Cool Beauty: Tasting the Wines of the Western Sonoma Coast

VINOGRAPHY: A WINE BLOG
By Alder Yarrow

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I’ll admit it. I’m an acid freak. More than anything else in a wine, I’m looking for the juiciness that I get from well-balanced wines that lean towards the lower side of pH. There’s nothing quite like that zip and crackle of a wine that gets your tastebuds tingling and your mouth watering.

With care, mouthwatering wines can be made just about anywhere. Farming well and then paying close attention to the harvest in order to ensure the grapes retain enough acidity to balance their sugars remains the best way to make excellent wine in my opinion. But that is sometimes easier said than done, especially in this age of global warming.

Consequently I find myself drawn more and more to the cooler climes of the wine world — those places that thanks to their altitude, their latitude, their unique microclimates or their proximity to the ocean tend to be on the borderline of viability for many varieties of wine grapes.

Though it took many years for me to realize it, I was born in such a region. I took my first breaths five miles inland from the Pacific ocean in the heart of what is now affectionally called the Western Sonoma Coast, if only to better distinguish it from the AVA (American Viticultural Area) known as the Sonoma Coast. The Sonoma Coast AVA represents the worst example of how politics and bureaucracy can win out over geology and geography when it comes to defining America’s wine growing regions. Massive and sprawling, the Sonoma Coast AVA includes far more acreage without any coastal climate influence than it does acreage kissed by the cool fogs and ocean breezes of the pacific.

This incongruence with its own name has led many winegrowers to eschew the use of Sonoma Coast in favor of phrases such as “True Sonoma Coast” or “Western Sonoma Coast,” which they believe better describe those cool-climate vineyard sites that are influenced by their proximity to the ocean.

Many of these winegrowers and winemakers have banded together under an organization known as the West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association, and for the past four years they have put on an event known as West of West, which consists of seminars, dinners, and a large public tasting of wines from the region.

It is, simply, one of the best wine events in Northern California (and is now coming to Southern California), any way you would like to judge it — by food, by wine, or by the enthusiastic good time it engenders in all its attendees. I have spoken at the event on occasion, but try to attend every year if only to get a chance to taste the latest vintage from one of my favorite wine regions in California.

This year’s event, held at The Barlow, the new epicurean epicenter in the town of Sebastopol, largely showcased the 2012 vintage, which seems to be a winner (though I admit to preferring the extremes of 2011 in some cases). I tasted through a vast majority of the wines on offer over the two days of the tasting, and offer my notes and scores for them below, grouped by color.

If you haven’t had many of these wines, I highly encourage you to seek them out. A few, such as my Ceritas favorites, are unfortunately hard to come by without being on the winery’s mailing list, but you will find many relatively easy to purchase.

Enjoy.

Whites

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 10
2012 Ceritas Porter Bass Vineyard Chardonnay $60
Palest gold in the glass, this wine has an incredibly beautiful nose of crushed nuts, pine resin, and candied lemon peel. In the mouth phenomenally juicy and bright flavors of lemon peel and pink grapefruit burst on the palate thanks to incredible acidity. Underneath everything there is the crackling stony minerality of crushed quartz. This wine literally makes the mouth water, gushing gulping and begging for more. I’m not afraid to suggest that this may be the single best Chardonnay made in California. Hot damn.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2012 Ceritas Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay $55
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of sappy lemon zest. In the mouth the wine has a wonderfully silky texture with juicy lemon, green apple, and yellow-herb flavors that turn to juicy grapefruit in the long finish. Electric acidity. click to buy.

2012 Red Car Estate Vineyard Chardonnay $50
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of nutty lemon rind. In the mouth, bright lemon and saline flavors take on a crystalline quality as floral notes invade the finish. Gorgeous, long, and juicy. Fantastic acidity. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2012 DuMol “Isobel” Chardonnay $60
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and wet stones. In the mouth, the wine has wonderful balance, with lemon zest, lemon curd and wet stone flavors that linger juicy and long through the finish. Excellent acidity and wonderfully silky texture in the mouth. click to buy.

