Napa or Sonoma: If You Could Only Visit One, Which Would It Be?
Napa and Sonoma are usually on the list for wine lovers and we, being no different, made a pilgrimage recently. Napa first drew the world’s attention after a wine tasting labelled “The Judgement of Paris” in 1976 where Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay was pitted against the best red Bordeaux and white Burgundies from France in a blind tasting. The Napa wines beat out the French and the rest is history. California was acknowledged as producing first-class table wines. In fact, California wine has become so highly regarded that most of us have become accustomed to drinking California wine instead of those from Europe and when we think of fine wine, we think of California.
The Case for Sonoma
Napa certainly deserves it reputation and produces excellent wines, but Sonoma deserves an equal billing. The Sonoma Valley encompasses many undiscovered sub-regions, called AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), which produce astonishingly good wines that are better values than found in Napa. Just a few examples to consider:
• Carneros and Russian River Valley are cooled by their connection to San Pablo Bay, a part of San Francisco Bay. This area produces exceptional Sparkling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.
• The Alexander Valley and Knights Valley produce sterling, well structured Cabernet Sauvignon.
• Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma is one of the, if not the, warmest AVA in Sonoma. Its claim to fame – it produces nuanced, complex Zinfandel from old vines, some over 100 years old.
• Petaluma Gap is the newest AVA created in 2017. It opens to San Pablo Bay and the Pacific creating a wind gap that makes it one of the coolest regions in Sonoma. Its high quality Pinot Noir is getting attention, but it’s also planted with Chardonnay and Syrah that deserve notice as well.
These are only a few to illustrate the incredible diversity of Sonoma, one of the California’s, and the world’s, great wine regions. If you have a chance to visit Napa, make sure Sonoma is on your radar as well.
My ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Cave de Lugny Grande Réserve Mâcon-Lugny 2020 ★★★½+ $20.95 (Vintages)
This easy to drink, creamy, toasty Chardonnay from Southern Burgundy has more than a smattering of new French oak. That leads to plenty of vanilla and spice notes to wrap around flavours of rich yellow apple, lemon meringue, and pear jam with just a little pineapple and peach. If you’re looking for something to suit roasted poultry, this would be lovely.
Therianthropy Bonnie Vivant Chardonnay 2021 ★★★½+ $29.95 (Winery, Online)
Therianthropy is a relatively new operation based in Creemore that is doing interesting things; this Chardonnay is a prime example. They source their fruit from the St. David’s Bench in Niagara, whole cluster ferment it with wild yeast in concrete “eggs” and extended skin contact, allow full malolactic conversion, then age for 7 months on the fine lees (spent yeast cells). The final product is unfined and unfiltered. The resulting white is quite deeply coloured with notes of toast, creamy yogurt, lemon peel, green apple, and pear. It would be a great counterpart for shrimp alfredo.
Trius Dry Riesling 2021 ★★★½+ $16.95 (The Wine Shop and LCBO)
It’s a little odd that this is labelled “Dry” since its 20 g/L of residual sugar place it firmly in the off dry category, but no matter it is a fine example of Ontario Riesling. Expect flavours of lime peel, lemon pulp, and mineral with high acidity that does make it seem drier than the amount of sugar would suggest. Pair it with deep fried apps or ceviche.
La Giustiniana Terre Antiche Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2021 ★★★★ $18.95 (Vintages)
If you like a classic Gavi (I do), this will make your day! It shows pale lemon in the glass, but has intensity on the nose and palate presenting lemon, pear, ripe stone fruits, and wet stones. The body is a shade over medium and it has a lingering finish. Match this excellent Italian white with seafood or enjoy it before a meal.
Cloudline Pinot Noir 2020 ★★★★ $27.95 (Vintages)
Brought to you by the Drouhin family, who has made wine in Burgundy for generations, this excellent Willamette Valley Pinot from Oregon is reminiscent of a Cotes de Beaune. It has more body than most Pinot Noir and celebrates the berry fruit that the grape offers. Imagine strawberry and raspberry blended with ripe red cherry, forest floor, cinnamon spice, and violets. Duck breast or mushroom risotto would be outstanding with this red.
Viberti La Gemella Barbera d’Alba 2019 ★★★★ $18.95 (Vintages)
Barbera from Piedmont in Italy is a wonderfully versatile wine with low tannins and lovely fruitiness that suits Italian cuisine with tomato sauce perfectly. This one is deeply coloured leaning towards the black fruit spectrum with a pleasant touch of earthiness, herbals, and cedar. Since it is medium bodied, it would lend itself to braised meats as well as the aforementioned.
Château de Nages Heritage Costières de Nîmes 2020 ★★★★ $20.95 (Vintages)
This flavourful red blend from the South West of France consists of 70% Grenache with 15% each of Syrah and Mouvedre. It delivers a lot for the price point: full body, smooth tannins, and masses of black plum, blackberry, strawberry jam, thyme, rosemary, licorice, black pepper, and menthol. It’s a big wine that needs equally big flavours like braised lamb shank or cassoulet with sausage and duck confit to show its best.
Château des Gimarets Moulin-à-Vent 2018 ★★★½+ $18.95 (Vintages)
The Villages wines of the Beaujolais region of Southern Burgundy offer a different experience than the simple, fruity wines labeled as just Beaujolais. The Village wines are more complex and interesting. The Moulin-à-Vent wines from around the village of Les Thorins are known to be the most concentrated and tannic of all the Village wines. This wine is in that vein. It’s very good and displays black cherry, black currant, cherry kirsch, sage leaf, nutmeg, and florals. It would be splendid with chicken cacciatore.