Nice view, but what do the wines taste like?
Cyclists who participate in Levi Leipheimer's 11th annual King Ridge GranFondo this Saturday, October 5, will roll out on a flat road that's flanked by vineyards, and a few wineries, in the Russian River Valley wine appellation. Nothing unusual about that, wine country-wise. As they gain elevation, they'll enter the Sonoma Coast appellation. At the peak of the namesake climb, they'll be smack in the midst of the Fort Ross-Seaview appellation. In these more far-flung regions, there are few wineries but many isolated pockets of vineyard, best seen and felt on a bike ride—a terroir experience that's rewarding even without opening a bottle. But, we will open that bottle.
The Piccolo: Dutton Estate 2017 Dutton Palms Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($49) Anyone who can ride 30 miles out and back from Santa Rosa is no slouch, and this Chardonnay is no slouch, either. Picked from the vineyard that surrounds the family's estate home on a hill in a picturesque little valley west of Graton, this dry-finishing wine is made with 40 percent new French oak, yet it's just vanilla frosting on the apple cake, in flavor, not the butterball that some associate with California Chardonnay.
The Medio plus Willow Creek: Bohème 2015 Stuller Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($55) I cheated on the biking bit: I drove my car to this little Occidental tasting room to get an updated tasting note, but found that it's much the same as the 2008 that I tasted way back when: "From a vineyard nestled in a bowl of trees, peeks in and out of vanilla, potpourri and savory marjoram aromas, but the plum fruit flavor is zaftig and fresh." Ditto for the 2015, and the 2013, which is also still on offer, but even more silky and sumptuous. These wines are some of Sonoma Coast's hidden gems.
The Gran: Red Car 2013 Fort Ross-Seaview Syrah ($55) Where King Ridge meets Hauser Bridge before a notoriously steep descent, Red Car's estate vineyard hugs the road. This neighborhood is lousy with big names in Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, but the under-appreciated varietal here is the Syrah. Ever been skeptical about a tasting note about "grilled blueberries"? This is it, for reals. Smoky, Malbec-like, road-tar aromas also come to mind, but when this wine hits the palate, it's all about tangy, fresh plum skin sensations. If you prefer the Pinot from this Sonoma Coast locale, the tantalizingly aromatic, olallieberry and cherry scented, dry-finishing Red Car 2015 Fort Ross-Seaview Pinot Noir ($75) is much more than the region's medio, indeed.