It was an honor to experience the incredible and informative Signature Sonoma Valley events this year. From tasting 4 different Zins from the 130 year old Bedrock vineyard to a Hanzell retrospective that included Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dating back to 1977, I was fortunate to be a part of this unique and memorable weekend. With deep history and varying styles, I truly believe there's a Sonoma wine for everyone.
WHERE I STAYED
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
This historic hotel has been fully renovated, and become widely known for the spa. While we were busy tasting and touring vineyards, I was able to experience a lot of what The Fairmont had to offer. First, the magnificent bar, 38 Degrees. This chic lounge had around 50 wines by the glass, from local Chardonnay to international Amarone and Rioja. Of course, you could always opt for a 6 oz glass of Screaming Eagle if you don't mind shelling out at around $800.
My favorite feature at the hotel was the daily tastings they have at 4:30pm, led by a different winery in Sonoma. I had the chance to taste 5 wines from Roche on Thursday and 4 from Whitehall Lane on Saturday while chatting with the winemakers.
The hotel's restaurant, Santé had a huge breakfast menu that made ordering super difficult, in the bright and chic space. The popularity of this restaurant was evident all weekend, especially for dinner.
The large pool with cabanas and a calming fountain was the best place to relax after a long day of tasting.
Arriving a bit late in the day, we arrived at Pangloss Cellars in downtown Sonoma for a seated tasting. Their selection ranged from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay to single-vineyard Pinot Noir and seriously smooth Zinfandel. Each of the flights were selected to go with the chef's cheese selection, charcuterie plate, or canapé assortment. One of the most impressive wines for me was the 2014 Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard which had a perfect balance of red fruit, fresh herbs and a hint of earth-driven wet soil.
The newly renovated Tasting Lounge was magnificent, with two private rooms, perfect for intimate tastings and gatherings. The bar area was welcoming and comfortable, with unique plants, vintage-inspired furnishings, and soft candle lighting.
Bright and early, we ventured over to Sangiacomo Vineyards for a moderated tasting and lunch. The Sangiacomo brothers have been managing their family's vineyards for decades, selling grapes to Sonoma's best. Here, we were able to taste 3 producer's (Auteur, Landmark and Ram's Gate) own rendition of 2015 Chardonnay, from Sangiacomo's Green Acre Vineyard. While made in several different styles, each were brilliant in this tasting, moderated by Master Sommelier David Yoshida.
Lunch by Ramekin was almost as delicious as the wines, with a Green Garlic Soup and Seared Diver Scallop and an Herb Crusted Lamb Ribeye with a Fava Bean Puree and Spring Vegetables.
Then, we hopped over to the Renaissance Hotel for Immersion: The Birthplace of CA Wine Seminar. A few of the standout wines for me included: Ordaz Family Wines, Buena Vista Winery, St Francis Winery, and Kenwood Vineyards. Kenwood brought their 2013 Cabernet from Jack London Vineyard, which had a slightly licorice, cola, and musk on the nose, finishing quite floral. This was probably my favorite, but the 2014 Ordaz Zinfandel from Montecillo Vineyard came in right behind. This one had green bell peppers and pitted cherries on the nose with a hint of coconut on the finish.
Around 4:30 we left for dinner and a walk-around tasting at Ram's Gate Winery. To say that this winery is stunning is a complete understatement. Open and airy with a massive entrance and hugely tall ceilings make walking inside an experience in itself. Some of the most memorable wines tasted during the walk-around were: Jacuzzi's 2014 Bordeaux Blend, with a clear nod to the old world and a hint of wet soil and clay-like texture, GlenLyon's 2015 Estate Syrah with ripe plums, vanilla bean and a hint of sage on the nose, and Belden Barns' Gruner Veltliner, which tasted like a ripe grapefruit with hints of pine and broccoli.
