Wine tasting in Sonoma County

One of the reasons I love living in the Bay Area is how close we are to interesting activities outside “the city”. One of these activities is visiting wine country, either Napa or Sonoma. And going to wine country is a day trip at worst, even from the south bay: a couple hours drive and you’re surrounded by grape vines and group tours.

We decided to head up to Sonoma Saturday, to satisfy a craving Ying had: visiting J Vineyards & Winery to buy a bottle of their pear brandy. She’d thought it sounded good, but without having tasted it, was hesitant to buy a bottle (which starts at about $45 for 375 ml).

After hearing positive reviews from a couple of friends, she decided to take a chance and splurge, so we took the drive north. Joining us were Dave and Becky, two of Ying’s friends from college.

I’m a big fan of J’s, and not just because of the cool baseball cap, so of course I couldn’t leave empty handed. While Ying bought her pear brandy, I tried (liked and bought) their Ratafia, a golden dessert wine that’s sweet but not cloying (and comes in a nicely designed bottle). I also picked up a bottle of the pear brandy for myself, and found the one remaining bottle of their 2004 Viognier. I enjoy viogniers, so I’m looking forward to opening this bottle.

(I also really like J’s Pinot Gris, but didn’t buy any this trip. I’ll have to head back up there soon.)

Of course, even though the destination was J’s, we expected to hit a few other wineries, and hit them we did. I don’t remember all the wineries we made it to, but among them were:

  • Rodney Strong Winery, mostly because it was next to J’s. They reinforced the reputation they have with me for mediocre wines.
  • Foppiano Vineyards, where we had a decent 2003 Petite Syrah and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (I bought two bottles of the Cab Sauv. At $7.50 each, it will make a perfectly acceptable table wine. Their tag line, in fact, is “Pure and Simple”.)
  • Martinelli Winery, which isn’t the sparkling cider people as we’d hoped, but which had a surprisingly good 2004 Zinfandel (a grape I tend to not like), and a very good 2003 Syrah. They were pretty expensive wines, though, averaging about $45 per bottle. I picked up the “Giuseppe & Luisa” Zinfandel, which was only about $25.
  • Taft Street Winery, where most the wines seemed rather dull (but it was the last winery we hit, and our taste-buds may have been overloaded). The best of the lot was a Chardonnay, which Dave picked up.

I think we went to four or five wineries. By the end of the day, we’d tasted 20 or 25 wines and bought at least two bottles each.

It was a fun way to spend a Saturday.

Here are the wines I purchased this trip:

  • 2004 Riverside Cabernet Sauvigon (Russian River), Foppiano
  • 2004 Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel (Russian River), Martinelli
  • 2004 Hoot Owl Vineyard Viognier (Alexander Valley), J Winery
  • Ratafia, J Winery
  • Pear Liqueur, J Winery