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Best Wineries in Sonoma County

My girlfriend and I are going wine tasting in Sonoma County 4th of July weekend. We've read a bunch of threads already, but a lot of them have one restriction or another. What we are looking for is the best wineries with the best wines. We don't care about distance, cost, varietal, ambiance, size, etc. Two of our favorites in Napa are Quintessa and Chappellet, great wines.

Based on other posts and our own research, we have a list that includes the following. I'd appreciate your thoughts, which great wineries we missed and which ones on the list are touristy with marginal quality wines. We just want wineries with the best reputation for any kind of wines. Thanks in advance for your help.

A. Rafanelli Winery
Benziger Family Winery
Chateau St. Jean
Copain Wines
De Loach Vineyards
Dehlinger Winery
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
Hanzell Vineyards
Joseph Swan Vineyards
Kokomo Winery
Lancaster Estate Winery
Lynmar Estate
Medlock Ames Winery
Merry Edwards Wines
Papapietro Perry Winery
Ramey Wine Cellars
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery
Scherrer Winery
Seghesio Family Vineyards
Unti Vineyards
Williams Selyem Winery
Woodenhead Winery

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  1. "Best" is so subjective. What does "best" mean to you?

    Parker ratings?
    Spectator ratings?
    Most traffic?
    Highest price?

    You are going to get a whole slew of different opinions on this board about what is "best" for different reasons.

    Example, there are people who adore Benziger because they tout the biodynamic philosophy and that makes them the best. Personally, I can't stand their wines.

    Rochioli? Sure, the wines are good but the stuff they are known for in wine circles is only acquired after being on their mailing list for several years. What you get to sample and buy in their tasting room is far from their best offerings.

    See? You need to give us YOUR parameters on what you are looking for...

    23 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Best means to me, higher on the ratings scale. I don't care if there are 50 people tasting or we are the only ones at the winery. I'm open to spending more ($50 to $200 a bottle), but there are $30 bottles I've liked a lot also. I don't care about atmosphere.

      Based on what I've read and what you just mentioned, I don't think we would like Benziger. I think it seems a bit touristy.

      Interesting point on Richioli, we have to be able to taste the good stuff on our visit. So I may downgrade Richioli for that reason.

      let me know if you need more parameters to suggest the best wineries to visit in Sonoma County?

      1. re: albatruffles

        I was about to endorse Carrie's comment and add some other crieria - there must be 500 wineries in Sonoma Co., after all! -- then I saw the reply. Never Mind. But remember that when you rely on particular "ratings," you get particular tastes, and some of them are eccentric. Parker's big, high-alcohol cabernets; Laube and his dogma that all serious red wines are best very young (which is fine if they're made for that; historically, most have not been). The one consistent feature that cuts across all the major "ratings" critics is that wines they praise become more expensive as a result. The wine doesn't change, only the market.

        (That's why some of us advocate, instead, developing your own palate and spotting wines on merit, which the Ratings critics haven't praised, at least not yet. But to each his own.)

        1. re: eatzalot

          I don't mean to be critical, but this is one frustration I have with Chowhound and I noticed it a decent amount when researching Sonoma wineries. People don't answer the question being asked. I don't care about personal taste. Food is based on personal taste and there are probably 10s of thousands of restaurants in California, but if I was asked what are the top 10 restaurants in the state I could clearly give you an opinion. Based on your reply, it appears you know about wine, so what are the best wineries in Sonoma?

          1. re: albatruffles

            Alba, without being critical, you mostly answered your own question the OP. You listed "the best" wineries based on your own criteria.

            Now you want us to narrow it down but based on WHAT? That is the information we need from you...

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              I've never been to Sonoma, I'm clueless when it come to their wines. I put my list together in a matter of a week. I refuse to provide more information on the topic, I need you to answer the question. Let's try the food analogy again. If I saw a list of 20 restaurants and somebody told me these are the best in the state. I would probably reply, take these 5 restaurants off because there are overrated and add X,Y and Z they clearly are in the top echelon of restaurants.