The day started with a vineyard walk, led by founding vintner of Ravenswood winery, Joel Peterson. We were thoroughly amazed by the 120+ year old Bedrock Vineyard. Before Joel purchased the vineyard in the 60s, the previous owner was prepared to rip everything up and plant Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he and his staff (including son Morgan-Twain Peterson, a Master of Wine), have discovered dozens of unique varietals on the property. Some of these include Mondeuse, Peloursin, Serine, Grand Noir de la Calmette and Negrette. This is now one of the most historically and qualitatively gilded plots in Sonoma Valley.
The tasting followed, with an impressive panel that included Will Bucklin, Diane Kenworthy, Joel Peterson, and Moderator Dr. Liz Thach, MW. We started by tasting Joel's new label, Once and Future. This 2016 Zinfandel was fresh and complex, and entirely sourced at Bedrock Vineyard. Next was a side-by-side tasting of 2015 and 1993 Ravenswood Zin from Old Hill Ranch. Joel described the vintages as quite similar, and it was clear the the 2015 will likely turn into the 1993 over time. They were both slightly earth-driven, with notes of dried salami and raspberries. The 4th wine was from Kunde Family Winery, 2015 Zinfandel sourced from Bedrock. This wine had a bit more vanilla and hints of coconut, as they're using around 10% of American oak. Joel described not using it himself, as he found it left a dill characteristic, which wasn't ideal for his style of Zinfandel. To each their own.
Next stop: A retrospective tasting at Hanzell Vineyards with President Jason Jardine and Winemaker Michael Mcneil. moderated by Master Sommelier Robert Bath. This impressive tasting was half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, dating back to 1977! We were encouraged to taste old to new, Chardonnay, then Pinot, so it looked like the below (with my notes in parenthesis).
1977 Chardonnay (almonds, pear, quince) and 1977 Pinot Noir (black licorice, leather, currant)
1996 Chardonnay (tropical, pineapple, yellow flower) and 1987 Pinot Noir (tart blueberries, high tannin)
2000 Chardonnay (light, yellow apple, mandarin) and 1996 Pinot Noir (mineral, fresh raspberry, rose)
2002 Chardonnay (candle wax, blood, moss, marijuana) and 2002 Pinot Noir (cranberry, red licorice)
2010 Chardonnay (mineral, green apple, subdued) and 2010 Pinot Noir (leather, strawberry, tart plum)
2015 Chardonnay (medium body, squash, corn) and 2014 Pinot Noir (medium on all, cherry, blueberry)
Above being one of the most memorable tastings of my life, I was also able to figure a few thing out about my palate as well. I usually put a circled star next to my favorites at the end of any tasting. That's AFTER I've tasted everything, I'll re-taste those with a "star," and turn it into a circled star. I know, sounds pretty neurotic.. I "circle starred" the 2002 Chardonnay, 2002 Pinot Noir and 1996 Pinot Noir. You might consider it odd that my favorite wine tasted like "wax, blood and marijuana" and it obviously had so much more in terms of fruit and floral notes, but the complexity was outstanding. In general, I was drawn to the 15-ish year old wines, and thought they were drinking perfectly. The Winemaker, Michael Mcneil has a totally different preference, with the very old and very young being his favorite. Some of the other participants thought that my favorite wines were rather difficult to understand, with the most muted flavors. As a New Yorker who probably drinks more Old World wine, this actually makes sense to me.
Dinner followed, at Don and Nancy Sebastiani's private residence. The grandest staircase, Italian-esque fountains and pool set the stag for Chef Ari Weiswasser's 5 course dinner. The Glen Ellen Star crew began with a Marin French Triple Cream Tart, which tasted like the best cheese quiche I've ever had. The Morel Conserva and Shaved Radish, followed and paired perfectly with the 2016 Sojourn Pinot Noir floating around.
Next, was the Pacific Halibut Over Fava Puree, too many great Chardonnay's for this one to choose. The Sonoma Mountain Beef New York Strip and Potato-cauliflower Puree followed, pairing best with Arrowood's 1997 Cabernet. The cheese course included Valley Ford Estero Gold and Nicasio Valley Locarno, followed by a very impressive dessert bar. Some sweets at the table included Meyer-lemon Riesling Tartlettes, and a Chocolate Coup with Coffee-molasses Ganache. What an evening!