wines 2017 Sonoma Coast Albarino $22 Al and Lisa Brayton own a vineyard on Highway 37. Winemaker Shane Finley produced this tangy, slightly mineral, medium-bodied wine that brims with peach, apricot, and cantaloupe flavor. Crackling acidity refreshes after each sip. A true crowd-pleaser.
Balletto 2018 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir $20 Winemaker Anthony Beckman says rosé should be fun to drink, and this one is. With its eye-catching salmon color, aromas and flavors of just-picked strawberry and watermelon, and mouth-cleansing acidity, what’s not to like? Simply delicious.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2018 Alexander Valley Dry Rosé of Sangiovese $16 AVV was well ahead of the rosé surge, first making this wine in 2006 from the Italian variety Sangiovese. Affable and very affordable, it’s lush in watermelon, raspberry, and nectarine fruit, with a snappy, spicy finish.
Dutton-Goldfield 2018 Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir $30 Whole clusters of Pinot Noir were crushed by foot to gently extract the juice and retain vivid rose petal and red-fruit aromas. After fermentation, the resulting wine has a tangy quality, with pure red raspberry, Queen Anne cherry, and wild strawberry personality.
Imagery Estate Winery 2018 Serres Ranch Sonoma Valley Aleatico Rosé $27 Here’s something different in pink wine: A rose-petal-scented, spicy, red-cherry-inflected dry rosé made from the Italian red grape Aleatico. Winemaker Jamie Benziger has taken the winemaking reins from her father, Joe, and here she’s replicated a classic central-Italy Aleatico wine.
Inman Family Wines 2018 Russian River Valley Endless Crush Pratt Vine Hill Vineyard Rosé $38 One of Kathleen Inman’s three still Pinot Noir rosés from 2018, this one offers juicy watermelon, cherry aromas, and a flavorful yet elegant palate of crisp berry, cherry, red melon, and white-peach flavors. There is a minerally edge to this mouthwatering, classy wine.
J. Rickards Winery 2018 Alexander Valley Ava Rae Rosé of Grenache $26 This delicate-pink wine won the best of show rosé award (98 points) at NCWC. Some rosés try too hard to be fruity and rich, but this one more closely resembles the wines of Provence: dry and crisp. Named for winemaker Blaine Brazil’s daughter, it offers notes of watermelon, dried cherry, and wild strawberry, and an energetic finish.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2018 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir $25 Pretty, tangy, and tasty. That’s shorthand for this dry blush wine with watermelon, strawberry, and blood orange personality. It is juicy and crisp, ideal with lighter-bodied dishes — and with the mashup of a Thanksgiving feast.
The Grenachista 2018 Sonoma Valley Rosé of Grenache Noir $24 Peter Mathis’ vineyard in Sonoma Valley contributed the grapes to this wine, which has zippy acidity, bright red fruit, and an intriguing herbs-de-Provence edge. Winemaker Casey Graybehl goes by the name the Grenachista and produces several different bottlings.
Three Sticks Wines 2018 Sonoma Coast Casteñada Limited Release Rosé $40 Medium-bodied and the color of a just-sliced watermelon, this 14% alcohol, bold Rhône-style blend of Syrah, Grenache, and other grapes delivers bright strawberry, raspberry, blood orange, and cherry liqueur flavors, and finishes tangy and refreshing.
Anthill Farms Winery 2016 Harmony Lane Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $50 Mates David Low, Anthony Filiberti, and Web Marquez are behind this small-production brand, focused on single-vineyard bottlings. They sourced the 3-acre Harmony Lane Vineyard, between Occidental and Graton, for this wine, which is floral in aroma and crisp on the palate. Vibrant red and black cherry, gentle oak spice, and suave tannins make for a gorgeous Pinot.