              1. re: albatruffles

                Ridge has it. Your Q&A frustration, albatruffles, is sometimes termed the closed-end-question problem. Someone asks a knowledgeable person "is it A or B?" then is annoyed when the answer, the information they truly need, is "137." The frustration reflects limitations in the question. (See my CH "Profile" for another example.)

                Here, query requested "wineries with the best reputation for any kind of wines." Taking all sources, including peer respect and other expert palates that the general public doesn't know about, that's a lot of wineries. To narrow it to those lauded by heavily marketed critics presupposes accepting THEIR particular personal criteria (consciously or not) -- AND entails the associated poor-value baggage I noted earlier. I've had plenty of experience with that: when Ridge's Montebello Cabernet suddenly caught a pop-culture spotlight in 2006, there was a run on the current pre-release orders. Surprising those of us who'd been buying them for decades on merits known to many wine enthusiasts. That wine was appreciated for nearly 20 years before Robert Parker ever "rated" a wine.

                When someone starts publishing their wine prefernces as a "rating," that doesn't somehow make them objective or abstract.

                To keep saying "I don't care about personal taste" but "I want the best wineries" is to insist on a contradiction in terms.

                1. re: albatruffles

                  I'd love to get a list of the 10 best restaurants in California. Keep in mind that I don't care what kind of food it is, how much it costs etc. We're happy in a fancy restaurant or a hole in the wall. Just want the BEST. I won't tell you what kind of food I like because that is irrelevant, just supply me with the list. And if there are any dishes or sides or beverages that aren't superb we will ask them not to serve them to us.

                  Quickly. Do it. Answer the question.

                  1. re: MRich

                    You're responding to a post from June 2013.

                    I should have posted about Jiger somewhere else.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Yes, I know. Some things never get old.

                      1. re: MRich

                        Perhaps, but if you REALLY want an answer, I'd suggest you start a new thread . . .

              2. re: albatruffles

                "People don't answer the question being asked. I don't care about personal taste."

                but you are asking us to give our opinion on what wineries are good. It's all about personal taste! Wine opinions are all a reflection of personal taste. Am I missing something?

            2. re: albatruffles


              Don’t rely on ratings scales. Everyone has different taste. What tastes amazing to you is something a wine critic might give a lowly 88 to. They are not infallible. If you were to taste a bunch of wines that were rated between 87 and 93 by some wine critic you might like the 88 more than the 91. People rely too much on the magic number of a wine score of 90 when choosing wines. Taste with an open mind.

              1. re: Ridge

                While wine tasting is definitely subjective, i wouldn't say scores are absolute trash. While the difference between an 88.2 and an 88.9 means nothing on say cellartracker. The difference between a winery with plenty of reviews with an average of 92 and a difference between a winery with an average of 86 is actually telling and substantial.

                One has to start somewhere - and scores are as a good a place as any if one doesn't know the varietal and region yet and price is no object.

                1. re: goldangl95

                  I think that's a good way to put it, I'm looking for wineries with great reputations. I want to experience the best Sonoma County has to offer.

                  In my defense, if I can my hand on a local restaurant's wine list, I find that to be reliable as well. But let's be clear, that restaurant has to have a Michelin star.

                  1. re: albatruffles

                    Are you joking? If you really went by that rule, you'd have only three places to eat at in Sonoma County.

                    Michelin's really not that great at identifying the best places to eat around here. It almost entirely ignores non-European cuisines, and there's a certain homogenizing, Frenchifying influence that their ratings have on restaurants trying to get a star or another star.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Surely, Albatruffles is joking given the amount of small, good, local restaurants in Sonoma. Putting such a restriction on what and where to eat, as RL, states would be a shame.

                      Wineries I would suggest, Ridge, Copain, Wind Gap, Quivira, Mauritson, Rochioli makes good wines but they won't be pouring them in their tasting room-from my experience, Merry Edwards, Littorai, and Sbragia Family.

                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                        I too recommend thesse wineries.. but for instance.. Nalle which I suggested is loved by me and villified by the Critics for the most part.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, it's sarcasm. But I did look at the Meadowood wine list to see what producers they liked in Sonoma.

