Life is too short to drink bad wine! Celebrate its sweetness and light with a wonderful port, a honeyed dessert or a delicious late-harvest wine.
In the midst of a cold rain, we decided to go wine-tasting in Sonoma's Russian River and Alexander Valleys. Because of the weather, we focused on sweet wines: dessert and late-harvest wines and ports.
The distinctive tasting room at Field Stone Winery was our first stop. Their 2002 Vintage Petit Syrah Port has a very slight tannic edge, and a distinctive P.Syrah fruitiness. Scharffenberger chocolate bites expose rich chocolate and hazelnut tones in the port.
Hanna Winery recommended their 100% Rued Chardonnay 2003 Jasmine for its delicate flavor. I would not call this a sweet wine, however—it is light, with a floral nose, sharp, crisp peach-and-citrus on the tongue, and absolutely no tannin bite despite its fermentation in 20% new French oak.
The charming tasting room at Johnson's Alexander Valley Wines is the antithesis of the snobby wine experience—we tasted from a wedding glass ("Good Luck Charlie and Beth!"). The beagles who usually greet visitors to this superb picnic spot must have been driven inside by the rain, but we did get a look at the automated pipe organ with its surround of other instruments. Alas! Tom was not there to perform, but we were consoled by an excellent 1997 late-harvest Johannesburg Reisling, not too sweet, but with vivid melon and citrus notes on the palate, and a very slight tannin bite at the finish.
Trentadue Winery charges for tasting a flight of their port wines—but if you like strong ports with lots of tannic edge (and "notes of tobacco" in one case), it is worth the investment. The 2003 Viognier White Port is my favorite from this winery, lightly sweet and fruity, with the apricot-and-vanilla notes of the Viognier grape. Nibble some brie between sips to bring out a pleasant nutmeg undertone.
In Healdsburg, we went first to the Bohemian "Best of the North Bay" tasting room winner, Thumbprint Cellars—the winery also got the nod for Best Cabernet and Best Pinot Noir wines, and an honorable mention for their tasting room as a "best-kept secret." We hoped to taste again the excellent Cabernet Port they offered at the barrel-tasting, but it had been returned to rest in the barrel. Scott assured us that futures will still be available at their "Best Of" celebration, which will coincide with the Passport weekend, April 23-23. Pair the port with the custom-made Cab Port Truffles—port futures and truffles can both be purchased from the Thumbprint web site.