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Sonoma Whites Worth a Case PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara, BT Contributor   
June 2016

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

WVino_2ay back when, a million or so years ago, I moved from San Francisco to the Sonoma wine country. Actually, it was only in the early 1980s, though it seems like a lot longer. Back then, “Sonoma wine country” was more aspirational than established fact, Sonoma being Robin to Napa’s Batman, the Shrub to Napa’s Darth Cheney.

Which really was pretty sweet, at least for local cork dorks, if not so much for the area’s vintners, who yearned for the kind of cachet that made that other valley across the Mayacamas Mountains an upscale Mecca for well-heeled wine lovers and extraordinarily profitable for Napa wine producers.

At the time, though, Sonoma was different. No sprawling faux chateaux or architectural grandiosities celebrating the outsized, um, hands and egos of their oil-real estate-hedge fund proprietors.

No tour buses wallowing along quaint backcountry roads or hordes of drunken nitwits slobbering all over themselves in artfully rustic tasting rooms. Wineries were mostly modest structures, tasting rooms a couple of tables in a corner of the aging cellar. And the owner was just as likely to haul you out back to ooh and ahh over his new stemmer-crusher as he was to pour you a glass of his newest Pinot Noir.

Those days are long gone. Today the Sonoma wine country is nobody’s twerpy sidekick or idiot son of a rapacious political clan. It’s recognized as one of the world’s great wine-producing regions, with some 60,000 acres of vineyards from chilly coast to sultry mountains that are home to more than 500 wineries in 17 separate and unique appellations.

In other words, nowadays Sonoma has cachet to burn. Which is great for the area’s vintner’s, perhaps not so much for bargain-hunting cork dorks. Sonoma’s reputation is such that finding wines within our price point with even the most common Sonoma County appellation is like finding a quiet local tasting room at the height of crush.

Still, Vino is nothing if not relentless, also possessed of a cast-iron liver, so after some determined sleuthing and even more determined tasting, we managed to find a handful of wines (all whites) that showed why Sonoma is so highly regarded without eating up scarce funds for non-essentials like food, rent, and electricity.

A pair of excellent Sauvignon Blancs, to start. For a plus-size wine that delivers the richness and lush fruit of a Chardonnay with the tangy citrus flavors and acid backbone of a Sauvignon Blanc, there’s the 2014 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc. This is a wine that drinks far more sophisticated than its $11 price tag, with aromas and flavors of peach, pear, and tropical fruit leavened by tangy green apple and lemon-lime. A hint of toasty oak from barrel aging too.

The 2014 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc covers much the same flavor and texture profile, though dialing back the rich fruit a bit and dialing up the apple-citrus acidity. Its youth is evidenced by a slight spritz on the tongue. I’d buy a case of either of these wines in a heartbeat.

The 2013 Owl Ridge Dry Creek Valley is more akin to the tart, bracing Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand than the more opulent California-style wines, dishing up the trinity of lemon-lime-green apple flavors in a nicely balanced though not overly complex package.

If you’re a fan of fruit-forward wines, you’ll enjoy the 2013 Cline Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris. There’s no oak to get in the way of the summer-ripe pear, apricot, and peach flavors, though to my palate they’d be even more enjoyable with stiffer acidity and lower (than 14.5 percent) alcohol.

Two Chardonnays from familiar producers showed better, though we can first dispense with the 2013 Côtes de Sonoma, which was already starting to oxidize. The 2014 Rodney Strong Sonoma County, on the other hand, was terrific, rich and full bodied, but still in great balance. Flavors come in layers -- pear and peach, a little orange flower water, lemony acidity, a touch of vanilla from barrel aging on the lees. Good stuff.

Same goes for the 2014 Cline Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. With its rich and creamy texture, flavors of ripe pears and peaches and apricots, a little orange-lemon acidity for structure, and a hint of vanilla from aging in French and American oak, it’s the kind of wine that reminds me of why I loved living in the Sonoma wine country.

 

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