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01.24.2013

Best of the West: Tasting the Wines of the Extreme Sonoma Coast

wscmap.jpgWhat are the most exciting wines being made in the state of California? From nooks, crannies, ridges and ruffles of western Sonoma county, some of the country's best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines are being eked out of chilly vineyards by passionate winemakers who are at the vanguard of where wine is going in this state.

These winemakers, who have sought out some of the most extreme (read: cold) vineyard sites in Sonoma county, have recently rallied together under the banner of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association.

In August, they put on their second annual public tasting and symposium highlighting the segment of the rather large and sprawling Sonoma Coast AVA that many have come to call "The True Sonoma Coast." This relatively narrow band of land in the far west of Sonoma County, which represents the most fog-influenced, maritime, cool-climate section of the county, has attracted a remarkably high quality set of winemakers and winegrowers to a region that has long been the domaine of a few lonely pioneers.

I attended their symposium as a panelist, and hung around as long as I could to taste through the wines on offer (but I had another engagement, so I couldn't linger). It's taken me an unfortunately long time to write up my notes from that tasting, but as they say, better late than never. The wines on offer were simply fantastic, in particular from the cooler and lean 2010 vintage, which has produced some real stunners.

I hope you enjoy these notes, and forgive their slightly untimely arrival.


WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2010 Ceritas Wines Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay
Pale gold in the glass, this wine has a compelling biscuity nose that offers bright lemony aromas wrapped in a butter cracker crust. In the mouth gorgeously lean lemon and wet stone flavors have a fantastic crystalline quality that is quite electrifying, along with a toasty biscuit note that is equally as charming. Outstanding. $50.

2009 Cobb Wines Joy Road Chardonnay
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and a hint of oak layered over cold cream and rainwater. In the mouth the wine bursts with incredible acidity that layers pineapple, exotic citrus, and lemon curd over a foundation of wet stone. A hint of new oak hangs in the background but well below the threshold of objection. Excellent. $70. click to buy.


WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2010 Littorai Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and Fuji apples. In the mouth lemon curd, lemon zest and bright tangy apple flavors have a stony, even crystalline cast to them. A hint of chamomile creeps into the long finish. Excellent. $65. click to buy.

2009 Ramey Wine Cellars Platt Vineyard Chardonnay
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and pineapple. In the mouth lemon curd with a hint of vanilla merges with zippy lemon juice and lemon curd flavors that dance all the way through the long finish. Beautifully textured with excellent acidity. Delicious. $60. click to buy.

2010 Ramey Wine Cellars Platt Vineyard Chardonnay
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and chamomile. In the mouth the wine is explosively juicy with a neon lemon brightness mixed with chamomile and a hint of new oak. Super juicy and delectable. 14.5% alcohol. $60. click to buy.

2010 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay. $55. click to buy.
2007 LIOCO Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. $??. click to buy.


WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Failla Chardonnay
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and wet stones. In the mouth, flavors of pineapple, wet stones, and cold cream have a bright mineral quality to them that is lovely. Juicy and long. $34. click to buy.

2010 Ceritas Wines Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay. $52. click to buy.
2009 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay. $40. click to buy.
2008 Hartford Family Winery Seascape Vineyard Chardonnay. $65. click to buy.
2010 Patz & Hall Wine Co. Chardonnay. $38. click to buy.
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Antonio Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay. $40. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2009 Charles Heintz Chardonnay. $35. click to buy.
2010 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay. $32. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2009 Hartford Family Winery Far Coast Vineyard Chardonnay. $55. click to buy.
2010 Sojourn Cellars Chardonnay. $38. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2010 32 Winds Wine Spinnaker Chardonnay. $39.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2010 Ceritas Wines Escarpa Vineyard Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of beautifully floral raspberries and wet earth. In the mouth flavors of raspberry and earth are floral and delicate while at the same time benefitting from toned, muscular tannins. The wine has great purity and length, with outstanding balance and acidity. Epic. $60.

2010 Ceritas Wines Annabelle Pinot Noir
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of wet stones and bright floral notes layered over stemmy, briary raspberry fruit. In the mouth the wine is incredibly juicy with flavors of raspberry and redcurrant that have a crystalline purity thanks to truly fantastic acidity. Bright and clear as a bell, with faint tannins and great length. $40.