2007 DuMol “Isobel” Chardonnay $??
Medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon peel and beeswax. In the mouth, wonderfully herbal flavors of beeswax, candied lemon peel and lemon curd linger for a long time in the finish. Nice acidity. click to buy.

2011 Hartford Family Winery Seascape Vineyard Chardonnay $70
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a bright lemony apple aroma. In the mouth the wine has a fantastically saline and lemon curd flavor that leans towards pink grapefruit through the very long finish. click to buy.

2012 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay $55
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and wet stone. In the mouth, that lemon curd flavor persists with lemon zest, pink grapefruit and a saline note that is quite charming. Excellent acidity and length. click to buy.

2012 Peay “Estate” Chardonnay $54
Pale gold in the glass, this wine wafts nutty lemon and cold cream aromas up to fill the nose. In the mouth stony lemon and grapefruit flavors have a wonderfully zesty bright sourness to them. Great acidity and stony minerality. click to buy.

2012 Red Car “Ritchie Vineyard” Chardonnay $50
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of apple and pineapple. In the mouth, flavors of lemon, apple and pineapple have a nice snap to them thanks to good acidity. Long finish. click to buy.

2012 Wayfarer Chardonnay $80
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemony piney wet stone. In the mouth, flavors of wet stone, lemon curd, and bright freshly juiced grapefruit linger for a long time in the finish. Excellent acidity and length. click to buy.

2012 Fort Ross Chardonnay $40
2011 Hartford Family Winery Far Coast Vineyard Chardonnay $65
2010 DuMol “Isobel” Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay n/a
2012 Lioco Wine Co Hanzell Chardonnay $50
2012 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay $70
2011 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay $60

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 32 Winds “Lucky Well U.V.” Chardonnay $49
2012 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay $45
2009 DuMol “Isobel” Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay n/a
2012 Failla Chardonnay $34
2012 Flowers Chardonnay $65
2013 Ramey Chardonnay $40
2012 Sojourn Cellars Campbell Ranch Chardonnay $45
2012 Zepaltas Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay $48

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Alma Fria Chardonnay $35
2012 Small Vines Chardonnay $48

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2012 Banshee Chardonnay $25
2012 Benovia Chardonnay $48
2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay $25
2012 Sonoma Coast Vineyard “Gold Ridge Hills” Chardonnay $30

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2011 Martinelli Charles Ranch Chardonnay $48

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2012 Senses Chardonnay $34

Pinks

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rosé $25
Palest pink in color, this wine smells of citrus and berry. In the mouth fantastic bright berry and orange peel flavors seem strained through stony rainwater. Delicious and thirst-quenching. click to buy.

2013 Soliste “Soleil Rouge” Pinot Noir Rosé $22
Pale pink in color, this wine smells of bright berry and citrus peel. In the mouth, bright citrus peel and wet stone flavors wash over berries and crisp acidity. Delicious. click to buy.

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2013 Bake Lane Vineyards Syrah $19
2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir $18

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Charles Heintz Vineyard Pinot Noir $19
2013 Fort Ross Pinot Noir $24
2012 Freeman Pinot Noir $20
2012 Furthermore Pinot Noir Pinot Noir $20

Reds

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
2009 Cobb Wines “Joy Road” Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of pure and crystalline raspberry fruit. In the mouth, fantastically sappy and citrusy flavors of raspberry and redcurrant burst on the palate thanks to incredible acidity. The fruit core of the wine is draped in gauzy fine-grained tannins that build structure around the electric, almost neon quality of the fruit. Fantastic. click to buy.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2011 32 Winds “Lucky Well U.V.” Pinot Noir $59
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and raspberry leaf and mixed herbs. In the mouth fantastic acidity makes favors of earth, green herbs, and wonderfully pure fruit dance on the palate. Great length. click to buy.

2012 Ceritas “Hellenthal Vineyard” Pinot Noir $60
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and raspberries. In the mouth, suede-like tannins wrap around a flavors of earth and bright raspberry fruit. Gorgeous acidity and texture. Great length.

