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Friday, June 27, 2014

The road less traveled in Sonoma County

Sonoma County isn't Napa Valley. That is, we don't have a single road lined with tasting rooms and traffic. Everything is more spread out. Still, it's nice to get away from the busier areas sometimes as summer weekends and holidays can get hectic. The most traveled wine roads in Sonoma County are Highway 12 through Carneros and Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Road, and in the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg.

There are lots of back roads in the county, but how about some with good winery stops?

Route 116 from Sebastopol to Forestville
Dutton Estate, Iron Horse and Merry Edwards are here along with several other wineries. For food check out Underwood in Graton. Don't miss Kozlowski Farms.
Bubbles at Iron Horse

Occidental Road west of Santa Rosa
There are four nice tasting rooms along this stretch of road that intersects Route 116: Balletto, Hanna, Fog Crest, and Taft Street. This puts you close to Sebastopol for a food stop plus there are several tasting in town (some downtown, some in an area called the Barlow Center).

Westside Road along the Russian River west of Windsor
A sometimes narrow, windy road that's a bit of a drive to access so it's not very busy. Some of the wineries are Porter Creek, Thomas George, Arista, Matrix, and Twomey. There's no food along the road so if you are planning on lunch bring it with you.
Westside Road

Highway 128 in Alexander Valley
Farther north (so fewer people venture that far) is the renown area known for Cabernet. Highway 128 is the road through the valley and except for holidays or special events it's not very crowded. There are many wineries along here including Stryker, Alexander Valley, White Oak, Hanna, and Fieldstone.
Alexander Valley

For more info check out

Monday, June 23, 2014

Where to learn about Zinfandel

Where? Dry Creek Valley! This is Zin Central. Others might want to argue in favor of Lodi or Paso Robles or Amador or Russian River Valley, but Dry Creek is all about Zinfandel.

As it turns out lots of people don't really know much about "America's grape." Okay, it didn't originate here, but it's home is now in Dry Creek Valley. There are many reasons people will give for living or moving to Sonoma County--one should be Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel.

So many wines ...

Zinfandel is made it different styles running from relatively lower alcohol, structured, ageable wines to the big higher alcohol, soft (low acid), fruity style--or sometimes referred to as "elegant" vs. "fruit bomb." Zinfandel can make a wonderful wine good for many different foods or be enjoyed just all by itself. Zinfandel is also a relative bargain amongst premium red wines as Cab, Merlot, and definitely Pinot all sell for more.

The highly-regarded Maple Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley
Image from

The best way to learn what you like is to visit Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Here are suggestions for quality producers that cover the range of Zinfandel styles, but there are many, many more in Sonoma County. These wineries make other wines besides Zinfandel, but they all specialize in Zin and are all open for drop-in visitors. You'll want some pizza, BBQ, sausages, burgers, and pasta to go with you Zin, too.

Small lots of several different Zins. Cave tours by appt.

David Coffaro
He makes several different Zins and several different blends from his vineyard so there are many delicious small lot wines.

They make lots of single-vineyard Zinfandels. Mazzocco has a loyal following.

If you are all about stylish food with elegant wine then this is the place for you. Limited hours for drop-in visitors.

Lou has been in the Zin biz for quite awhile. His farm is the only place you can buy the wines. Try the Syrah blends while you're there.

Ridge - Lytton Springs
To some this is the definitive Zin producer. They make lots of different ones with a few being available for tasting at any one time. The old vineyard next door is picturesque.

A long-time Zinfandel producer where they believe any great bottle of wine deserves a great meal (part of their Italian heritage).

The Wilson family also owns Mazzocco, and several other area wineries. The wine styles are very similar. Wilson wins lots of awards.

There are dozens and dozens more from Amista to Zichichi making wonderful Zinfandel. Okay, maybe you'll want a couple weeks to really explore Zinfandel. And once you're done with Dry Creek Valley you'll want to check out the Zins from Rockpile, Russian River, and Sonoma Valley. Whew!

After exploring Sonoma County you'll want to schedule time for my other favorite Zinfandel region -- Amador County in the Sierra Foothills.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seven reasons you should drink more wine

There are a multitude of reasons to drink wine. It seems like every week there's another study as to the benefits of moderate consumption. You should be drinking Sonoma County wine, of course.

Reasons to drink more wine:

1. For your health. Apparently red wine lowers your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's, tooth decay, and getting fat. Wine improves circulation, digestion, helps with aches and pains, and helps you sleep. Whew! Apparently, enough red wine and dark chocolate and you'll live forever--at least that's my plan.

2. What the doctors don't tell you is that enough wine makes you smarter, funnier, and better looking to the opposite sex (or the same sex if that's your thing). 

3. You can unwind with wine after a tough day; you can celebrate a good day. Try unwinding with a glass of mineral water--it's not the same.

