2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

In my ode to 2012 I paid tribute to my greatest (yes there are many) shortcoming as a writer. That being clamming up when it comes to sharing something I really enjoy; like this wine. I fear I can’t convey my sense of excitement. Or sometimes convince myself that I want to provide more context for the overall story (like a bio on winemaker Ed Kurtzman) which I never have time to put together (and it has usually already been done). But not this year, for better or worse I’m just going to get these stories out there and build from there. So let’s get this started…

2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirPrice: $30.00 direct from Sandler Wine Company

What They Said:

Per Weimax “We like his 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. You can’t mistake this for anything other than Pinot Noir. The wine is medium garnet in color and has classic strawberry and cherry-like fruit notes. There’s a touch of a vanillin note in the back. It’s light and aromatic, flavorful and smooth. We suggest cooling it to cellar temperature. It’s not a wine intended for cellaring, so drinking it this year or next is ideal.”

What I Think:

(14.5%) A Pinot made in a bigger style but while retaining its elegance. Nice dark cherry fruit with a touch of cranberry and a “singing” acidity that brings it all together. While the fruit remains this one turns earthy and spicy on a long finish. Intense but not overpowering; a wine that speaks to me. My only regret is that this is my last bottle. Wish I had a few more around. Let that serve as a note for me to start ordering regularly…

Rating: Wow!

2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot NoirPer Trader Joe’s Food Pilgrimager “Last year, our buyers procured a limited quantity of Sebastopol Hills Pinot for an unmatched in the market price. As quickly as the word got out, the wine ran out. It happens. But it also happens that because we approach our partnerships with respect and prompt payment, we were able to do it again! (It helps, too, that we prefer a great price per bottle to a prominent vineyard on a label.) Our Sonoma County Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir is ripe and fleshy. Aged in French oak for 10 months, it’s well structured. And at $9.99 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s very well priced.”

What I Think:

As mentioned in my review of the ’08 I was able to trace this offering back to Willowbrook Cellars where their standard bottle goes for $24. I was a fan of the ’08 but am always apprehensive when the next vintage arrives (see below for my reasoning). Given that I was curious to see how the ’09 would play out. Here were my notes…

(14.5%) Loads of orange rind, currant and cranberries on the nose. Medium to full bodied on the palate with juicy blueberry fruit and more orange rind flavors along the edges. The mouth feel is smooth and creamy showing just a bit of heat from the barrel. The finish is short but pleasant and lingers on warmly. Given the big fruit and big style (what I call “Pinot on Steroids” which I think I lifted from @RobertDwyer) I suspect this one is getting some help from another varietal or two. A nice wine for sure but I prefer the Picket Fence which I felt was a bit more varietally correct (and it’s a buck cheaper). That said if that weren’t available I’d probably be grabbing some more of this one.

Now back to my new vintage apprehension. When comparing this to the previous vintage I’m guessing the ’08 was the real deal. As in a wine that was made from day one with the intention of being labeled “Willowbrook Cellars”. On the other hand I’m guessing this one was made for Trader Joe’s from the get go. That would likely mean two things: 1) trying to scale production while 2) trying to maintain the price point. And therein lies the conundrum of a successful wine offering at Trader Joe’s From that perspective they did a pretty admirable job of maintaining quality while scaling production. Wonder what the 2010 will be like…

Rating: Pricey

Interested in reading more about the Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir?

  • Good Cheap Vino prefers the Sebastopol Hills to the Picket Fence
  • WineBites likes the Sebastopol Hills but wishes they had made a wine with more subtle complexity

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Price: $16.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast ChardonnayPer La Crema “The 2007 release of our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay bursts with vivid citrus and fresh green apple aromas, laced with subtle notes of honeysuckle and clove. On the palate, flavors broaden into rich spiced apple and crisp lime zest, with vanilla and caramel tones adding richness and texture on the finish.” – Melissa Stackhouse, La Crema Winemaker

90 points Robert Parker: “There are 6,200 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Russian River. It exhibits plenty of tropical fruit and honeysuckle along with a touch of spice, full-bodied, rich flavors, and a subtle note of oak. This wine was 100% barrel-fermented and was put through 100% malolactic fermentation, but the oak is kept in the background.” (12/08)

90 points from Wine Enthusiast: “A beautiful Chardonnay, with a chalky minerality that anchors and braces ripe fruit flavors of Bosc pears and pineapples, subtlely accented with new smoky oak. Bone dry, this polished wine shows lots of finesse and complexity.” (02/09)

What I Think:

First off, for those that may have find this posting by accident (as well as for those that may have forgotten), please be aware that I am not a fan of the vast majority of California Chardonnay. I prefer fruit to oak and find that for my taste many come across as unbalanced. This leads me in the direction of those that are made using stainless steel or in some other unoaked fashion. The Catch 22 here is that my wife loves California Chard and in an effort to keep a happy household it is a good idea for me to put my personal wishes aside and “suck it up” every now and again. And that is the long way of telling you how the La Crema found its way to my table recently.

The wine was medium gold in color. The nose made me immediately step back as I was overtaken by oak. When I put my nose back in the glass I found some white fruit notes. On the palate, you get the rich, creamy texture (which usually lets me know secondary malolactic fermentation occurred) with subdued apple/pear flavors and the faintest hint acidity. The finish delivers the oak barrel in spades with buttery caramel and vanilla flavors that linger for a bit before fading away. My take here is that either the fruit is slightly underwhelming or the oak is overwhelming. That said on my “butter scale” this one is not on the popcorn side and when paired with food (roasted chicken) had its merits, perhaps I am getting accustomed.

To prove I’m not in the majority here let’s see take a peek at what the critics had to say. Parker said “…a subtle note of oak. … but the oak is kept in the background.” And the Enthusiast this “…subtlely accented with new smoky oak.” And they both scored it 90 points. Yip, I guess I am way overly sensitive to oak. Guess I’ll keep trying to refine my palate though, for the good of my marriage!

Rating: Pricey

For those out there that want to give this one a try it is available at wine.com.