Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Wimpy Wines

Arriving in Sonoma

Upon our arrival in Sonoma, California, we were anxious to get started on our tasting journey. A quick stop in the center of town is where you will find a square with lots of shops, eateries and tasting rooms. We needed to get our bearings, so a walk around the square was in order. We need maps!

Pick up a free copy of Wine Country This Week, from the Information Center. You'll get an idea of what is going on in the California wine scene and get some great ideas on where to go and what to do. You can pick up a copy of the Sonoma wine guide, it does have a map, but if you try to use it, your navigator will be arguing with your driver. Plus, if the winery did not purchase advertising, it may not have a dot on the map. (This may be my perception.)

So what should you do? Go to Sonoma Wine Hardware (map) on Broadway. Inside you will find a glossy map of Sonoma and Napa. On the back it has just about every winery listed and their tasting hours with addresses. The inn that we stayed at had a map published by Sonoma County. Between these two maps, you will be able to get around the Sonoma and Napa wine regions.

Our pourer at Ravenswood Winery.
Our First Tasting, Ravenswood Winery
As I mentioned, we were anxious to get in our first tasting. But it was getting on towards 4:00 by the time we arrived. Since we had our "free map" from the info center, we didn't pick up a copy of the map from Sonoma Wine Hardware. It was then that we were hopelessly looking for our first target. We did find an easy target, Ravenswood Winery (map).

We chose Ravenswood because we know that we can purchase their wines in our region. They have two flights, the regular production wines and the "Vineyard Designate Wines". The latter will cost you $15.00 however it will give you an opportunity to try some wines that you may not be able to access in your locations. Many are sold exclusively through their wine club or at the winery. (We got to keep the glasses.)

Ravenswood Winery's slogan is "No Wimpy Wines". Their wines are big, bold and distinctive. We also were able to compare the wines from the Alexander Vally, Russian River, Sonoma Valley and Pickberry Vineyard. This is really fun because terrior does matter in quality wines.

The Tasting Room is well appointed with good acoustics. I prefer tasting rooms that you can have a pleasant conversation with the server or with my friends. If I cannot hear myself think, I have a hard time figuring out what is happening with the wine.

The staff was wonderful. They answered questions, told us about the vineyards, about the history, and generally were having a great time. They let us take notes, take time to appreciate their product and were very helpful. They enjoyed teaching us about their products. It was a fun atmosphere where we could be students learning to taste. And they appreciate working with people that are truly willing to learn.

Here are my tasting notes from just one wine from the flight.

Big River Zinfandel
Zinfandel 100%
Growing Area: Alexander Valley

Vintage: 2005
Price: $32.00 Retail $25.60 Club
Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Dark
Aromas and Flavors: Jammy spicy cedar, raisin black pepper, choke cherry, elderberry, dandelion, strawberry, mint
Body: Full
Finish: Moderate
Tannin: Suede to leather

Summary: Just what you would expect from a well crafted Zinfandel. The wine evolved in the glass, on the palate and offered new perception surprises, one after another. I spent a good 10 minutes with my one ounce pour. Walked around the shop, talked with our server and just let the wine evolve. The Alexander Valley is a premier growing region for bright, complex Zinfandel grapes. Yeah, we brought a bottle home with us.

Tasting Room Tips

Keeping tasting notes is not only fun, but when you try to remember which wine you liked, it can be important. Taking notes is a good thing. The tasting room folks know you will be visiting other rooms and really appreciate it when you make an effort to remember their wines. Our Ravenswood server recounted to us a visitor he recently had return from a year ago. The visitor asked, "Can you help us remember what wine we bought from you last year?" The server asked helpfully, "What can you tell me about what you bought?" "Oh", replied the visitor, "It was a red wine." "Well, that is about 80% of what we sell. What else can you tell me, was it a Cab, a Zin?" "Oh, I don't know, it had a white label with three black birds in a circle." Great, they just narrowed it down from 80% to 79% of the wines ever sold by Ravenswood!

Ravenswood was a wonderful tasting experience. A fun tasting room with some nice wine accessories and a great staff. Ravenswood has some great big wines. We are grateful that we can get them locally in our area.