                        1. re: albatruffles

                          You will have to report back about your trip. Have fun. Sonoma is very nice. Not as touristy as Napa. But more spread out so it can be more challenging to explore.

                          1. re: albatruffles

                            Several of the best Sonoma County wines I've tasted in recent years were in restaurants and when I went to try to buy some I found that they weren't available to the general public.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Noted, that's something I learned from this post. I'll adjust my expectations accordingly and try something limited at the restaurants.

                    2. re: Ridge

                      I don't go by the Wine Spectator or Wine Advocat most of the time for my tastemaking I do more so with Tanzer and W&S as that is more attuned to my palate, .., but even by their criteria, 88 is a very very good score which most of them say they drink by themselves on a regular basis..

                  2. re: CarrieWas218


                    I'm trying to make a tasting appointment with Lewelling in October. Do you think that what you're saying about Rochioli will apply there? Should I reconsider?

                  3. So I also must agree with CarrieWas.. It really depends on what you like.. I don't like the big prestige wineries. I like small places making wines that are on the more elegant and non ripe or extracte side, So I would reccommend Wind Gap. Harvest Moon, Qivira, Nalle, Copain, Ridge (not a small winery), Littorai, Dutton Goldfield, Hirsch, Natural Process Alliance, Lioco, Arnot Roberts..
                    From your list.. I also think DeLoach makes some interesting stuff. If you are looking for a "Luxury" experience like Napa.. many of the ones you mentioned might fit well. .. There are so many wineries that fit so many tastes and styles.. What I might think of as "great" you will find horrible.. so you really might need to focus down on style..

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: jason carey

                      I'm still young, I don't completely know what I like. That's part of what I want to find out on this trip. Thanks for the recs, I'll look at the ones I haven't seen yet. Natural Process Alliance sounds like an interesting visit.

                      1. re: jason carey

                        Would second Copain, Ridge, Littorai, Dutton Goldfield, Arnot Roberts.

                        Heard good things about Wind Gap.

                        Note - Arnot Roberts didn't have their act together when they got a huge surge of interest a year or two ago. It was hard to get a hold of them and hard to taste. They may have a better system going now.

                          1. re: goldangl95

                            Wind Gap is great and they have a tasting room now.. Also try Harvest Moon.. they make elegant zesty Zins and a sparkling Zin that is fun as well.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Wind Gap has moved to Sebastopol and Ryme has the other space to themselves.

                              1. re: wally

                                Ah,right you are. The web site says still appointment only until the tasting room opens, is that out of date?


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I don't know. I was there for a pickup and they had just moved in. It was tables in large rooms. The people from Ryme were there, too. That makes sense. That was May 11.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Yes.. their room in the Barlow was supposed to be open.. by now.. but I guess they aren't but they still do tastings by appt.

                                    I thought it was open now.

                          2. Also remember that many of the wines you will be tasting will be from 2010-2011 both cool vintages so you might find the wines less rich than from more "normal" vintages like 2012

                            1. My interpretation of the OP request. Highly rated (Parker, Spectator, Tanzer) wineries that consistently get high reviews and where the vistor can taste and buy the highly rated wines.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Scott M

                                I have a vested interest in this thread... I'll be going to Sonoma in late June! I'm interested in what is highly rated on your scale.. What wines do you think are great? And maybe a couple of words about what you like. Of course, my criteria for what wineries I would like to visit is a bit different... I factor in interesting art, a good story, and nice dogs in addition to good wine. But I guess that would be another thread!

                                1. re: firecooked

                                  I would agree that this is a separate thread, I would prefer no replies relate to wineries with good stories or nice dogs. But please let us know what you mean by nice dogs. A big dog, a small dog, one that barks, one that has bitten lots of people, one that is pretty? Or maybe you just mean nice.

                                  1. re: firecooked

                                    Yes. The wineries that cater to the non-wine aspect can be very different from the ones that are all about the wine. Napa is better about this than Sonoma. Would check out Di Rosa (no wine - appt needed) and Artesa.