Balletto Vineyards 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $30 Bright and lively, this wine has aromas and flavors of violets, Asian spice, red cherry, raspberry, and cola. Generously flavored yet fresh — and at just 13.9% alcohol — it’s a medium-bodied, solid expression of Russian River Valley Pinot, at an easy-to-swallow price in a super-competitive field.
Benovia Winery 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $45 This producer’s Cohn Vineyard, La Pommeraie, and Tilton Hill Pinot Noirs are exceptional. And pricey ($75). And difficult to acquire, if you’re not a wine club member. For a taste of Benovia at a lower price and with a greater chance for finding it, check out this Russian River Valley blend. It delivers concentrated blackberry and red plum flavors, spice, crisp acidity, and a mouthful of pleasure.
Cartograph Wines 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $48 Alan Baker and Serena Lourie are the couple behind Cartograph, a passion project they started after careers in other fields. They own one Russian River Valley vineyard and purchase from others, including sites in Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. Their Russian River Valley bottling is the star of the vintage, sporting lovely cherry and raspberry fruit, vivid Asian spice and savory herbs and cola. Textbook RRV Pinot Noir.
DeLoach Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley OFS Pinot Noir $40 Here’s a wine that delivers everything a lover of Sonoma Pinot Noir could want: Mouth-filling cherry, raspberry, and black currant fruit, Asian spice, supple tannins, and a vibrantly clean finish.
Dutton-Goldfield 2016 Emerald Ridge Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $68 This seductive and remarkably fresh-tasting wine (13.5% alcohol) has supple tannins caressing the buoyant boysenberry, dark cherry, black raspberry, and baking-spice flavors. It’s a yin-yang contrast of savory aromas, juicy fruit flavors, and brisk acidity — a triumphant example of Sonoma County Pinot.
Emeritus Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir $44 Emeritus founder Brice Cutrer Jones (he also started Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards) brought in his daughter, Mari Jones, as partner and COO and hired winemaker Dave Lattin, formerly of Kuleto Estate. The pairing is simpatico 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.
Fulcrum Wines 2017 Carneros Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir $63 David Rossi commutes from New York to Sonoma multiple times a year to fulfill his desire to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. No absentee owner, Rossi makes the wines himself in Sonoma and has a tasting room downtown. This wine shows the dark-fruit side of Pinot (boysenberry and black cherry). It’s lush and spicy, with a long, rewarding finish.
Jacklyn Renee Wines 2016 Bacigalupi Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $54 Here is a winemaker to watch: Jackie van Sant Downes, a Texas transplant whose day job is assistant winemaker at Comstock Wines in Healdsburg. In her spare time, she produces Pinot and Chardonnay for her own label, and this effort is sleek and polished, with vibrant cherry, pomegranate, cranberry, and cola character.
J. Bucher Wines 2017 Russian River Valley Bucher Vineyard Pommard Clone Pinot Noir $55 Voluptuous and mouth-filling, this bold wine will win over a legion of fans for its bright, juicy red fruit and rewarding texture. Beyond its instant approachability, it’s a serious wine with the tannic and acid structure to age beautifully for another five years or more.
J. Cage Cellars 2017 Petaluma Gap El Coro Vineyard Pinot Noir $49 Roger and Donna Beery and their kids left Texas and Colorado behind to make wine in Healdsburg. Pinot Noir was their major attraction to Sonoma; without vineyards of their own, they purchased grapes and hit the jackpot with Pinot from Keller Estate. This wine has wonderful structure, juicy ripe cherry/berry fruit, low-profile oak, and snappy spice. Delicious.
Keller Estate Winery 2016 Petaluma Gap El Coro Vineyard Pinot Noir $55 El Coro (the chorus) is Keller Estate’s Pinot Noir vineyard, located east of Petaluma and in the recently established Petaluma Gap AVA. The 2016 is vivacious and aromatic, with forest floor and dried herbs accenting the nicely ripened red and black fruit. Supple and crisp at the same time.