2009 Cobb Wines Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral nose of raspberry and earth aromas. In the mouth woody and stemmy raspberry and earth flavors are bright and zingy thanks to great acidity. Faint tannins and wonderful length. $70. click to buy.

2007 Cobb Wines Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of red apple skin and raspberry fruit. In the mouth the wine has a bright cedar and red apple skin complexion with a deeper earth bass note, and a juicy electric raspberry melody. Great acidity and faint tannins linger through a long finish. Outstanding. $70. click to buy.

2009 Hirsch Vineyards East Ridge Pinot Noir
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet forest berries, as if they had been crushed and held beneath your nose, eyes closed. In the mouth gorgeous tannic structure supports an avalanche of bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit that bursts with phenomenal acidity. Balanced, long, and utterly compelling. $85. click to buy.

2009 Littorai The Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir
Bright garnet in color, this wine smells of cedar and raspberries. In the mouth the wine is super juicy, its raspberry and redcurrant flavors bursting off the palate thanks to great acidity. Gorgeously textured, with a very fine skein of tannins, this is simply an arresting wine, even all the way through its substantial finish. Fantastic. $75. click to buy.

2010 Red Car Vineyards Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells quite sweet and flowery in addition to oozing ripe raspberry aromas. In the mouth explosive raspberry and redcurrant flavors have an aromatic sweetness to them that is really astonishing even as it merges with cedar and wet stone notes through the finish. Long, delicate, and perfectly balanced. $65. click to buy.

2010 Red Car Vineyards The Aphorist Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of exotic flowers and black raspberries. In the mouth the wine has a remarkable seamlessness to it that is quite arresting, as flavors of raspberry and redcurrant dance on the prickly points of electric acidity. Bright, stony, and fantastically alive in the mouth, this wine lingers for a long time. Fantastic. $65. click to buy.

2011 Zepaltas Wines Devoto Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells beautifully of violets and raspberries. In the mouth gorgeous raspberry fruit is dusted with fine grained tannins but remains boisterously juicy. Beautiful texture and great acidity. Stunning. $45. click to buy.

2009 Littorai Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. $65. click to buy.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2009 Baker Lane Vineyards Ramondo Vineyards Pinot Noir
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, darker flavors of wet earth lay beneath high notes of cedar, raspberry, and cherry. A gorgeous wet stone note enters the finish. Great acidity, good length. $42. click to buy.

2006 Cobb Wines Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of red apple skin and dried herbs. In the mouth, flavors of redcurrant, raspberry and wet earth nestle into a thick blanket of tannins. The acidity of this wine keeps it bright and juicy through the long finish. $70. click to buy.

2010 Failla Occidental Ridge Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral raspberry fruit with some spicy herbal notes of grape stems. In the mouth, juicy raspberry fruit has a hint of aromatic sweetness as the wine soars across the plate. Juicy acidity gives a neon pink jolt to this wine. Very delicious. $60. click to buy.

2009 Hirsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Estate Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright floral raspberry fruit. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderful savory quality, as earthy raspberry and redcurrant fruit are buffeted by stiff tannins. Excellent acidity and balance, but needs some time to come into its own. $60. click to buy.

2009 Hirsch Vineyards West Ridge Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of tangy redcurrant and forest floor. In the mouth, tart redcurrant and forest floor flavors lean towards cherry as the wine blossoms on the palate. Juicy acidity electrifies this wine and makes it wonderfully appealing. $85. click to buy.

2009 LIOCO Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Light garnet in color, this wine has a wonderful woody and floral aroma in addition to its bright red berry fruit. In the mouth, violets, raspberries and wet earth are stretched across a frame of sturdy tannins that give the wine wonderful structure. Excellent acidity means the overall experience is lively and electric. $60. click to buy.

2010 LIOCO Estate Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in color, this wine has a wonderfully floral nose of bright raspberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy raspberry flavors have a wonderfully textured structure to them thanks to faint supple tannins. Great acidity keeps the wine lively through a long finish. $35.

2004 Merry Edwards Winery Meredith Estate Pinot Noir
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin and raspberry fruit. In the mouth bright raspberry and cherry fruit have a juicy cedary quality to them. Towards the finish, deeper earth/forest floor and brown sugar notes emerge. Nice balance. $??. click to buy.

2010 Red Car Vineyards Doc's Ranch Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral and raspberry set of aromas, mixed with the spicy herbal note of stems. In the mouth taut tannins wrap around a core of raspberry and redcurrant fruit that is positively boisterous. Notes of brown sugar and woody stems mix into the wine. 12.4% alcohol. $70.

