CAVEAT: I have a YES/NO response to most wines, with a palate decidedly on the sweet side of the gauge. I buy ports and late harvest wines for me to drink, and an occasional bottle of red wine to take along to a family dinner. I love to taste good wines, though, for their own sake, so I'm very lucky to live in Sonoma County, California, where wine-tasting can be a regular pastime.
Tempted by the warm sun and my spouse, I left my keyboard this afternoon for an exploration of Sonoma County's great red wines. As with any wine-tasting, this one could not be exhaustive. This is especially true for tasting bold reds—eventually all those Zins, Cabs and Carignanes melt into one big red blur.
We started with the alternate tasting room for the Hanna Winery, on Occidental Road right outside Santa Rosa. Trudy was pouring a 1999 2002 Bismark Ranch Sangiovese with a lovely deep-ruby color—the draw for this wine is all in the nose, with its delicate scents of cherry and lavender, and undertones of fresh-cut grass. The 2001 Bismark Ranch Zinfandel was over-oaked for my palate, but the strong fruit savor almost made up for it. This Zin was 27-30 Brix at harvest, and was unfiltered, making a bang-Zin that would be great with spicy Mexican food or strong curries.
My favorite at Hanna was the 2001 Two Ranch Red, a blended wine with a lovely plum and berry nose, buttery-smooth on the palate at front, with a slight pepper bite at the back. A close runner-up was the 2001 Pourroy Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel. This 2001 wine is the last Hanna will make of this vineyard—a pity, since this Zin starts with a gorgeous, full blackberry nose, dark cherry and plum jam on the tongue, and a balanced tannic bite with a hint of pepper at the finish. Classic Zin!
Next, we went north to the brand-new tasting room at Dutcher Crossing Winery. Katrina in her red lace cami top was the most delicious thing in the tasting room, just edging out the great reds she was pouring. We started with a cult favorite, the 2003 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel. (Maple Vineyard Zinfandels are "known for their lush berry flavors and for staying true to the classic character of Zins from the Dry Creek Valley.") This wine was a bit raw for my taste, possibly needing a year or two more to lose its snarling bite—the oak overwhelms nose and palate both, with little Zin fruit evident in either. Far better was the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, lovely plum and cherry in the nose, plum and pepper on the palate, and a hint of oak at the finish. Cashew nibbles on the tasting room counter did not quite supply the palate refreshment needed by such oaky reds—but that's the opinion of an inveterate chocoholic!