Papapietro Perry Winery 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $55 This Healdsburg winery produces several fine Pinot Noirs, including vineyard-designates, yet this multisite blend from the 2016 vintage is scintillating and succulent. Pomegranate and Bing cherry aromas and flavors stand out, as well as the keen balance of fruit, tannin, oak-derived texture, and lingering finish. It should please any Pinot crowd.
Tongue Dancer Wines 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $39 After selling his eponymous wine brand to Hess Collection in 2011, James MacPhail launched Tongue Dancer in 2013 with his wife, Kerry, at their Healdsburg winery. The Placido, Putnam, and van der Kamp vineyards are the sources for this charming wine with luscious red and black cherry flavors, hints of cola and toast, silky tannins, and a super-fresh finish.
RHÔNE- STYLE REDS
Anaba Wines 2016 Bismark Vineyard Moon Mountain District Syrah $48 There is a Pinot Noir-like silkiness to the texture of this wine, yet it’s certainly Syrah in aroma and flavor. It’s loaded with classic blackberry, blueberry, herbes de Provence, white pepper, and roasted-meat notes.
Benovia 2016 Sonoma Mountain Grenache $42 Widely known as a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producer, Benovia also flirts with Grenache and Zinfandel. Winemaker/partner Mike Sullivan grew up on Sonoma Mountain, and this wine comes from his family’s Four Brothers Vineyard there. It shows the polished side of Grenache, yet is layered and complex, with savory herbs and saddle leather notes accenting the bright red fruit.
Enkidu Wine 2017 Sonoma County E Cuvee JM $20 A best of class winner at NCWC, this wine delivers tremendous value. The “E” represents everyday- drinking wines at affordable prices, and this Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend fits the bill beautifully. Not nearly as powerful and rich as other wines on this list, it provides a refreshing counterpoint, with floral aromas and bright blueberry and dark cherry flavors.
Eric Kent Wine Cellars 2016 Las Madres Vineyard Carneros Syrah $44 Owners Kent Humphrey and Colleen Teitgen produce small lots of cool-climate-grown wines. This one has savory herbs and pepper sprinkled over the juicy blackberry and dark cherry fruit. It’s deep, concentrated, and built for aging in the cellar.
Flanagan Wines 2016 Bennett Valley Syrah $75 Fasten your seatbelts for this powerful, 15.5% alcohol wine that’s a mouthful of bold dark fruit. Typical of Rhône Valley Syrahs, it has accents of bacon fat, pepper, lavender, and dried herbs, and the acidity keeps it fresh-tasting.
Ledson Winery & Vineyards 2016 Sonoma Valley Estate Mes Trois Amours $48 Three of winery owner Steve Ledson’s vinous “loves” — Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre —comprise this southern Rhône-style blend. Luxurious mouthfeel, ripe dark cherry, plum flavors, and a spicy, peppery finish make it a complex and complete treat.
Leo Steen Wines 2017 Provisor Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Grenache $36 Leo Steen Hansen loves Grenache as much as he does Chenin Blanc. His devotion to the Rhône Valley red shows in this medium-fullbodied wine with juicy cherry and strawberry flavors and a vibrancy that can get lost in Grenache’s tendency to get overripe in the vineyard. It’s a crisp, juicy wine seasoned with white pepper and dried flowers.
Ridge Vineyards 2016 Lytton Estate Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah $40 Ridge’s Geyserville winery outpost is best known for Zinfandels, many of which have a splash of Petite Sirah in them. This 100 percent varietal wine deserves stand-alone status, for its savory character, well-mannered plum, blackberry, and blueberry fruit, and supple texture not often found in wines made from the notso- petite grape.
Rockpile Vineyards 2016 Buffalo Hollow Rockpile Petite Sirah $60 Named for a wood-carved buffalo that overlooks the vineyard, this best of class winner at NCWC is a big, brawny wine with voluptuously ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit and sturdy, earthy tannins. Hints of espresso and black pepper spice up the midpalate and finish.