2010 Red Car Vineyards Red Car Estate Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and wet stones. In the mouth the wine is quite stony, even as its silky texture delivers flavors of raspberry, redcurrant and wet rocks in a beautifully balanced stream across the palate. Excellent acidity and long finish. $65.

2010 Red Car Vineyards Zephyr Farms Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of brown sugar, raspberries and floral notes. In the mouth flavors of caramel apple and raspberry are caressed by rather thick, powdery tannins even as very nice acidity brightens the wine. Excellent and distinctive. $65.

2008 Baker Lane Vineyards Estate Syrah
Medium to dark ruby in color with a distinctly cloudy cast, this wine smells of rich dark earth and blackberry. In the mouth, blackberry, earth, and smoke swirl about beautifully on the palate supported by very pretty tannins and great acidity. $42. click to buy.

2010 Baker Lane Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cuvee Syrah
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of white pepper and bright cassis fruit. In the mouth flavors of black pepper, cherry, cassis, and blackberry swirl amidst darker tones of soil and stone. Excellent. $28. click to buy.

2010 Anthill Farms Winery Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir. $54. click to buy.
2010 Sojourn Cellars Ridge Top Vineyard Pinot Noir. $39. click to buy.
2009 Littorai Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir. $65. click to buy.
2009 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir. $39. click to buy.
2009 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Symposium Pinot Noir. $32. click to buy.
2008 Evening Land Vineyards Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir. $120. click to buy.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Failla Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry fruit. In the mouth juicy raspberry fruit has a simpler complexion, but nonetheless manages to be mouthwatering. Very faint, almost imperceptible tannins. A pretty wine. $24. click to buy.

2010 Zepaltas Wines Pinot Noir
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and black raspberry flavors have a wonderful brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Light tannins, lovely texture, and nice balance. $29. click to buy.

2009 Red Car Vineyards Red Car Estate Syrah
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blueberry fruit. In the mouth flavors of cassis and blueberry are wrapped in a gauze of powdery tannins. Good acidity and nice earthy minerality under the fruit. $60. click to buy.


2009 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Pinotage. $40. click to buy.
2009 32 Winds Wine Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. $59.
2009 Boheme Wines Taylor Ridge Pinot Noir. $40. click to buy.
2009 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Reserve Pinot Noir. $49. click to buy.
2010 Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery Sea Slopes Pinot Noir. $28. click to buy.
2009 Hartford Family Winery Far Coast Vineyard Pinot Noir. $55. click to buy.
2010 Hirsch Vineyards Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir. $32. click to buy.
2009 Merry Edwards Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. $36. click to buy.
2010 Patz & Hall Wine Co. Burnside Vineyard Pinot Noir. $60. click to buy.
2010 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir. $39. click to buy.
2010 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir. $48. click to buy.
2007 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Balistreri Pinot Noir. $75. click to buy.
2007 Zepaltas Wines Saucci Vineyard Pinot Noir. $45.
2009 Zepaltas Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. $29.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Baker Lane Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cuvee Pinot Noir. $32. click to buy.
2010 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. $50. click to buy.
2010 Gros Ventre Cellars Gros Ventre Pinot Noir. $38. click to buy.
2010 Patz & Hall Wine Co. Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir. $35. click to buy.
2010 Patz & Hall Wine Co. Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. $42. click to buy.
2011 Red Car Vineyards Pinot Noir. $35. click to buy.
2010 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Freestone Hills Pinot Noir. $50. click to buy.
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Salmon Creek Pinot Noir. $50.
2009 Charles Heintz Syrah. $36. click to buy.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2009 Boheme Wines Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir. $45. click to buy.
2009 Charles Heintz Pinot Noir. $39. click to buy.
2010 Trombetta Family Wines Gap's Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir. $58. click to buy.


RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Bodega Ridge Pinot Noir. $50.
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Balistreri Pinot Noir. $75.

Comments (2)

David Ramey wrote:
01.25.13 at 9:12 AM

Alder--thanks so much for your kind comments on our Platt Vineyard Chardonnays.

tom wrote:
01.25.13 at 11:35 AM

A very good coverage of some low profile producers!

I'm not sure if my palate movement of late to Sonoma Coast Pinots, with their vibrant acidities, is a temporary move or not, but I find them more interesting and less cloying than the fruit bomb pinots that I used to rave about.

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