2012 Ceritas “Escarpa Vineyard” Pinot Noir $65
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth tightly wound flavors of raspberry take on a citrus quality as they head towards a long finish. Very fine grained slightly stiff-at-this-point tannins don’t interfere with the gorgeous fruit. Wonderful.

2012 Ceritas “Eliott Vineyard” Pinot Noir $55
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, raspberry leaf and dried flowers. In the mouth the floral quality continues with gorgeous raspberry fruit that turns lean and mineral through the finish. Bright, juicy and fantastically mouthwatering. Long finish.

2011 Cobb Wines “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir $80
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of spicy herbs and berries. In the mouth, wonderfully savory flavors of raspberry, herbs, and cedar have a lean stony quality to them. Excellent acidity and length in addition to depth. Outstanding. click to buy.

2008 Cobb Wines “Rice Spivak” Vineyard Pinot Noir $80
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, the cedar and raspberry continue, shot through with the flavor of wet earth. Gorgeous, long and somehow both brooding and light on its feet. The wine spent a staggering 30 months in old oak barrels. Excellent acidity. click to buy.

2008 Cobb Wines “Jack Hill” Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry with herbal notes as it gets a little more air. In the mouth, that herbal quality leads, with tight-grained tannins that wrap around a core of citrus-bright raspberry fruit that lingers for a long time in the finish. Excellent. click to buy.

2012 DuMol “Connor” Joy Road Vineyard Pinot Noir $75
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of juicy raspberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully pure raspberry and cherry fruit flavors vibrate with fantastic acidity and linger for a long time in the finish.

2012 Peay “Les Titans” Syrah $54
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blueberry/blackberry fruit. In the mouth wonderfully savory black olive blackberry, licorice and cassis flavors seem dusted with white pepper. Tight, fine grained tannins and great length. A killer rendition of this grape and site. click to buy.

2012 Red Car Estate Pinot Noir $58
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wonderfully floral, spicy raspberry and dried herbs. In the mouth, pure raspberry fruit mixes with citrusy notes of orange peel and a deep mineral note. Very fine, barely perceptible tannins dust the fruit and give some additional complexity to the shimmering flavors of the wine. Very long finish. click to buy.

2012 Zepaltas “Devoto Vineyard” Pinot Noir $45
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of zingy, tart raspberry fruit. In the mouth, fantastically bright raspberry fruit mixes with deep forest floor earthiness and dusty, fine-grained tannins. Phenomenal acidity makes the fruit and stone quality of this wine all but burst on the palate. Edgy and electrifying.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2009 32 Winds “Hirsch Vineyard” Pinot Noir $59
Pale ruby in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and dried flowers. In the mouth bright raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors have a wonderfully stony underbelly and linger long through the finish as faint tannins caress the palate. click to buy.

2012 Alma Fria “Dona Margarita Vineyard” Pinot Noir $58
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, wet stone, and mixed herbs. In the mouth the wine has a racy leanness to it with flavors of raspberry and wet cement. Excellent acidity. click to buy.

2012 Alma Fria “Holtermann Vineyard” Pinot Noir $58
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, exotic flowers, and bright fruit. In the mouth, juicy raspberry flavors mix with earth and raspberry leaf under a blanket of leathery tannins. Long finish. Great acid. click to buy.

2012 Banshee “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in color, this wine has a wonderfully herbal nose of raspberry and citrus aromas. IN the mouth, flavors of raspberry fruit are pure, juicy, and bright. Faint tannins dust the mouth and the wine has a gorgeous finish.

2012 Claypool Cellars “Rice Spivak Vineyard” Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and green herbs. In the mouth, light, muscular tannins wrap around a core of raspberry, earth, and faint herbal flavors. Nice acidity and length.

2012 DuMol “Aidan” Pinot Noir $75
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, cherries, and cedar. In the mouth, tangy raspberry and cherry flavors have an aromatic sweetness that makes the wine linger with a faint candied note in the finish. Quite tasty. click to buy.

2012 DuMol “Jack Robert’s Run” Syrah $75
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis, white pepper and blackberry. In the mouth, blackberry and earth twirl across the palate dusted with white and black pepper aromas. Excellent acidity. click to buy.