Gundlach Bundschu 2015 Sonoma Valley Merlot $35 One of the pioneers of Sonoma Valley Merlot, GunBun continues its mastery of the grape with this understated wine. Medium- bodied and balanced, it has a dark-cherry base accented by licorice and raspberry liqueur. Supple but not soft tannins provide structure.
Kokomo Winery 2016 Pauline’s Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Merlot $38 The vineyard, across Dry Creek Road from the Kokomo winery, is farmed by Randy Peters. He was born on the property and named it after his late mother, Pauline. The wine is lush, spicy, and loaded with ripe plum and black cherry fruit. There’s enough tannic structure to keep it lively for five years or more.
La Storia by Trentadue 2016 Block 500 Alexander Valley Merlot $34 Merlot comprises 94% of this wine; the remainder is Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and unusually, Sangiovese and Syrah. No matter the mix, it’s a decadent wine with a dark-chocolate complement to juicy plum and black cherry fruit and suave tannins. A best of class selection at NCWC.
Medlock Ames 2015 Heritage Alexander Valley Merlot $60 Ames Morison, winemaker/partner at this Chalk Hill-area winery, produces wonderful Merlots every vintage. For the 2015, he blended in 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, which added tannic structure and body to Merlot’s juicy-plum profile. Delicious now, it also has the bones to improve with cellaring.
St. Francis Vineyards & Winery 2016 Sonoma Valley Reserve Merlot $40 Winery founder Joe Martin was one of the first to plant Merlot in Sonoma Valley. He died in 2015 , yet the legacy of making Merlot lives. Winemaker Chris Louton blended Malbec with Merlot in this generous wine, which delivers rich dark-fruit and espresso character, balanced by brisk acidity.
Sutro Wine Co.2016 Warnecke Ranch Alexander Valley Merlot $35 Alice and Eliot Sutro produce wines from her family’s Warnecke Ranch, and this Merlot is a marvel in moderation and pleasure. Bright acidity supports the plump red plum and cherry fruit, the tannins are polished, and the finish is refreshingly vibrant. Merlot haters, take note: Try this wine.
N Arbor Bench Vineyards 2016 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $48 Janet Hart has grown grapes in her Dry Creek Valley vineyard for more than three decades, and now produces her own wines from there. This full-bodied, dark-fruited Cab, which scored 96 points at NCWC, is rich yet refined, with silky tannins and a slight herbal shading for added interest.
Buena Vista Winery 2016 Sonoma County Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $75 Director of Winemaking Brian Maloney selected grapes grown throughout the county for this top-flight wine. It’s big-bodied and sumptuous, packed with black currant and plum fruit, dark chocolate, and dried-herb notes, and a refreshing finish.
Cannonball 2016 ELEVEN Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon $40 Healdsburg-based Cannonball’s flagship is a California-appellation Cabernet Sauvignon that has broad distribution and sells for around $15. Winemaker Ondine Chattan blended wine lots from the best barrels for this ultra-premium Cab, which offers rich dark cherry fruit and hints of chocolate, forest floor, and cedar. It’s a big-league effort.
Flambeaux Wine 2015 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $60 The Murray family, New Orleans natives, found a new home in Dry Creek Valley and named their wine brand after the Flambeaux torch bearers of Mardi Gras. Their Cabernet is firmly structured yet fleshy, with vibrant red cherry and boysenberry fruit inflected with dried herbs and cedar. Classic and classy, and with ideal ripeness and balance.
Garden Creek Vineyards 2012 Alexander Valley Tesserae $100 Owner/winemakers Karin and Justin Warnelius-Miller give their Cabernets three to four years more barrel and bottle aging than most California producers, believing the wines need time to settle and show their best stuff. This current-vintage 2012 is elegant and refined, Cabernet Sauvignondominant and blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Ready to drink now, it should remain fresh-tasting for another decade or so.