4. Sunday Brunch or New Year's Eve would not be the same without some form of sparkling wine. New Year's Eve will suck if you celebrate with mineral water.

5. A couple glasses (or more) will lower your inhibition so you can  (a)  have a brilliant conversation with your boss that will get you promoted and/or  (b)  strike up an amazing heart-to-heart dialog with that blonde at the wine bar so she'll want you within 20 minutes.

6. You are much more sophisticated when you are holding a glass of wine as opposed to, say, a can of Coors. However, if you are in dirty jeans and t-shirt and wearing a hardhat I recommend holding the can of Coors as a glass of Chardonnay may appear, well, weird.

7. Yes, wine will lower your inhibitions, but not like having shots of tequila, meaning you're less likely to regret something later. All the while the wine is making you healthier! If ever there was a win-win situation drinking wine is it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, CA. One of the top beer cities

Sonoma County isn't just a wine destination, it's a beer trip, too. According to Wine Enthusiast magazine Santa Rosa in Sonoma County is one of the top five beer cities in the U.S. The five are called "cutting-edge craft beer towns."

The others are Asheville NC, Denver, Philadelphia, and Portland. Honorable mentions go to San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, and Santa Barbara.

Part of the blocks long line waiting the annual Feb 1st release
of Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa
(called the best beer in the world by Beer Advocate)

In Santa Rosa the Russian River Brewery is considered one of the top breweries in the world and well-known to beer geeks. Also in Santa Rosa are Third Street Aleworks and the new Fogbelt Brewery. There are several other breweries nearby--a couple of the more well-known are Lagunitas in Petaluma and Bear Republic in Healdsburg.

Also within Sonoma County you will also find some small breweries you've probably never heard of like:
101 North, Carneros, Dempseys, Healdsburg Beer Co, HenHouse, Moonlight Brewing, Old Redwood, Petaluma Hills, Ruth McGowan's, Sonoma Springs, St. Florians, Stumptown, Warped, and Woodfour.
Some of these are very tiny with their beers only sold locally.

Taprooms in Santa Rosa featuring lots of local and not-so-local microbrews:
Heritage House, Rincon Valley Tap Room, and Sprenger's.

I'm probably missing some Sonoma County breweries as new ones keep popping up.

North Bay Brewery Tours is your way to sample and let someone else do the driving.

Best Beer Cities

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

First trip to Sonoma County? Winery suggestions

The most popular question from visitors is, "What wineries should I visit?" That's a good question and there's no one answer to fit everyone. Let's assume this is your first trip to the area and you're somewhat new to wine country travel.

One of the biggest reasons for the choices here is there will be something else to do besides just taste wine. It's nice to have something of interest besides the wine when you are first learning the area. The following suggested wineries are all open daily with no appointment required.

Historic Buena Vista Winery
A nice property with information on biodynamic farming. They also offer tram tours of their vineyards.

Buena Vista
Lots of history here dating back to the very beginning of premium wine in California.

Dry Creek
One of the original wineries of the California wine renaissance, founded in 1972.

Beautiful property and buildings.

Francis Ford Coppola
Movie memorabilia, a full bar, restaurant and a swimming pool!

Gloria Ferrer
A good place to learn about California sparkling wines.

Free tours and tasting. Lots of history here. You'll learn about it on the tour. A good deli.

Coppola's pool

These wineries are located all over Sonoma County so don't try to visit all in one day! These are also pretty big operations. If you're looking for the smaller, ma and pa kinds of places they are everywhere. You've probably never heard of the vast majority of Sonoma County's wineries. This is where you will need a better idea of what you're looking for in your winery experience before anyone can make good suggestions of where you should go. So before asking think about what you want: Somewhere to picnic, Pinot Noir under $40, Chardonnays I can't find at home, tasting with a view of the vineyards, a tour, etc.

Let's say this is not your first foray into wine tasting or you're just looking for something a bit more out-of-the-way then this is what I'd call "suggestions for your second trip:"
      Inman, Iron Horse, Matanzas Creek, Merry Edwards, Quivira, Ridge
I'm not saying any of these are the best wineries in the county (however you define "best")--just saying they are good places to start to see what Sonoma County offers. There are over a hundred wineries open every day waiting for you to stop in so there's no right answer to the question, "Where should I go?" only suggestions.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What Wine for National Doughnut Day?

June 6, 2014 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but that's not what this blog is about. June 6th is also National Doughnut Day--it's always the first Friday in June. Take a dozen to work because everyone will love you even if you didn't pull your weight on the last project.

What this blog is about though, is what wine to serve with doughnuts?

