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04.14.2009

Tasting the Wines of Mendocino

The wine regions of California are in various states of evolution when it comes to marketing themselves as a region. The best known areas, namely Napa and Sonoma, have been long organized and motivated to promote their regions as a whole, marketing their geographies like brands, with great success. This success derives from both their maturity as wine regions, as well as the concentration of wineries (and therefore funding for such initiatives) in each.

Other wine regions of California continue to evolve, of course, and are doing their best to increase their visibility and identities in the minds of wine consumers and the wine industry alike. Hence the first annual Taste of Mendocino wine tasting that was held last week in San Francisco for members of the trade and the media.

More than 250 wines from Mendocino county and its various overlapping American Viticultural Areas were poured by scores of vintners, offering a unique opportunity to get a snapshot, of sorts, as to what is going on in the region.

I went with the same goals I bring to all such regional or thematic tastings: to educate my palate on the region, and to discover great producers and their wines.

I came away from the tasting with my general sensibilities about Mendocino wine largely intact and validated. There are some excellent wines made from grapes grown in Mendocino, largely concentrated in the Anderson Valley, but also extending out to the coast. Much like Carneros, many of the best producers of wines from the region aren't actually based there -- they either own vineyards or, more commonly, purchase fruit from the region to make their wines. And of the wineries that are based in the region, there is a huge variation in size, experience, and ultimately quality. Even in the relatively well known Anderson Valley, many producers haven't yet figured out how to make really good wine, and some are making downright awful stuff.

That's the bad news. The good news, which should overshadow these inconsistencies and stumbling blocks, includes some really fantastic Pinot Noir, and, increasingly some excellent Syrah as well. And finally, I continue to be impressed and surprised by the Coro Mendocino wines, a set of Zinfandel blends that are made according to America's first set of appellation specific production guidelines. These guidelines dictate what grapes must and can be used, and all wines are subjected to blind tasting before being awarded the ability to be bottled as Coro (which means "Chorus" in Italian).

While I didn't get a chance to spend as much time at the tasting as I would like, I did have enough time to taste through about 150 different wines, and bring you my scores. Note that some of these wineries make wine from non-Mendocino sources, so there are a couple wines in the list below that aren't technically Mendocino appellation wines. Prices were provided by the wineries and likely reflect the highest suggested retail price.

White Wines

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2007 Arista Gewurztraminer. $25.
2007 LIOCO Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay. $42. Where to buy?
2006 Olabisi Wines Double Top Secret Vyd Chardonnay. $30. Where to buy?
2007 Cole Bailey Vineyards Sesquipedelian Sauvignon Blanc. $18.
2007 Londer Vineyards Dry Gewurztraminer. $26. Where to buy?
2006 Navarro Vineyards Mendocino Chardonnay. $17. Where to buy?
2007 Navarro Vineyards AV Dry Gewurztraminer. $19. Where to buy?
2007 Navarro Vineyards Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. $19.
2002 Roederer Estate L'Ermitage Brut. $45. Where to buy?

WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Forth Vineyards Sanford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. $20
2007 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay. $??
2007 Elke Vineyards Chardonnay. $19
2008 Esterlina Winery Cole Ranch Dry Riesling. $19
2007 Esterlina Winery Cole Ranch Riesling. $19
2007 Foursight Wines Sauvignon Blanc. $20
2007 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards White Riesling. $18
2007 Harmonique Un-Oaked Chardonnay. $39
2007 Harmonique Delicace Chardonnay. $59
2007 Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer. $26
2007 Londer Vineyards Kent Ritchie Chardonnay. $54
MV Roederer Estate Brut. $22
2008 Bonterra Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. $14

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2007 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay. $13
2007 Dreyer Wine, LLC Il Cuore Wine Chardonnay. $??
2006 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. $18
2006 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Chardonnay. $20
2007 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer. $16
2007 Londer Vineyards Corby Vyd. Chardonnay. $30

WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2007 Bink Wines Randal Hill Vyd Sauvignon Blanc. $??
2007 Brutocao Cellars Estate Chardonnay. $16
2007 Claudia Springs Anderson Valley Pinot Gris. $17

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2008 Brutocao Cellars Bliss Chardonnay. $??
2006 Chance Creek Winery SB Sauvignon Blanc. $21
2007 Dreyer Wine, LLC Seabiscuit Ranch Chardonnay. $25
2007 Spot on Cellars Pinot Blanc. $??


