Sparkling Wine: Domaine Carneros 2014 Le Rêve Blanc De Blancs, Estate Grown, $120.
Every now and then we all need to do something special for ourselves, a new car or a pair of earrings for your beautiful wife. Well that’s what this Sparkling wine is all about – Something special. French for “the dream”, Le Rêve is a wine that once you taste it, you’ll dream about it. What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? If you haven’t tasted Le Rêve, you haven’t had it yet.
Chardonnay: MacRostie Winery and Vineyards 2019 Sonoma Coast, $25.
While single vineyard bottlings are all the rage, sometimes the blended wines lead the pack. This Sonoma Coast bottling is a blend of seven different vineyards including Sangiacomo, Dutton, and Martinelli. Winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen has done a masterful job to create a wine with layers of complexity. And to top it all off, only a partial secondary (ML) fermentation was completed. Did I say food friendly?
Sauvignon Blanc: Ladera Vineyards 2020 Napa Valley, $36.
They say that great wine is made in the vineyard and this Sauvignon Blanc is a shining example. Organically grown on Ryan’s Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District AVA, the wine is 58% Sauvignon Blanc and 42% Sauvignon Musque. And yes, winemaker Jade Barrett did his thing in the winery but, with one sniff and a taste, you can tell these grapes are special.
Off Dry White: Swanson Vineyards 2019 Pinot Grigio, San Benito, $21.
Best known for its Napa Valley Merlot, Swanson is not a one trick pony. The perfect alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, this well made Pinot Grigio comes from San Benito which is a sub appellation of the Central Coast AVA. Think Monterey Bay and Santa Lucia Highlands, A refreshingly, aromatic, light white wine – delish.
Orsi Family 2020 Biancolella D’lschia, Filomena’s Block, Dry Creek Valley, $28.
Never heard of the grape Biancolella? It’s roots can be traced to Campania in Southern Italy – near Naples. At Orsi, their family motto is Italian roots in Sonoma County soil. The vineyards are in the hills of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Their tasting room is just outside of Healdsburg (For you locals, the old Alderbrook Winery). But it may as well be just outside of Naples because if your palate swings toward Italian wine, Orsi is an incredible find. Whites and reds will blow your mind.
Best Value White: Korbel Wine Cellars 2018 Natural, Russian River Valley Champagne, $17.
How do they do this at Korbel year in and year out? Sparkling wine is not easy to produce. It’s costly as you have to ferment it twice. And this Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also not cheap. So how’d they do it… do you believe in magic? Often discounted, I suggest buying by the case.
Rosé: Rodney Strong Vineyards 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $25.
This is why Rosés are so popular. Everything you look for in a great Rosé is in this bottle. The nose is fresh fruit like you read about. The mouth feel is bracing and perfectly balanced. Winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, is captain of this ship and he’s headed for stardom. Look for their newly redesigned label.
Book of the Year: Big Macs & Burgundy, Wine Pairings for the Real World
by Vanessa Price with Adam Laukhuf published by Abrams Publishing, $24.99
Vanessa is a sommelier with a sense of humor. She was born in Kentucky, the granddaughter of evangelical ministers. So how did she get into the wine business and come to write this book? You didn’t think I was going to tell ya? You’re going to have to read this book. And Vanessa if you’re listening, I’m sorry about your sister.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Turnbull Wine Cellars 2019 Oakville Reserve Estate Grown,
Napa Valley, $95
There are a lot of unsolved mysteries in this world. In the wine business the term terroir falls into this category. Terroir is defined as the taste of the place where the grapes were grown. But you can’t taste dirt… right? So why are there special places around the planet where everyone agrees the best grapes are grown? It’s a mystery to me, but I’m here to tell this Turnbull Cabernet comes from a very special place. This wine is big in a soft sort of way, smooth and balanced. Winemaker Peter Heitz has hit the bulls eye on this one – WOW!
Zinfandel: Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Old Vine, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, $38
The term “Old Vine” was first coined by Dry Creek Vineyards in 1987. Although there is no legal definition, vines that average more than 50 years in age are referred to as “Old Vine”. The vines in this 2019 average more than 100 years old and in some cases nearly 140 years old. If age is this good… I can’t wait to be 100!
Merlot: B. R. Cohn 2018 Petricka Vineyard Sonoma Valley, $40
Okay, okay, enough already. I’ve heard too much about the movie Sideways. It came out in 2004. It’s ancient history. Merlot is one of the best selling red wines in the U.S. and there is a reason for that. People like Merlot. And this B. R. Cohn is up there with some of the best I’ve had.