2012 Failla “Hirsch Vineyard” Pinot Noir $68
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth raspberry fruit turns towards citrus as herbs and earth emerge through a long finish. Great acidity. click to buy.

2012 Failla “Occidental Ridge” Pinot Noir $58
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wonderfully sweet raspberry fruit. In the mouth raspberry fruit twins with herbal spice under a lacy blanket of fine-grained tannins. Great acidity and length. click to buy.

2012 LaRue Wines Pinot Noir $60
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully floral nose of raspberry fruit aromas. In the mouth pure raspberry fruit has a crystalline quality, and notes of citrus peel and sour cherry emerge through a very long finish. Fantastic acidity and balance. Delicious. click to buy.

2011 LaRue Wines “Emmaline Anne Vineyard” Pinot Noir $70
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of crushed mixed herbs and raspberry tinged with earth. In the mouth the wine is impeccably balanced, with a gorgeous texture that delivers flavors of raspberry, earth, and citrus peel through to a long finish. Excellent acidity.

2012 Lioco Wine Co “Hirsch Vineyard” Pinot Noir $65
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of herbal and lean berry aromas. In the mouth, the fruit has a lean, herbal austerity that is quite beautiful as it resolves into mineral and crushed herbs. Tight, fine-grained tannins linger in the long finish. Needs some time. click to buy.

2012 Littorai “Mays Canyon” Pinot Noir $70
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and earth. In the mouth, the wine has a tight musculature thanks to fine grained tannins that wrap around a core of earthy raspberry fruit that has an herbal note through the finish. click to buy.

2012 Littorai “The Pivot Vineyard” Pinot Noir $70
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and raspberry fruit. In the mouth bright redcurrant and raspberry fruit flavors are bright and juicy and dusted with nearly imperceptible tannins. Nice length. click to buy.

2012 Littorai “The Haven” Vineyard Pinot Noir $80
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, raspberry and cherry. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of raspberry and cherry are covered with dusty tannins that linger for a long time through the finish. Excellent balance and length. Great acidity. click to buy.

2012 Peay “Scallop Shelf Estate” Pinot Noir $56
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry fruit. In the mouth tight, powdery tannins wrap around a core of raspberry, tea, and raspberry leaf flavors. Great acidity and length. Tightly wound. click to buy.

2012 Red Car “Platt Vineyard” Pinot Noir $58
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, cherry and earth. In the mouth flavors of forest floor, raspberry, and orange peel mix beautifully under a blanket of fleecy tannins. Good length. click to buy.

2012 Red Car “Estate Vineyard” Syrah $50
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of white pepper and black cherry fruit. In the mouth black cherry, blackberry, and white pepper fruit is enclosed in a muscular fist of thick tannins. Deep, dark and stony. click to buy.

2012 Siduri “Hirsch Vineyard” Pinot Noir $52
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green herbs, green wood, and cedary cherry aromas. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is shot through with green herbs and peeled willow bark. Excellent acidity and length. click to buy.

2012 Zepaltas “Suacci Vineyard” Pinot Noir $48
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of herbal cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth flavors of green herbs, cedar, and bright raspberry fruit linger for a long time in the finish. Excellent acidity. click to buy.

