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09.02.2013

Coolest of the Cool: Tasting Notes from West Sonoma Coast Vintners 2013

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It may not be the sole source of many of California's most exciting wines being made (there are several frontiers active at the moment), but the far western coast of Sonoma County would be heavily -- very heavily -- present in any list I might make of the best wines produced in the state over the past few years.

From nooks, crannies, ridges and ruffles studded with redwoods and shrouded in fog, 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.

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Last month, they put on their third 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.

This tasting and symposium has quickly become my favorite single-day wine event in California. Its relaxed atmosphere, excellent food, and stupendous collection of wineries pouring their stuff makes for a wonderful day, especially for lovers of Pinot Noir.

The event begins with two seminars in the morning, and following lunch, a walk around tasting of some fifty or so members of the association, many of whose wines aren't easily accessible to the public, thanks to high demand and small production levels.

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I didn't have as much time as I would like to taste through the lineup this year, but I offer my thoughts, sparse notes, and scores below. I can't say enough about the 2012 barrel samples I tasted from Ceritas, which were two of the most electrifying California wines I've had in recent memory, not to mention two of the best California Pinot Noir barrel samples I've ever tasted.

There are some fantastic wines, and some excellent values to be found below. Check them out.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2009 Hartford Family Winery "Seascape" Chardonnay $65
Medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of hazelnuts and lemon curd. In the mouth the wine is beautifully saline in character with candied lemon peel, fleur de sel, and notes that wonderfully piney quality that good Chardonnay can get with some age. Lovely. click to buy.

2011 Red Car Vineyards "Ritchie Vineyard" Chardonnay $50
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a wonderful lemon and pine quality to its aromas. In the mouth pink grapefruit has been given electroshock therapy with pine resin and lemon curd. Fantastically bright, wonderfully balanced and utterly mouthwatering. Stunning. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2011 Ceritas Wines "Charles Heintz Vineyard" Chardonnay $52
Light bright, lemon!

2011 Ceritas Wines "Porter Bass Vineyard" Chardonnay $55
Sappy, lemon, bright.

2011 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $40. click to buy.
2011 Littorai "Thieriot Vineyard" Chardonnay $65.
2011 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay $54. click to buy.
2011 Red Car Vineyards "Zephyr Farms Vineyard" Chardonnay $70. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2012 Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $34
2011 Sonoma Coast Vineyards "Gold Ridge Hills" Chardonnay $30
2010 Hartford Family Winery "Far Coast Vineyard" Chardonnay $65
2011 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay $55
2011 Joseph Phelps Vineyards "Freestone Vineyards" Chardonnay $55

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Benovia Barrel Sample Chardonnay, Fort Ross-Seaview $42

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2011 33 Winds Wine "Lucky Well U.V." Chardonnay $??


PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2012 Soloists Rosé of Pinot Noir $??.

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2012 Baker Lane Vineyards Rosé of Syrah $18
2011 Freeman Vineyard & Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir $20


RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
2012 Ceritas Wines Elliott Vineyard -- Barrel Sample Pinot Noir $60
Light garnet in the glass, this barrel sample has one of the most phenomenally aromatic punches I've smelled in a glass in a long time. Forest berries explode out of the glass and set the mouth to watering immediately. On the palate the wine has an incredible brightness thanks to electric acidity that vibrates raspberry, redcurrant, and cherry flavors until they humm with an upper-octave shine. Exquisitely balanced, this wine is impossible to spit out at the moment, and lasts beautifully in the mouth.

2012 Ceritas Wines Hellenthal Vineyard -- Barrel Sample Pinot Noir $65
Light garnet in the glass, this wine offers show-stopping aromatics of forest berries glinting in the crystalline rays of the morning sun. In the mouth the fruit tastes as if it has been somehow reduced to the essence of forest berries and then amplfied -- or should I say blown out of massive arena-volume speakers. Stunning purity, incredible balance and great length. Wow. Just, wow.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2011 LaRue Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $60
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of citrusy bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit. In the mouth fine grained tannins gently buffet a core of citrusty raspberry fruit. Gorgeous acidity and great balance and length. Mouthwatering. click to buy.

2010 Cobb Wines "Diane Cobb Coastlands Vineyard" Pinot Noir $85
Light garnet in color this wine has a wonderfully cedar, citrus, and raspberry aroma. In the mouth it is silky and sexy as all get out with raspberry and raspberry leaf notes tinged with passionfruit and citrus peel notes. Utterly fantastic. click to buy.

2008 Cobb Wines "Emmaline Ann" Vineyard Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has a fantastic nose of bright raspberry fruit tinged with forest floor. In the mouth that forest berry, pine duff, and deep earch quality persists with jucy acidity and fantastic balance. Great length. Yowza. click to buy.

