Road Trip: Sonoma and Napa



By John ~ April 14th, 2008.

LaGayle and I embarked on a much anticipated, extended road trip this past Tuesday. This weekend, we toured the Sonoma and Napa wine country of California. In the coming weeks, we will be traveling to other wine areas across the country, so check back for updates on our experiences and opinions of wine country USA.

Friday was a great weather day, temperatures in the low 80’s, and it was made even better by some friendly folks and great winery visits. We saw our first vineyard of the trip in Mendocino County, Masuit Vineyards, along Highway 101. Next we passed Bantarra Vineyards with vines just showing bud break.

20080414_jim.jpgIn Healdsburg in Sonoma County, we had the pleasure of meeting Jim Carlson, who we nicknamed “the Wine Ambassador of Sonoma County,” in the Kendall-Jackson tasting room. We just popped in to see if we could get a map of the area with winery and vineyard locations. By the time we left, Jim had given us several maps highlighted with too many recommended wineries and tasting rooms to count, much less visit, as well as coupons for complimentary tastings at about a dozen tasting rooms. Wow!

Our next stop was the Rosenblum Cellars tasting room where we tried eight or nine wines, including their Reserve Tasting (all complimentary, thanks to Jim). The tasting room folks were very nice and attentive. Our favorites at Rosenblum were the 2005 Rosenblum Planchon Vineyard Zinfandel and the 2006 Rosenblum Paso Robles Zinfandel.

Next we visited the Seghesio Family Vineyards tasting room (again complimentary, courtesy of Jim). The best wine we were able to taste was their 2005 Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel. Seghesio’s Sonoma County Zinfandel has been a favorite in several of our tasting dinners but was not available for tasting when we were there.

Our final tasting of the day was at Siduri/Novy in a Santa Rosa Industrial Park. They do tastings by appointment only, but they are complimentary. The Siduri label is exclusively Pinot Noir and extremely popular, but once again we couldn’t find a Pinot that really excited us. Their 2006 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir was the best of the lot.

The Novy Family Wines label is primarily Syrah, and we found a couple that we thought were pretty good, the 2005 Novy Christensen Family Vineyard Syrah and the 2005 Novy Sonoma County Syrah.

In our ongoing efforts to find good American Syrahs that might match up favorably with some of our favorite Australian Shiraz, we had a private tasting Friday night in our hotel room pitting the 2005 Novy Sonoma County Syrah against a 2002 Peter Lehmann Shiraz that we brought with us from home. Both wines were good, but by the end of our tasting, both of us agreed that we preferred the Peter Lehmann which also gives you more bang for the buck at $14 versus the $20 price tag on the Novy.

20080414_korbel.jpgSaturday was another scorcher day with a high of 87 degrees in Sonoma. Our first stop in the morning was at the California Champagne house, Korbel. I wonder how they can use the name Champagne instead of Sparkling Wine. They must be grandfathered since they’ve been in business since 1882. Our favorite was their Brut Champagne.

Next we visited DeLoach Vineyards, which has had a remarkable makeover since our last visit four or five years ago. Upon further inquiry, we were told that Cecil DeLoach got overextended a few years ago and had to sell out to avoid bankruptcy. Fortunately, the new owners have held true to his winemaking tradition while upgrading the facilities, tasting room, and so forth. At DeLoach, we tasted their 2006 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the 2006 DeLoach Forgotten Vines Zinfandel, whose 2004 vintage was the winner of the Zinfandel Olympics in Kori’s post of March 17, 2008, and our favorite of the day, the 2004 DeLoach Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel from century old vines.

Then we made a quick stop at J Vineyards & Winery where I purchased another of their green monogrammed “J” sweatshirts (“J” for John). From our experience, the sweatshirts are the highlight of their offerings.

Then it was on to Mazzocco Sonoma in Dry Creek where we tasted three Zinfandels, the 2005 Mazzocco West Dry Creek Zinfandel, the 2005 Mazzocco Stone Zinfandel, and the 2005 Mazzocco Home Zinfandel. It was disappointing to find out that none of their wines are in general distribution. They are only available at the tasting room and through their wine club.

Next we went back to the Kendall-Jackson Tasting Room in Healdsburg, where we had met the remarkable Jim Carlson on Friday. Unfortunately, Jim was out on a break.

20080414_valleyofthemoon.jpgOur next stop was the Valley of the Moon Winery in Glen Ellen. We had heard good things about their Zinfandel, but it did not live up to our expectations. We tasted their 2006 Pinot Blanc, the 2006 Zinfandel, and the 2005 Syrah.