Legacy 2013 Alexander Valley Red Wine $100 From Jackson Family Wines, this Jess Jackson-inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot was grown on the company’s Jimtown and Alexander Mountain vineyards, at elevations of up to 2,400 feet. Although it’s not labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, it could be, with that variety comprising 87% of the blend. Layered and so seamless that no one characteristic sticks out from the others, its solid tannin and acid structure suggest cellar longevity.
Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $45 There’s a lot of wine here for the price, and it’s arguably the winery’s finest Reserve Cabernet ever. A relatively new addition to the blend is fruit from the mountainous Cooley Ranch north of Alexander Valley; astute matching of oak barrels to those intense grapes works beautifully. The wine is polished and structured, with succulent dark fruit and hints of fresh herbs and cocoa.
Sebastiani Vineyards 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $26 With a 96-point score at NCWC, this wine offers a ton of flavor for the buck. Concentrated, almost jammy red and black fruit is wrapped in velvety tannins and accented hints of fresh-turned earth (a positive trait for Cab), leafy herbs, and oak spice.
Simi Winery 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $26 Want an easy-drinking, easy-onthe- pocketbook Cab that’s still complex? Simi hits the mark with this 13.5% alcohol wine with a keen mix of juicy red and black fruit, vanillin oak, coffee bean, and cocoa elements. Mediumfull- bodied and lively.
deLorimier 2016 Alexander Valley Primitivo $30 Primitivo is genetically similar to Zinfandel, with DNA fingerprinting showing the grapes are clones of the Croatian variety Crljenak. Whatever its provenance, this wine has rich oak notes framing the juicy, brambly black raspberry fruit. The tannins are smooth, the finish long and spicy.
Papapietro Perry Winery 2016 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel $45 Winery staff casually refer to this wine as “zino,” because it has a Zinfandel aroma and flavor profile and the supple, mouthwatering personality of Pinot Noir. It’s a pretty rather than potent wine, with racy acidity, juicy red and black cherry fruit, and hints of brown spice, cocoa, and vanilla. Zin haters, give it a try.
Rockpile Vineyards 2016 Sonoma County Rockpile Ranch Reserve Zinfandel $72 This wine gave St. Francis Tres Viejos Zinfandel a run for its money at NCWC, scoring 97 points. Deep ruby in color, it features black fruit — blackberry and black plum — with caramel, Indian spice, brown sugar, and toasty oak notes. The finish is satiny and lingering, the structure solid.
St. Francis Winery 2016 Sonoma County Tres Viejos Old Vines Zinfandel $48 This wine hit the jackpot at NCWC, scoring 99 points, and winning best of show red wine and best wine of the competition. Winemaker Katie Madigan blended grapes from three heritage vineyards (“three old ones”), in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Valley. The result: a complete and polished wine with vibrant, brambly raspberry and dark cherry flavors, Asian spice, and a long finish.
Seghesio Family Vineyards 2017 Sonoma County Zinfandel $26 Seghesio produces myriad Zinfandels, across many sites and price points, yet this Sonoma County blend is the flagship, widely available and priced just right. It’s juicy and supple, with brambly raspberry and boysenberry fruit and hints of vanilla and cocoa. It goes down easy, thanks to its moderate (for Zinfandel) 14.8% alcohol.
Tom Mackey Cellars 2016 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel $30 Tom Mackey was the winemaker at St. Francis for 30 years, mentoring Katie Madigan, also a winner in this category, and co-winemaker Chris Louton. After retiring Mackey founded his own brand, with partner Clyde Galatine, focusing on red wines from Sonoma Valley. This one has wonderful acidity and tangy freshness accompanying the raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry aromas and flavors. Balanced and medium-bodied, it finishes with a hint of peppery spice.