2011 Ceritas Wines "Coastalina" Pinot Noir $42
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderful aroma of raspberries, raspberry leaf, and green wood. In the mouth, bright raspberry, wet green wood, forest floor and wonderful mineral notes swirl amidst the faintest gauze of tannins. Fantastic acidity, stunning balance, earthy and delicious.


2011 Freeman Vineyard & Winery "Akiko's Cuvée" Pinot Noir $58
Juicy bright raspberry. click to buy.

2011 Red Car Vineyards "Platt Vineyard" Pinot Noir $65
Stemmy, floral, bright, juicy, fine tannins.

2010 LaRue Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $60
Sweet aromatics, light garnet, juicy floral. click to buy.

2011 Littorai "Platt Vineyard" Pinot Noir $65
2011 Peay Vineyards "Scallop Shelf" Estate Pinot Noir $56 click to buy.
2011 Red Car Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview $65. click to buy.
2011 Red Car Vineyards "Heaven and Earth" Pinot Noir $65 click to buy.
2010 Red Car Vineyards "Zephyr Farms Vineyard" Pinot Noir $65


RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2009 Baker Lane Vineyards Estate Syrah $40
Floral, spicy, lovely. click to buy.


2011 Banshee Wines "Tina Marie" Pinot Noir $50 click to buy.
2009 Cobb Wines "Joy Road" Pinot Noir $70 click to buy.
2012 Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $34 click to buy.
2011 Failla "Occidental Ridge" Pinot Noir $70 click to buy.
2011 Failla "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir $60 click to buy.
2011 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $45 click to buy.
2011 Hartford Family Winery "Land's Edge Vineyards" Pinot Noir $50 click to buy.
2010 Hartford Family Winery "Far Coast Vineyard" Pinot Noir $70 click to buy.
2010 Hirsch Vineyards "Reserve Estate" Pinot Noir $85
2011 LIOCO Wines "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir $65 click to buy.
2011 Littorai "The Pivot" Pinot Noir $70
2011 Littorai "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir $70 click to buy.
2011 Peay Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $44 click to buy.
2011 Peay Vineyards "La Bruma" Estate Syrah $50 click to buy.
2011 Red Car Vineyards "Doc's Ranch" Pinot Noir $70
2010 Red Car Vineyards Sonoma Coast Syrah $50 click to buy.
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyards "Balistreri Family Vineyard - Freestone View Block" Pinot Noir $75 click to buy.
2012 Zepaltas Wines "Devoto Vineyard" Pinot Noir $45
2012 Zepaltas Wines "Suacci Vineyard" Pinot Noir $45
2011 Zepaltas Wines "Devoto Vineyard" Pinot Noir $45

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Banshee Wines "Marine Layer" Pinot Noir $45
2011 Freeman Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir $44
2011 Gros Ventre Cellars "Campbell Ranch" Vineyard Pinot Noir $54
2011 Gros Ventre Cellars "First Born" Pinot Noir $58
2011 Hirsch Vineyards "Bohan Dillon" Pinot Noir $34
2010 Hirsch Vineyards "San Andreas Fault" Pinot Noir $60
2011 Joseph Phelps Vineyards "Freestone Vineyards" Pinot Noir $55
2010 Joseph Phelps Vineyards "Quarter Moon Vineyard" Pinot Noir $75
2011 LIOCO Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $38
2010 Sonoma Coast Vineyards "Freestone Hills" Pinot Noir $40
2010 Sonoma Coast Vineyards "SCV Occidental Road Vineyard" Syrah $35
2006 Zepaltas Wines "Suacci Vineyard" Pinot Noir $45
2008 Zepaltas Wines "Suacci Vineyard" Pinot Noir $45

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Benovia "Tilton Hill" Pinot Noir $56
2011 Benziger Family Winery "de Coelo Quintus" Pinot Noir $75
2011 Gros Ventre Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $42
2010 Sonoma Coast Vineyards "Bodega Ridge" Pinot Noir $50
2007 Zepaltas Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $31

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2010 34 Winds Wine "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir $??
2009 Baker Lane Vineyards "Ramondo Vineyard" Pinot Noir $40
2011 Benziger Family Winery "de Coelo Terra Neuma" Pinot Noir $75

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7
2010 35 Winds Wine Maestro Pinot Noir $??


Images by photographer Paul C. Miller courtesy of West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association

Comments (3)

Gary wrote:
09.03.13 at 9:11 PM

Nice. One of my favorite areas for visits and buying. Thanks for the notes!

Michael Donohue wrote:
09.04.13 at 10:57 AM

Was Jamie Kutch not there or did he just strike out?

Jamie Kutch wrote:
09.09.13 at 5:55 AM

I didn't attend Michael. Great review Alder on what sounds like a great event!

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