                                2. Ok so out of your list the flashy names for me are:

                                  By Varietal-ish:

                                  Merry Edwards - Note a much more earthy pinot than most Russian River pinots.
                                  Papapietro Perry
                                  Wiliams Selyem

                                  A. Rafanelli

                                  Would add Arnot Roberts (Rhone varietals) + Littorai (Pinot) + Paul Hobbs (Pinot and others) and Ridge (Zinfandel + Cab) to the list.

                                  Sonoma is really really huge. It's not like Napa, so I'd only do one region a day (e.g. Russian River/Dry Creek/ and then east of the 101).

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    Just wanted to clarify when I mention Napa I meant Napa Valley obvs. going up and down the mountains is a large trek and requires some planning.

                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                      Papapietro Perry has lovely staff, but their PNoir does not match others on your list.

                                      1. re: mccarty

                                        Agreed. Their Pinots can be a bit thin, especially with the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Those were tough vintages for all wineries in Sonoma and Napa, and it seems Pinot Noir may have been hit the hardest.

                                        1. re: mccarty

                                          To each their own - I really like Papapietro Pinots as much as any of the others on the list. I find their wines fruit forward but not overly high-octane/overblown.

                                          I also haven't looked at their ratings recently but I do know I found them initially through high ratings in either Wine Spectator or Cellartracker or some combination.

                                        2. re: goldangl95

                                          Actually Scherrer makes fantastic pinots.

                                          1. re: sunnyside

                                            Fair point. I'm not sure why I associate them with other varietals more, but looking on their website at least their current releases are pinot heavy.

                                            1. re: goldangl95

                                              Well, maybe because Scherrer's own vineyard produces Cabernet, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. Fred Scherrer's years at Dehlinger made his name in Pinot Noir and he does a lovely job with that grape too.

                                          1. Dear Truffles.....hello, I live in Sonoma County, and from your list, I would go with:
                                            Williams Selyem
                                            Papapietro Perry
                                            Seghesio .
                                            It is important that you contact these people ahead of time. Particularly since you are talking about a holiday weekend. Allow me to add two names that don't appear on your list:
                                            Paul Matthew
                                            Hansel .
                                            I haven't mentioned Dehlinger, as I don't think you will have any luck there unless you are already an established customer. If you are already on Dehlinger's list, then yes, hell yes, you want to visit there.
                                            If you have some specific questions, then by all means ask them. There are a lot of things at play here, that you may not be aware of, nor should you be. For example, Rafaneli and Rochioli make delicious wines, but you aren't going to have a very pleasant tasting experience at those places, so there isn't any reason to waste precious time there. For what it's worth, these names will serve you well. Remember, Sonoma's strengths are pinot, chardonnay, and zinfandel. You will have a great time in Sonoma County.

                                            43 Replies
                                            1. re: pinotho

                                              Regarding Rafaneli and Rochioli, what's the concern at these wineries? As long as the wines are good, that's all we care about. If the view or setting is unappealing, that's not much of a concern to us.

                                              1. re: albatruffles

                                                As has been explained by Carriewas218, you can't taste the good stuff at these wineries. It's for their longtime customers, or wait-listed.

                                                You already responded to her comment:
                                                "Interesting point on Richioli, we have to be able to taste the good stuff on our visit. So I may downgrade Richioli for that reason."

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Can you buy the good stuff at these wineries?

                                                  1. re: albatruffles

                                                    Not usually. Esp. if we are talking about 2010 or 2011 which were very low yield years. If they had a really great year, there may be some left over and they'll sell to people who have appointments. But generally, only the allocation list/clubs get the limited releases.

                                                    If you go with someone who is on the list/club, they may make an exception - but they may not.

                                                    1. re: albatruffles


                                                      Cellartracker.com, Wine Spectator, etc. may be better information sources to find top-rated wines. You can sort the reviews for the Sonoma AVAs by score.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        Instead of looking for the highest rated wine in the spectator to go and taste, I recommend the OP go winetasting with an open mind and uninfluenced by what wine critics think. There may be a wine he loves that the spectator only gives an 87 or 88 to. Too many people rely on wine critics and they are not infallible. There are many wines, for example Turley, that have been way over rated and pumped up by wine critics while better wines get lower scores.