Pink Wines


MV Roederer Estate Brut Rose. $29. Score: around 9. Where to buy?
2008 Elke Vineyards Rose of Pinot Noir. $16. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Where to buy?
2008 LIOCO California Rose. $14. Score: around 8.5
2008 A Donkey and Goat Winery McDowell Valley Grenache Rose. $11. Score: around 7.5


Red Wines

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2007 Arista Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir. $54.
2007 Copain Wines Baker Syrah. $35.
2007 Copain Wines Hacienda Secoya Pinot Noir. $47. Where to buy?
2006 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir. $??. Where to buy?
2007 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir. $??. Where to buy?
2006 Baxter Winery Oppenlander Pinot Noir. $60. Where to buy?
2004 Baxter Winery Eaglepoint Syrah. $35.
2006 Navarro Vineyards Methode a l'Ancienne Pinot Noir. $29. Where to buy?
2005 Saracina Vineyards Syrah. $32. Where to buy?
2007 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir. $48. Where to buy?
2007 Sojourn Gap's Crown Pinot Noir. $48. Where to buy?
2007 Sojourn Demuth Vineyard Pinot Noir. $48.
2007 Sojourn Alder Springs Pinot Noir. $48.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2007 Anthill Farms Winery Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir. $42
2007 Copain Wines Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir. $30
2006 LIOCO Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir. $48
2007 MacPhail Frattey Shams Vyd. Pinot Noir. $60
2005 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir. $??
2006 Baxter Winery Run Dog Pinot Noir. $50
2006 Baxter Winery Toulouse Pinot Noir. $50
2007 Drew Family Mountain Tree Vyd Pinot Noir. $40
2007 Drew Family Perli Vineyard Syrah. $35
2006 Dreyer Wine, LLC Seabiscuit - Superfecta Meritage. $26
2007 Elke Vineyards Donelly Creek Pinot Noir. $36
2006 Elke Vineyards Donelly Creek Pinot Noir. $36
2007 Foursight Wines All In Pinot Noir . $37
2006 Goldeneye Winery Gowan Creek Vyd Pinot Noir. $75
2007 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir. $30
2006 Jim Ball Vineyards Signature Pinot Noir. $45
2006 Londer Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir. $50
2006 Londer Vineyards Paraboll Pinot Noir. $54
2006 Mariah Vineyards Mariah Zinfandel. $28
2005 Milano Family Winery Echo Bordeaux Blend. $35
2006 Phillips Hill Oppenlander Pinot Noir. $42
2007 Phillips Hill Oppenlander Pinot Noir. $42
2007 Phillips Hill Corby Vineyard Pinot Noir. $40
2005 Saracina Vineyards Petite Sirah. $38
NV Scharffenberger Cellars Brut. $20
2007 Sojourn Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. $36
2005 McDowell Coro Red Wine. $??