Zialena Winery 2015 Alexander Valley Zinfandel $38 The winery is relatively new, yet the Mazzoni family has farmed in Alexander Valley for a century. Siblings Mike and Lisa Mazzoni own and operate Zialena, and their Zinfandels have been top-notch. The 2015 has an intense pepper quality, spicing up the rich dark cherry and raspberry fruit. Mouth-filling texture and a refreshing finish complete the complex package.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2017 Alexander Valley Homestead Red Blend $23 Value lovers should seek out this blend of red varieties grown on AVV’s estate. Longtime winemaker Kevin Hall selected Merlot to anchor the blend, adding Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to create a sum greater than its parts. It’s floral, juicy, and spicy, with good tannic grip. Drink up.
Aperture 2016 Alexander Valley Red Blend $55 This is a scintillating blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc from proprietor Jesse Katz. Aromas of violets and crushed rock are followed by vibrant, juicy flavors of dark cherry and boysenberry. The tannins are mature and supple, showing nary a hint of astringency, yet the structure is solid.
Arbor Bench Vineyards 2015 Dry Creek Valley Malbec $30 This best of class winner at NCWC has intense blackberry, blueberry, and spice cake aromas and flavors, plus traces of thyme, vanilla, and lavender. It’s an opulent style, balanced by palate-whisking acidity.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Dry Creek Valley Red Meritage $30 It’s not often that a Meritage wine at this price has so much poise and complexity. With a supple Merlot base, it’s ready to enjoy now yet will still develop over the next five years. Mocha, cola, dark cherry, and plum paint the palate; the tannins are mouth-coating yet with a proper bite, and the finish is long and cleansing.
Imagery Estate Winery 2016 Sonoma County Sangiovese $42 This version of Tuscan Chianti has the classic Old World red cherry, tomato leaf, and high acidity of Italian Sangiovese, but also a New World generosity of ripe fruit. This one’s a youngster, delicious now and also likely to gain density and complexity with another year in the bottle.
Saini Vineyards 2017 Dry Creek Valley Estate Angelo’s Paint Brush $35 This wine is an homage to field blend red wines made in Sonoma’s early days. A blend of Carignane, Sangiovese, and Grenache, it’s rewarding in its lively cherry and berry fruit, hint of vanilla from oak aging, and mouth-filling texture. Medium-full-bodied, it closes with vibrant acidity.
Sassoferrato 2016 Alexander Valley Monte de Ferro $65 Named for winemaker Matt Smith’s ancestral home in Italy, this 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese, was a best of class wine at NCWC. A New World version of a Super Tuscan, its Cabernet character shows in the cedar and black currant aromas and flavors. Rose-petal, spice, and herbal complexity come from Cab Franc and Sangiovese.
Loxton Cellars 2008 Sonoma Valley Decada Tawny Syrah $40/375ml Every year, Chris Loxton produces one barrel of a Port-style wine and puts it away for 10 years, allowing the liquid to slowly oxidize and thus concentrate the flavors. Typical of an Australian Shiraz tawny port (Loxton is an Aussie), this one melds caramel, roasted nut, and baking spice elements into an amber-colored, medium-sweet, after-dinner treat.
Merry Edwards Winery 2014 Russian River Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc $48/375ml In February 2019, Edwards sold her company to Louis Roederer. Whether the French Champagne company (with a Pinot Noir outpost in Anderson Valley) will continue to produce this dessert wine remains to be seen, but it would be a shame not to continue making this marvel. It’s rich in crème brûlée, grilled Meyer lemon, poached peach, and ginger character, with bracing acidity to balance the sweetness.
Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2015 Late Harvest Russian River Valley Chardonnay $36/375 ml Australia-born winemaker Mick Schroeter knows a thing or two about “stickies,” as sweet wines are called Down Under. This rendition is from Chardonnay grapes that hang so long on the vines that the sugars concentrate into liquid gold. Lush in the mouth and with a mouthwatering finish, it’s rich with butterscotch, peach, pear, and apple pie à la mode personality.