Sonoma in the City

I found a few familiar faces, some new labels and a handful of very good wines at the Sonoma in San Francisco tasting this week.

On my quest to try more white wines, I tasted a broad range of chardonnay. Many of them left me disappointed  They really didn’t stand out from the crowd and they should for prices that generally pushed up from $25 to $50.

I did find some good Sonoma chardonnay to recommend from the 100s of wines poured at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco Monday (July 11). I also discovered some nice bottles of really fine cabernet-based wines.


The first chardonnay is made by Sbragia Family Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley.  This 2008 is a nicely balanced effort from winemaker Adam Sbragia and his father, Beringer‘s award-winning winemaker Ed Sbragia.

The grapes are from Gamble Ranch in Napa Valley, where the elder Sbragia makes award-winning chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at his “day job.

This is a big white wine (14.9% alcohol) that’s ready to drink now with seafood or maybe a cream sauced pasta.

“We finish the wine in 100 percent new French oak,” explained the younger Sbragia. “It’s 100 percent malolactic, too, which gives it a creamy, buttery taste, almost butterscotch.”


I was also impressed with the 2008 Alexander Valley Winemaker’s Reserve ($30) from Chateau Souverain.

This wine pretty much hits all the taste targets you’d expect in a high-quality chardonnay.

It tastes of citrus and apples. There are some spicy notes, a buttery creaminess, although it operates at a bit lower intensity level than the Sbragia.

A sample of the same wine from the 2009 vintage (scheduled to be released in about two months) was even better, with a very similar profile.

Souverain has been around for more than six decades of Sonoma County vintages. It is now owned by Beringer.

Robert Young

This $40 wine from Robert Young Estate Winery is good to the core.

It tastes of fresh apples with a round creaminess that pushed the pleasure factor up a notch.

There’s a whiff of tropical fruit as the silky liquid is consumed.  The wine is aged in new and old French oak, which accounts for some of the nutty flavors.

Robert Young, which is family owned, has 130 acres of chardonnay. There’s another 187 acres of merlot along with some cabernet sauvignon vines first planted in 1964.


I was captivated by the 2004 Stryker cabernet sauvignon from the famed Monte Rosso (Red Mountain) vineyard owned by Louis M. Martini Winery, the pioneering Sonoma County brand now owned by Gallo.

I tasted dark fruit and smelled cherries and blackberries.

This wine has a nice fleshy feel, but it’s not flabby. I liked the touch of vanilla and hint of spice on my tongue.

The quality is so high, I’d call this a bargain at $48.

Laurel Glen

The 2007 Counterpoint, from Laurel Glen, is a wine you can buy today and drink tonight. It’s ready whenever you are.

This wine was made before new owners took over the small winery and 11-acre vineyard on Sonoma Mountain earlier this year.

This is the winery’s “second” wine, made from selected barrels with the most fruit forward attributes. It’s made to be consumed early.

I tasted red fruits and light oak. The nose promises baking spices and there’s just enough tannin to keep the structure intact and balanced.


Seghesio Family Vineyards takes a different approach with its cabernet-based 2008 Omaggio.

The wine is deep red and sweet fruit flavors. There are finely integrated tannins, to keep the wine in check

The $40 blend is 60 percent cabernet and 40 percent sangiovese. The cabernet is sourced from the Alexander Valley and also from a mountain vineyard on Mount Veeder in Napa.

The taste of red cherries runs mainstream with a few earthy undertones. The wine is balanced with just enough wood taste from the use of new French oak barrels.

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