It will partially depend on what kind of doughnut, but you can pretty much guarantee it will have to go with oily, sugary, deep-fried goodness. The ol' standby for me is sparkling wine. This is especially appropriate if you are taking doughnuts to work on Friday morning as bubbly is appropriate any time of the day. You don't want a really dry sparkling wine, but something a bit sweet going towards extra dry or demi-sec style. "Extra dry" is really a misnomer here as this is actually a somewhat sweet style of bubbly. I blame the French (there's another D-Day reference).

Korbel Sec can be found at most shops in America for about ten bucks. The best part is if you get two then you have Secs. Nothing like Secs and a maple bar to start your day.

A sweet white, such as a late harvest Riesling, might work with those maple bars. A port-type wine might be okay with chocolate doughnuts, but it seems like overkill. You try it and let me know as I'm sticking with the bubbles.

Chocolate icing, raspberry-filled.
You could have coffee with it, but what fun is that?
Image from

Thursday, June 5, 2014

You know you are from Sonoma County if

You can generalize about anything and anyone. So here's a look at the folks from Sonoma County, California, U.S.A.

You know you are from Sonoma County if you ...

  • Are wearing a ragged t-shirt, jeans, a sweaty baseball cap and live in a $750,000 house.
  • Live in a $250,000 house that's too embarrassing to invite your coworkers in.
  • Drive a white F-150 pickup for no reason. Your second car is a Prius.
  • Know the difference in the micro-climate in the next town.
  • Didn't mean to become a wine snob, but just couldn't help it. And now you're a beer and coffee snob, too.
  • Have pre-teen children that know Sauvignon Blanc is white and Cabernet Sauvignon is red.
  • Have come back to Chardonnay and Merlot though rest of the country hasn't and you are just about over Pinot Noir.
  • Have never visited Napa on a Saturday (because you know better).
  • Didn't realize there are warm lakes and oceans that you can actually swim in!  And didn't realize that you can have warm rain.
  • Don't go out of the house, ever, without taking along a warm shirt or a lightweight jacket just in case.
  • Have only one dog and are thinking it needs a another dog for a companion. And maybe a cat.
  • Belong to a monthly lunch club where everyone is expected to bring a bottle of wine to share.
  • Have been part of a protest relating to bike paths or native plants.
  • Have a circle of friends consisting of back-to-the-land hippies, rednecks, gays, dopers, and holy rollers.
  • Get into arguments with others over the best farmers' market.
  • Get drunk on tequila with one of your back-to-the-earth friends and argue about biodynamics all night.
  • Have argued with others about how old a zinfandel vineyard has to be before it can be called "old vines." And argued about whether trellised vines should ever be considered old vines.
  • Can't believe people want to live somewhere else.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When purchasing wine don't buy what you like. Huh?

I've said many times to "just buy what you like" rather than what's expensive, has a prestigious Napa label, or gets 93 points. Well, I kinda lied.

There are trillions (or so it seems) of wines out there. If you only stay in the small box of what you are currently comfortable with how are you ever going to expand your knowledge? With expanded knowledge of wine comes the appreciation for different kinds of wine, different wine regions, and different styles.

So you've had one German Riesling or one California Pinot Noir and decided you don't like them. Or you've only had box wine or a couple cheap Australian bottles. You've found one Italian Chianti you like and you're sticking with it. You only like buttery Chardonnay, etc. You'll want more than one taste of anything from anywhere to get an idea of what they offer.

How can you expand your knowledge? Join a local wine tasting group or go to tastings at local wine shops. This is pretty straight-forward and often recommended as a way to try new things. It's like test driving cars--there's no big investment in case you don't like it.

You can also take a trip to a wine region. If you have wineries nearby you've already tried go out of state (or out of the country). You can probably find wine-themed trips, such as a cruise. Okay, this can be fairly expensive, but a good way to immerse yourself in wine.

Move a little ways from your comfort zone--step-by-step. Some examples:
  • If you only like California Chardonnay try one from Australia. Try a different, but similar, type of grape such as Pinot Blanc or Viognier.
  • If you're stuck on Merlot because Cabernet is too tannic (or too something) look for Bordeaux or Meritage-type blends. These are usually Cabernet, Merlot and other similar grapes blended together. Of course, Malbec is the new Merlot.
  • If you're never paid more than $10 a bottle for wine where do you venture next? Stick with varietals you already like and try a few $20 ones from different areas. See what the difference is between the ten and twenty dollar wines.
  • If you are an Old World fan and have decided you don't like, or haven't really tried, California wines then you probably want to start with similar styles. Just realize they won't be the same because California isn't France or Italy.
So figure out what your current comfort zone is and try to slowly move away from it. Remember, you may not like something new at first. It takes awhile to adjust to any new flavors whether it's the first time you had green vegetables as a kid or the first time you sampled scotch (hopefully as an adult).