                                                        1. re: Ridge

                                                          The OP has already firmly indicated he wants wines that have received high scores:
                                                          "Best means to me, higher on the ratings scale."

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            You totally took what I said out of context and now you got me in trouble with Ridge. I'll never forgive you for this. : (

                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                It's all good. Don't worry about it. :)

                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                              Well Wine and Spirits vs Wine Spectator.. often diverge greatly on what they consider a great wine..
                                                              Or WEnthus.. Vs.. VS.. .Decanter..

                                                              or Tanzer liking more streamlined and hi acid wines vs Oaky extracted in Advocate.. all generalizations of course.. but its a slipppery slope.

                                                              I most often go by bloggers whom I agree with for the most part and also Cellartracker posters whom I have a similar palate to.. its realy all about palate. I hate Rosenblum and Mazzocco.. My Girlfriend loves it..

                                                              1. re: jason carey

                                                                The discussion reminds me of the discussion about Bauer. Both food critics and wine critics can be kingmakers. And you end up with the palates of a very small number of people having a big influence on who is successful and who is not. In the wine business the difference between an 89 and 90 point wine is not very significant with respect to the quality of the wine, but it can have a huge influence on sales because many people see 90 as the magic number. Personally I find I more often than not disagree with the spectator and Parker. Tanzer is a bit more in line with my palate. To get back to my original point, it is sad that a small number of critics, be it food or wine, have such a big influence because their palates don't represent everyone. Certainly Bauer, Parker and the Spectator critics have different palate than me.

                                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                                  Maybe in the future, publications will hire 4 part-time critics (a panel) and do away with one full-time critic. The reality is all products get reviewed in life, whether vacuums or steaks. We don't always agree with reviews, but it can steer us in the right direction.

                                                                  Also, let me know if any of the wineries I suggested in my OP received an 89 or worse. I've never gotten a B in my life, I would expect the same from the wineries I visit.

                                                                  1. re: albatruffles

                                                                    An 89 once? Almost all of them have by at least one of the critics on at least one of their wines. Not all the critics have as infalted scores as you see at BevMo. For all the criticism here of the various wine critics, 89s are given out to top wineries with big portfolios (e.g. that make more than one wine) all the time. 88-92, in my observation, are the standard range for wineries that make good wine.

                                                                    Now 86? Most wineries are smart enough to realize a dud for a certain critic when they made one and won't submit it to the critic for scoring.

                                                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                                                      Normally, I would agree with you. But, I'm taking my petunia on this trip and she deserves nothing but the best. We can go to a winery that has one or two wines that are below 90, but I'll ask that these wines be removed from the tasting.

                                                                      1. re: albatruffles

                                                                        Amazing. The role of a particular wine critic is nothing at all like a professor in a class. Do you really, truly not get this?

                                                                        You asked some questions and some seriously knowledgeable people answered in ways that could expand your wine universe, if you didn't preclude them.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Cool, this place is right up my alley, but unfortunately it's in Napa.

                                                                        1. re: goldangl95

                                                                          Eatzot did a good job of summarizing the point. It's not like getting an A in class. The dependence on wine ratings hurts the wine connoisseurs. Because instead of trying to make the best wines, wineries try to make wines to please the palates of a small number of wine critics. And that really sucks.

                                                                      2. re: Ridge

                                                                        Ridge: The hell of it is, a generation of young wine consumers has now grown up not remembering the days before this "ratings" stuff suddenly arrived. They don't recall when the US wine newsletters mainly relied on description, with very rough ranking categories; they don't realize how controversial the "100-point" stuff was (and still is) among people who really know wine. They grow up hearing about point scales and they assume that's how it's "done."

                                                                        And I guess -- from the way they talk about these scores -- they don't quite get that it is still a particular opinion, no more objective and omniscient than any other, whose market impact exists only because consumers cede their choices to the "score." That's why the scores caught on, but I fear for the effects on real wine (i.e. palate) education.