Rhone Wine: Foppiano Vineyards 2017 Petite Sirah Russian River Valley Estate Grown, $28
When I say Kleenex, you think tissues, Chap Stick – lip balm, Q-tips – cotton swabs. And there was a time when I’d say Foppiano you would immediately think Petite Sirah. I know it was back in the day when they were far fewer wineries in our North Coast. Think of it. Foppiano was established in 1896 and is on its 6th generation as family owned and operated; still making great Petite Sirah. So when I say Foppiano… think Petite Sirah.
Blended Red: Paraduxx 2018 Napa Valley Red Wine, Rector Creek Vineyard Block 4, $85
There are perfect pairings everyone agrees with – bacon and eggs and burgers and fries. But, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel? Okay, okay, it sounds crazy, but work with me here. At Paraduxx there are no rules when it comes to blending. So, yes, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel. The star studded portfolio is a mind blower of flavors and complexities. If you dare, take a walk on the wild side and reach for a bottle of Paraduxx. You won’t be disappointed!
Best Buy Red: J. Lohr Estates 2019 South Ridge Syrah Paso Robles, $15
Is it harder to make a good $15 wine or a good $50 wine? Winemakers say wine is made in the vineyard. So with the cost of grapes these days, I say harder to make a real good $15 wine. And this Syrah is real good. A blend of 93% Syrah, 3% Grenache Noir, 2% Mourvedre, and 2% Viognier.
Most Fun Wine: Baker Family Wines 2018 Hammer n’ Hank Cabernet Sauvignon, $60.
Renowned baseball manager Dusty Baker has his own winery with a tasting room in West Sacramento. Hank Aaron and Dusty created this wine prior to his passing this last January. Hard to find, bottled in tiny lots. Look for the distinctive 755 on the label.
Sweet Red: Pedroncelli Winery 2015 Vintage Port, Four Grapes, Dry Creek Valley, $28.
Pedroncelli has been around for a long time, a very long time, 1927 to be exact. Wars, downturns in the economy, phyloxera, and now a pandemic. And with the pandemic has come supply chain challenges. In the case of this gold medal winning Port, glass shortages. When it came time to bottle, there were no 500ml bottles to be had. Sooo… they bottled in 750ml bottles instead. Hey, you’ve got to roll with the punches. So with each bottle purchased of this concentrated warm spiced and chocolate beauty, you get an extra 250mls. Did I say dessert?
Pinot Noir: Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2019 Russian River Selection, Russian River Valley, $45. This Pinot is the perfect example of showing off a winemaker’s art. Theresa Heredia blended this wine from seven different Russian River vineyard sites. 2019 is an exceptional vintage and although young, this wine is eminently drinkable tonight and will develop complexity with additional bottle aging.
Alternate Red: Merriam Vineyards 2019 Cabernet Franc, Windacre Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $45. I get no respect! Most people attribute that statement to Rodney Dangerfield. But no… it originally came from Cabernet Franc. How can one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon play second fiddle? I say if all Cabernet Franc tasted like this Merriam, the Franc days as the backup to Cabernet Sauvignon would be numbered. Internet or winery only and worth the extra effort!
Luxury Wine: Timeless 2018, Napa Valley Red Wine, Soda Canyon Ranch, $195.
While the batons are being passed by wineries that were founded in the 70”s, some families are selling because the kids aren’t interested in taking over the family business. Not so with Ray Duncan the cofounder of Silver Oak. Silver Oak is in good hands with his sons and now a new venture Timeless. What started as a song composed by Ray’s son David for his father’s birthday is now a new brand. Timeless is not cheap, but it is exceptional! Full, rich and well balanced. Click on timeless.wine to read the story and listen to the song.
Winery of the Year: Dry Creek Vineyards. Every winery has a story, some better than others. The history of Dry Creek Vineyards runs deep. Established in 1972 by Dave Stare. Dry Creek Vineyard was the first new winery in the Dry Creek Valley following Prohibition. 1st to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek. 1st to label a wine with the Dry Creek Appellation. 1st to release a wine using the classification Meritage. And the 1st to coin the term “Old Vine” Zinfandel. Congratulations to David Stare and family… Dry Creeks’s 1st Family – my Winery of the Year.
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Click on winecountrylive.com for a list of Tom’s Best Of going back to 2015.