In the city of Sonoma, we visited Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery, one of our favorite Sonoma producers, looking for a Syrah which unfortunately they do not yet produce. We are very familiar with their Cab, Zin, and Secolo, which is one of our all-time favorite wines.

Our final stop of the day was at Ravenswood, where I picked up a bottle of their 2004 Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Shiraz from South Eastern Australia ($11). When we taste it, I’ll share our opinion.

For dinner, we picked up Chinese take-out and ate while tasting the rest of our Novy Syrah and Peter Lehmann Shiraz from the previous night. The Aussie Shiraz extended its advantage over the Novy after both had been open for 24 hours, especially impressive since the Peter Lehmann Shiraz is quite a bit older than the Novy.

20080414_napasign.jpgI never thought I would be one to complain about the heat, being a native Texan, but 89 degrees in early April is almost too much. After church early Sunday, we headed for the Napa Valley, first to Calistoga to revisit the path Kori and I took last September to take our Certified Specialist of Wine exam. I showed LaGayle The Lodge at Calistoga where we spent the night before the test, the Flat Iron Grill where we had dinner that evening, the Sutter Home Victorian Inn in St. Helena where we took the exam, and the Rutherford Grill where we had lunch after completing the exam.

20080414_sterlingtram.jpgIntertwined with those stops, we visited Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, which has one of the most beautiful settings in wine country anywhere in the world. We rode the tram to the mountaintop winery and took the self-guided tour. It’s a shame that their wines are not as good as their tour experience. Many years ago the Sterling Merlot was one of my favorites. Today it does not stack up nearly as favorably as other merlots in its price category. I know I’m not having a good tasting experience when a Pinot Noir is the best of the bunch, but that was the case with their 2005 Sterling Cellar Club Oak Knoll Pinot Noir being the only wine I could recommend.

We were hoping to visit Buehler Vineyards next, one of our favorite Zinfandel producers, but we couldn’t get an appointment. So after our nostalgia trip to Sutter Home Victorian and lunch at the Rutherford Grill, we took in the Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) tasting room. Previous vintages of the BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon have done well in our tasting dinners in the past, and the 2005 we tasted yesterday continues in that league. The best wines we tasted at BV were the 2005 BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 BV Carneros Pinot Noir.

Our final stop of the day at Domaine Carneros was the most disappointing, not because of the quality of their sparkling wines, which in our experience have been good, but because of the service, or should I say lack of service, in their tasting room. It’s such a waste of money to have that beautiful setting and not wait on customers in a timely fashion. And we weren’t the only patrons being stiffed. I contrast our negative experience at Domaine Carneros with a great tasting experience we had at Mumm Napa last fall.

Last night, we ate in with a wine country platter of salami, cheese, and crackers while enjoying a private tasting of three California value Syrah/Shirazes: 2004 BV Napa Valley Syrah, 2005 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Shiraz, and 2004 Clos du Bois Shiraz.

Today, we’re heading south to the California Central Coast looking for a few good Syrahs. I’ll report what we find later this week.

Here’s a recap of many of the wines we tasted this weekend, in the order we tasted them. All prices given are winery/tasting room prices.

2005 Rosenblum Planchon Vineyard Zinfandel
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $25

2006 Rosenblum Paso Robles Zinfandel
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $18

2005 Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $36

2006 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $27

2005 Novy Christensen Family Vineyard Syrah
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $29 regular price, $22 sale price

2005 Novy Sonoma County Syrah
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $19.50

NV Korbel Brut Champagne
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $10

2006 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $20

2006 DeLoach Forgotten Vines Zinfandel
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $32

2004 DeLoach Gambogi Ranch Zinfandel
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $30

2005 Mazzocco West Dry Creek Zinfandel
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $27

2005 Mazzocco Stone Zinfandel
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $27

2005 Mazzocco Home Zinfandel
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $29

2006 Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $18

2006 Valley of the Moon Zinfandel
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $20

2005 Valley of the Moon Syrah
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $20

2005 Sterling Cellar Club Oak Knoll Pinot Noir
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $28

2005 BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $30

2005 BV Carneros Pinot Noir
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $30

2004 BV Napa Valley Syrah
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $10 sale price

2005 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Shiraz
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $10

2004 Clos du Bois Shiraz
Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $11


Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, California Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Sparkling Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25, Zinfandel

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