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2007 Copain Wines Tous Ensemble Syrah. $20
2006 Forth Vineyards Histoire Cabernet Sauvignon. $17
2007 LIOCO Indica Old Vine Carignane. $20
2007 MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir. $50
2007 MacPhail Wightman House Vyd. Pinot Noir. $70
2007 MacPhail Ferrington Vyd. Pinot Noir. $60
2004 Bonterra Vineyards The McNab Red Wine. $35
2006 Brutocao Cellars Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. $22
2005 Brutocao Cellars Coro Red Wine. $38
2006 Claudia Springs Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. $35
2006 Dogwood Cellars Pinot Noir . $40
2007 Elke Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. $26
2006 Foursight Wines Charles Vyd Pinot Noir. $46
2007 Foursight Wines Zero New Oak Pinot Noir . $30
2007 Goldeneye Winery Migration Pinot Noir. $34
2006 Goldeneye Winery Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. $55
2005 Graziano Family of Wines Coro Red Wine. $38
2006 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Merlot. $27
2006 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. $30
2006 Lazy Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir . $39
2006 Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. $35
2007 Phillips Hill Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir. $42
2005 Saracina Vineyards Atrea Old Soul Red Red Wine. $24
2007 Trinafour Cellars Niemi Vineyard Carignane. $23
2007 Drew Family Fog Eater Pinot Noir. $40
2007 Drew Family Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. $40


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2006 Barra of Mendocino Girasole Vyd Pinot Noir. $22
2006 Bonterra Vineyards Syrah. $15
2006 Brutocao Cellars Estate Pinot Noir. $26
2006 Brutocao Cellars Quadriga Red Wine. $24
2006 Chiarito Vineyard Zinfandel . $25
2006 Claudia Springs John Ricetti Zinfandel. $24
2005 Cole Bailey Vineyards Sesquipedelian Cabernet Sauvignon. $30
2007 Drew Family Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir. $45
2006 Esterlina Winery Pinot Noir. $45
2007 Foursight Wines Clone 5 Pinot Noir. $39
2006 Handley Cellars Mendocino County Pinot Noir. $25
2005 Harmonique Delicace Pinot Noir. $55
2005 Harmonique The Nobel One Pinot Noir. $49
2007 Jim Ball Vineyards Boonville Pinot Noir. $50
2005 McNab Ridge Winery Coro Red Wine. $37
2004 Milano Family Winery Hopland Cuvee Red Wine. $35
2005 Parducci Wine Cellars Coro Red Wine. $35

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2006 A Donkey and Goat Winery Perli Vineyard Syrah. $37
2007 A Donkey and Goat Winery Broken Leg Vineyard Syrah. $25
2007 Artezin Zinfandel . $18
2007 Artezin Petite Sirah. $25
2004 Barra of Mendocino 59th Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. $42
2005 Bink Wines Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. $40
2004 Chance Creek Winery Syrah. $21
2006 Chiarito Vineyard Nero D'Avola. $50
2004 Chiarito Vineyard Negoramaro. $30
2006 Dogwood Cellars Zinfandel . $28
2005 Dogwood Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. $36
2005 Dogwood Cellars Meritage. $38
2005 Harmonique Elegance Pinot Noir. $53
2006 Mariah Vineyards Mariah Syrah. $30
2006 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon. $40

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2006 A Donkey and Goat Winery Vieilles Vignes Syrah. $25
2007 Hess Collection Mendocino County/Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. $17
2007 Bonterra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. $15
2006 Brutocao Cellars Estate Zinfandel. $22
2006 Claudia Springs Valenti Ranch Zinfandel. $28
2006 Dreyer Wine, LLC Il Cuore Cabernet Sauvignon. $??
2006 Mariah Vineyards Syriah Syrah. $26
2006 Spot on Cellars Syrah. $??

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2004 Albertina Wine Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. $27
2005 Albertina Wine Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. $27
2006 Bink Wines Hawks Butte Vyd Merlot. $30
2007 Hess Collection Mendocino County Syrah. $15

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5
2005 Bink Wines Hawks Butte Vyd Syrah. $32
2006 Dreyer Wine, LLC Il Cuore Barbera. $16

RED WINES SCORING AROUND 7
2004 Albertina Wine Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. $27
2004 Barra of Mendocino Zinfandel. $20
2005 Chance Creek Winery Sangiovese. $17

Comments (12)

Dylan wrote:
04.15.09 at 7:16 AM

The wine world has a knack for vocabulary that goes beyond basic description. I really like the effect it has to call these qualified Zinfandel blends not blends, but a "Coro" or "Chorus." I felt the same way when I heard that the evaporation of wine from the barrel during fermentation was known as "the angel's share." I might have to start making a list of these.