                                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                                              I don't feel like that is true .Most good wineries make good wine across the board.. maybe the ones in the tasting room wont be quite as special, but will give a very good indication of house style and are ususally good wines.

                                                              1. re: jason carey

                                                                "Most good wineries make good wine across the board."

                                                                That's a matter of personal taste. I often visit wineries where I dislike most of the wines but find one or two I like.

                                                                1. re: jason carey

                                                                  "Most good wineries make good wine across the board."

                                                                  That's sort of the definition of a good winery.

                                                                  Some wineries sell mostly undistinguished plonk, which you'll get in their tasting rooms, and promote their brands by making very limited quantities of wines that wind awards and Parker points, which you won't get in their tasting rooms, or will get only if you pay a premium.

                                                              2. re: albatruffles

                                                                I don’t agree about Rafanelli. For me Sonoma is all about Zin. These people make damn good Zin. It’s my favorite Zin and one of the few that ages well. We recently opened some early 90s Raffenelli Zins and they taste fantastic. Most other Zins die with that amount of ageing. Go to Raffenelli but make sure to call ahead. You will have a good experience there and can taste the best Sonoma Zin and their wonderful Cabs. We were just there and bought a bunch of Zin (there was a 6 bottle limit per person). I think some people are put off by the wife. Let me just say that she can come off as stern. I haven’t seen her in the tasting room lately though and I think she is misunderstood. Every other person who has waited on us in the tasting room has been super nice. The other winery you must visit is Ridge. Their Geyserville is my second favorite Sonoma Zin (it’s a field blend that is mostly very old vine Zin). It also ages well. It’s such a fantastic wine.

                                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                                  This is the OP. Ridge, I appreciate your strong opinions, what I asked for in my OP was simply the best wines..whether Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Zin. Only when pressed for details did I say rating matters. I will go to Rafanelli for Zin and age it for 20 years and reply back with my thoughts about the wine and the wife.

                                                                  I understand your frustration with people that only look at ratings. I can assure that I am not one of those people. Yes, I looked at Robert Parker's ratings for my list. But I also went to Bevmo and looked at Wilfred Wong's ratings.

                                                                  Let me try to address your "open mind" comment. Wine and wineries can be a bit overwelming. I don't know much about Sonoma wineries and what I asked of CHers was recommendations of the best wines, period. All I care about is what's in the glass. I didn't restrict the price, a bottle could be $20, it could be $200. I didn't restrict the distance, I'm willing to travel 2 hours if the wine is worth it. I didn't ask that winery entrance resemble a French Chateau, we can drink on the back of a pick-up truck for all I care. And to be quite honest, I don't know what I like. I'm not huge on Chardonnay, but I'm hoping this trip will change that. So, I actually think I'm keeping an open mind.

                                                                  On a brighter note, we are going to Ridge for sure.

                                                                  1. re: albatruffles

                                                                    I don't know how many days you are going for but basically if you only had 2 days I'd do a pinot day and a zin/rhone varietals day.

                                                                    On the pinot day, I'd definitely do Merry Edwards as it is a distinct and different style from everyone else (which I personally don't particularly like but many many people highly regard) if you can't get Merry Edwards - Porter Creek also does a more earthy/funky pinot than most of the area.

                                                                    Besides that you have an amazing list of Pinot producers that we all have touched on in our replies. Benziger and Chateau St. Jean were the only wineries from your original list that I avoid.

                                                                    On the second day, do at least one zin producer. Ridge has probably the largest high quality portfolio of Zin blends. A Raffenelli has a cache as it's appt only with an exclusive portfolio (but doesn't mean their wines are any better or worse than Ridge).

                                                                    Then pick a few others, maybe end up with 2 zin heavy producers and Copain or Arnot Roberts.

                                                                    Enjoy! You did well. Make appoints where you can. Sonoma is less strict than Napa about appointments, but it is still the best way to ensure getting a good experience. After this initial trip you'll have a better idea of what particular types of wine you like and can start moving away from the scores.

