Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – March 31st, 2018

How to Explore Sonoma in Ontario
by David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Two weeks ago I was in California working on a project that narrowed my geographic range to Napa Valley. But I would look at the Mayacamas Mountains to the west knowing that Sonoma lay just over the ridge, and I wished I could sneak up and over to taste a few delicious Russian River pinots, rumpled old vine zins from Dry Creek and elegant, shiny chardonnays from Sonoma Coast.

To me, these three varieties define Sonoma. Sure, there are some good value cabernets and merlots tucked in the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. And there is some fooling around with other varieties as well (which you don’t see as much in Napa because the acreage is just too valuable to devote to experimental grenache or tannat when you can get three-figures for cabernet).

On March 31st, VINTAGES shines the spotlight on Sonoma. But frankly, it is a low wattage spotlight with all the usual suspects – brands released again and again – grouped by the fact they hit that less expensive, commercial price point of $20 to $40. They are all okay and some are indeed very good, as you will see in our picks below. But there is not much exploration going on.

Every time I write about California wine, I feel compelled to state the obvious that California wine is expensive here in Ontario, thanks to high prices at source and unfavourable exchange rates, upon which LCBO heaps multiple taxes (as it does with all countries). So VINTAGES needs to find examples with the lowest possible price that will sell to the majority of its consumers who have a $20-$30 comfort zone.

Thankfully however, VINTAGES releases are no longer the only retail source for California wine. If you are really keen to explore Sonoma wines get thee to the LCBO’s California destination store at Weston Road and 401 in northwest Toronto. The prices aren’t better, but the selection certainly is.

I was aching to try the entire range of Sonoma pinot noirs on the shelf now – brands like Siduri ($51.65), William Knuttel ($56.15), Robin K ($40.20), Luminous ($59.25), Flowers ($69.95) and Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs ($49.25). Among zinfandels I spied Gamba ($70.00), Novy ($39.95), Hobo ($45.75), and Zinfinity ($40.20). And yes, there is even a Hobo Grenache ($49.00) from the Alexander Valley, and Y. Rousseau Tannat from Russian River ($52.85).

California Wine Fair

Of course another avenue of discovery is the up-coming California Wine Fair in Ottawa on April 19 and Toronto on April 23. You could make Sonoma the focus of your three hours in this mammoth venue. But then again I know from experience that plans to focus at this event steer into the ditch after about 30 minutes. There are just too many temptations.

What you should also do at the fair is make the acquaintance of importers/agents who handle large portfolios of California wine. Get on their mailing lists for consignment and private order wines. The top half dozen agents importing California wine are Lifford, Rogers and Co, Profile Wine Group, E&J Gallo, The Vine and Mark Anthony.

Meanwhile, here are some Sonoma picks from the March 31st release, as well as some other New World recommendations from the WineAlign crew (except for John who has been swallowed up by Europe this month).

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES March 31st

Sonoma County Picks

Sonoma-Cutrer 2015 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($24.95 until April 1 then back to $27.95)
David Lawrason – This is a VINTAGES Essentials that is available on an on-going basis. This is a calm, cool and collected chardonnay with fine cohesion and even some elegance. Expect ripe peachy fruit, nicely fitted with lemon, oak toast, vanillin and an underlying sense of evergreen. It is medium weight, slim but sophisticated.…

There are 12 more VINTAGES Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits.

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And that’s a wrap for this week. Part two comes your way just in time to kick of the first long weekend of spring, which we hope will be warm enough to tempt you into lively whites and rosés.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Try & Buy Prince Edward County Wines