Chris Lopez wrote:
04.15.09 at 1:11 PM

I would love to see more info on Mendocino. I went up there last summer, and it is beautiful! I had the same experience with the wines as you did, very inconsistent. Loved Anderson Valley (the area) and really enjoyed camping at Russian Gulch. I can't wait to go back!

Arnaud H wrote:
04.15.09 at 3:54 PM

Inconsistency, you nailed it. Even within the offering of some wineries, there are some really good wines with great value, and others that are just... bleh. Or awful. Seems like some have mastered a couple of varietals, and are trying to expand, with more or less success.

In a way, this diversity reflects that of Mendocino's climates. You can grow pinot noir or gewurztraminer in some very cool areas, and zinfandel and sangiovese in the burning hot and Ukiah valley.

May 2nd & 3rd is the Hopland Passport weekend - Brutocao, Milano, McDowell, Jeriko, Dogwood and others are part of the event.

Lynn wrote:
04.15.09 at 9:36 PM

So you didn't find Navarro or Lazy Creek wines that appealing overall? Were you able to visit Toulouse?

Jack Everitt wrote:
04.15.09 at 10:33 PM

Pretty disappointing. I so want to see these wines do better.

I see no Copain Hawks Butte Syrah...perhaps my fave red from the Mendocino.

And I have to say, though I may burn in hell, that I just hate winery names like "LIOCO". All caps?! Long Island Oil Co.? This is not the only one with a name like that launched in the last year. Ugh, ugh, fug. Was WINECO taken?

Allen wrote:
04.16.09 at 8:37 AM

Hmm, one wonders if the vineyard sourced for the Sojourn "Alder Springs" PN had a different name, would the wine have scored as well? ;-)

Kristy wrote:
04.16.09 at 10:49 AM

Being a Mendocino County-based producer, I do have to admit the quality of the county's wines varies widely. Even I'm surprised from time to time by what I taste. However, I've also seen the quality vastly increased in the past five years and I believe it only continues to do so.

Wineries based outside the county (for example, Russian River) are making appellation- or vineyard-designate wines that consistently score 90+ points in the major magazines. This raises the bar for everyone making wine from Mendocino County fruit. Wineries within the county are trying their best to meet this challenge. Evidenced by the number of Anderson Valley producers present at the October Wine Spectator CA Wine Experience, I think we're getting closer and closer to that goal.

The best decider? Taste the wines: The Anderson Valley Pinot Fest is coming up (May 15-17, 2009) - www.avwines.com

Alder wrote:
04.16.09 at 1:15 PM

:-) Allen, I've been meaning to have my lawyer contact them, actually.

Alder wrote:
04.16.09 at 1:25 PM

Lynn,

ot quite sure what you're talking about re: Navarro -- they were some of the highest rated wines of the tasting. Lazy creek wines were decent, even good, but not great. Toulouse wasn't at the tasting.

Bob Hall wrote:
04.16.09 at 10:28 PM

Thanks for the review. I was up in Mendocino tasting on 4/4. What a beautiful, friendly place. My favorites were Phillips Hill Oppenlander Pinot, Jim Ball Pinot, Londer Gerwurtz, Navarro Muscat Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gerwertz and Late Harvest Gerwertz, a few pinots and a chard by Breggo and the sleeper selection: $14 Husch Gerwertz--available in stores everywhere.
Can't wait to go back next year. Oh yeah, we hit Brogan Cellars on the way home and had an outstanding "My Father's Vineyard" pinot from Anderson Valley.

marc wrote:
07.12.09 at 9:36 PM

I am a wine educator in Chicago am aiming to explore wineries in Mendocino county. Has anyone expored this wine region before? Any advice?

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