2012 Fort Ross “Sea Slopes” Pinot Noir $40. click to buy.
2012 Freeman “Akiko’s Cuvee” Pinot Noir $62. click to buy.
2011 Hartford Family Winery “Far Coast Vineyard” Pinot Noir $70. click to buy.
2012 Hartford Family Winery “Land’s Edge Vineyard” Pinot Noir $50. click to buy.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2010 32 Winds “Maestro” Pinot Noir $45
2012 Alma Fria Pinot Noir $35
2010 Bake Lane Vineyards “Reserve” Pinot Noir $45
2012 Banshee “Jack Hill” Pinot Noir $60
2012 Banshee “Tina Marie Vineyard” Pinot Noir $60
2012 Charles Heintz Vineyard Pinot Noir $48
2012 Charles Heintz Vineyard Syrah $46
2012 Claypool Cellars “Pachyderm” Pinot Noir $48
2013 CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir $35
2012 Failla Pinot Noir $34
2011 Flowers “Seaview Ridge Estate” Pinot Noir $75
2010 Fort Ross Pinot Noir $52
2009 Fort Ross Pinotage $40
2007 Fort Ross “Reserve” Pinot Noir $52
2012 Freeman Pinot Noir $45
2010 Furthermore “Bohemian Vineyard” Pinot Noir $40
2012 Furthermore “Nevina’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir $50
2012 Furthermore “Gloria Vineyard” Pinot Noir $50
2012 Gros Ventres Cellars Pinot Noir $42
2012 Hartford Family Winery “Seascape Vineyard” Pinot Noir $60
2012 Lattanzio Wines “Celia’s Cuvee” Pinot Noir $31
2012 Lioco Wine Co “Laguna” Pinot Noir $38
2012 Peay “Ama Estate” Pinot Noir $54
2012 Senses Pinot Noir $40
2012 Siduri “Sonatera” Pinot Noir $48
2012 Sojourn Cellars “Ridgetop Vineyard” Pinot Noir $59
2012 Sojourn Cellars “Campbell Ranch” Pinot Noir $59
2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard “Balistreri Family Vineyard” Pinot Noir $50
2012 Wayfarer Pinot Noir $90
2012 Zepaltas Pinot Noir $32

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Bake Lane Vineyards “Cuvee” Pinot Noir $28
2009 Bake Lane Vineyards “Estate” Syrah $42
2012 Banshee “Marine Layer” Pinot Noir $50
2012 Benziger “Arbore Sacre” Pinot Noir $70
2010 Emeritus “William Wesley” Pinot Noir $67
2011 Emeritus “Hallberg” Pinot Noir $42
2012 Gros Ventres Cellars “Campbell Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir $54
2011 Gros Ventres Cellars “First Born” Pinot Noir $58
2012 Joseph Phelps Vineyards “Freestone Vineyards” Pinot Noir $55
2012 Lattanzio Wines “Umino Vineyard” Pinot Noir $44
2012 MacPhail “Mardikian Vineyard” Pinot Noir $85
2011 Martinelli “Three Sister Vineyard – Seaview Meadow” Pinot Noir $45
2012 Peay Pinot Noir $47
2012 Ramey “Platt Vineyard” Pinot Noir $60
2012 Red Car “Zephyr Farms Vineyard” Pinot Noir $58
2012 Small Vines Pinot Noir $50
2012 Small Vines “MK Vineyard” Pinot Noir $65
2012 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir $38
2012 Sojourn Cellars “Silver Eagle Vineyard” Pinot Noir $59
2012 Sojourn Cellars “Gap’s Crown” Pinot Noir $59
2011 Soliste “Foret” Pinot Noir $85
2012 Soliste “L’Esperance” Pinot Noir $75
2011 Sonoma Coast Vineyard “Bodega Ridge Black” Pinot Noir $75
2010 Sonoma Coast Vineyard “Occidental Road” Syrah $35
2012 Wayfarer “Golden Mean” Pinot Noir $115

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2012 Benovia “Tilton Hill” Pinot Noir $56
2012 Benziger “de Coelo Terra Neuva” Pinot Noir $70
2012 Benziger “de Coelo Quintus” Pinot Noir $70
2011 Emeritus “William Wesley” Pinot Noir $65
2009 Fort Ross “Reserve” Pinot Noir $65
2011 Joseph Phelps Vineyards “Quarter Moon Vineyard” Pinot Noir $75
2012 Lattanzio Wines “W.E. Bottoms Vineyard” Pinot Noir $42
2012 Lynmar Estate “Terra de Promissio Vineyard” Pinot Noir $40
2009 Lynmar Estate Syrah $50
2011 MacPhail “Pratt Vineyard” Pinot Noir $49
2011 Martinelli Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $63
2011 Sonoma Coast Vineyard “Freestone Hills” Pinot Noir $50

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2010 Soliste “Sonatera Vineyard” Pinot Noir $75

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7
2009 Marimar Estate “Mas Cavalls” Pinot Noir $44