                                                                    1. re: albatruffles

                                                                      I forgot that my screen name is Ridge. I'm not affiliated with the winery at all. Just a silly name I made up. I love the Ridge Geyserville though. They are also famous for their Santa Cruz mountains cab, I forget the name of it. It's quite pricy. I wasn't that excited by it when we tasted there recently.

                                                                      1. re: Ridge

                                                                        I just have to laugh that Maria and I have tried to help the OP, but he had stars in his eyes by believing "Ridge" was THE Ridge Winery and thereby gave it a bit more clout in his consideration.

                                                                        1. re: CarrieWas218


                                                                          I never associated Ridge (CHer) with the winery. I wouldn't think winery representatives would be on this website, but now that you bring it up, they could lure people to their wineries that way, kind of makes sense. I chose Ridge because it was well regarded by a decent amount of people.

                                                                        2. re: Ridge

                                                                          Ridge: I referred to both you and the winery in my recent posting above, hope that was not confusing.

                                                                          You mentioned the Monte Bello cab. "I wasn't that excited by it when we tasted there recently."

                                                                          You're not supposed to be (assuming it was tasted young). Ridge MB is a classic case of a wine vinified to be enjoyed 10 or 20 years later after proper storage. Preferably at dinner, in good company. And price-wise it has roughly kept up with inflation since the 1970s. Which is true of several other longtime classic Calif. Cabs that people have respected since those days. In contrast to jumped-up corporate or "cult" labels that fetch $1k a bottle when brand new, unproven, with no aging history -- on fad value alone.

                                                                          Ridge Vineyards is also known for popularizing Zinfandels as varietal wines, 30-40 years ago. (Long before anyone heard of a "white" wine made from that red grape.) They include some exceptional, concentrated Zins that improve magnificently for decades in the bottle.

                                                                          The winery's home AVA is Santa Cruz Mtns; Sonoma County is a satellite operation and grape source.

                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                            Good point about the Monte Bello. While my initial reaction was being underwhelmed, wines do change over time and cabs like this improve with aging. I usually can appreciate these kinds of cabs when they are young but didn't like this one. But who knows what I would thought if I tasted an aged bottle. Above my price range though.

                                                                        3. re: albatruffles

                                                                          If you don't know what you like, forget the Parker scores and you'll learn more.

                                                                          There are few if any Zinfandels that will benefit from aging for 20 years. Most are best when young and fruity.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            What I have found is most Zins don't age well. Especially the ones the wine critics give super high scores to. But Raffanelli and Ridge Zins age really well. We have had some older ones lately, I forget the oldest one we have tried but we have some from the late 90s and early 2000s that still have lots of fruit and structure.

                                                                            1. re: Ridge

                                                                              for my preferences, many of the zinfandels that gave me the most pleasure hit their stride after seven years and sometimes more, and some are still near their peak at fifteen or sixteen. the vintages you cite fit right in that window.

                                                                              1. re: moto

                                                                                I'm with Moto - I have tasted 20-year old Zins (from Ridge of all places!) that have held up *extremely* well.

                                                                                I am sitting on some '04 Outpost Zins that still taste very new and will stand up to another five years or so of cellaring.

                                                                                1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                                                  I'm unsure what Carrie means by "of all places," but of the three Zinfandel Rs already famous in the 1970s (Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenbloom), Ridge has always focused particularly on dark, concentrated wines that age well.

                                                                                  In 1981 at the winery, a friend and I split a dozen each of two intense Zins that Ridge sold for many years. (York Creek and Geyserville v'yds, 1977 vintage, price $20-$25 in 2013 dollars). They got better and better over the years, but we used them all up within 10 years. Later I chanced to share another bottle of the same wine, 18 years old. Dang! Better still! Aging like a classic Bordeaux or Hermitage! This Wasn't In The Textbooks.

                                                                                  I've noticed in online wine discussions that some serious enthusiasts know about this, and deliberately age heavy Ridge non-Cabernet reds.

                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                    besides the Ridge, don't have qualms about my leaving Ravenswood/Peterson Monte Rosso or Old Hill zinfandels from late 90s/early millenium lie for a bit longer. Storybook Mountain (Calistoga of course, not Sonoma) from around that time are still very tasty, but their winemaking has probably shifted a bit since then. The owner there and Peterson both spent time with Joseph Swan forty years ago or so.

                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              Robert, I know people who love aged Zins. I like many Zins at 5-7 years and some young. I don't like 20 year old zins. My friend just had a 35 year old Joseph Swann zin and could not stop talking about it. There are so many styles of Zins. The Dashe Enfant Terrible series achieve a beauty and pinot like development after 4 years. You might like them as they are released.

                                                                              1. re: jason carey

                                                                                The Zinfandels Joseph Swan made in the 70s were like nothing I've had before or since. I'd love to taste what those are like these days.

                                                                                1. re: jason carey

                                                                                  Ah, the 1968 Swan Zin from the estate vineyard before the winery was bonded. Quite a leap of faith to rip out old vines that made a wine like that to pursue the dream of growing Pinot Noir in the new world. But I guess, Joe could not know that this wine would stand the test of time so beautifully.


                                                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                    But Melanie, for shame! Underground Wineletter still uses the classic newsletter system of just 4-5 grades of wine (kind of like USDA meats: Prime / Choice / Good / Utility or "Pet"). No 100-point scale; how is the consumer ever to know which "are rated" the top wines? Surely the Wineletter is not a serious publication! :-) :-)

                                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                      I have a question, I tried clicking on the link to the Underground Wineletter but my antivirus software blocked it for some reason. Is it ok for me to override it and go to the site?

                                                                        4. Thanks to everybody, you were all very helpful. I feel like I have a good list and I will make a few more adjustments and narrow the list to account for driving time and include ones that are close to each other. I will let you know my thought after the trip.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: albatruffles

                                                                            if you're in the town of Sonoma and interested in a mini-horizontal tasting of single vineyard zinfandels, go to Ravenswood and pay extra for the premium tasting of vineyard designated wines made by Joel Peterson. reputation does seem to be important to you, so google his name and Ravenswood for more information. Peterson sold his winery to a huge international conglomerate, so there are theme park aspects to that tasting room and wine shop, but he still makes those wines.

                                                                          2. I have a follow-up question on my quest to taste the most reputable wines in Sonoma. I left a message at Audelssa for a tasting and when I received a call back, it was Repris Wines. She said they bought Audelssa a few years back. Does anybody know what the current relationship is between the two brands and what is the current reputation of Repris wines? They seem to do barrel tastings and a couple bottle tastings. My petunia and I did barrel tasting in Napa and I wasn't a fan.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: albatruffles

                                                                              My understanding - but someone else on this board will know more - is I believe the winemaker at Audelssa became the owner of Audelssa and also bought some other properties. They are all under the umbrella name "Repris." One assumes this wouldn't change the quality of the wines.

                                                                              I am not a fan of barrel tasting either. I can't taste how the wine will be in the end. For me, it's interesting as a learning exercise, but I can't appreciate the taste.

                                                                              1. re: goldangl95

                                                                                I can't judge much from tasting wine in a new oak barrel, but tasting from neutral wood is fine.

                                                                            2. Unti--not worth the time. Staff was almost asleep and the wine is mehhh.
                                                                              Lancaster! Don't miss it! Follow with Jordan and you will have a wonderful day!
                                                                              Merry Edwards has a lovely Sav Blanc even though they are known for PNoir.

                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                              1. re: mccarty

                                                                                McCarty, this thread *IS* a year old (one reason why I felt it was finally safe for me to post), so I'm not sure the OP will benefit from your suggestions.

                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                  Yes a year later and 90 something replies, yet still no report back from the OP.

                                                                                  1. re: sunnyside

                                                                                    Well, this was also the OP with the rigid preconception of what wine "quality" means ("We can go to a winery that has one or two wines that are below 90, but I'll ask that these wines be removed from the tasting"), then when informed by experienced veterans here that the picture of "quality" is more complex than that, expressed frustration that the question wasn't being answered in the desired terms.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Yikes. What am I paying you people for anyway - hah.

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          Good catch! (Though I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Either option, however, is probably preferable to engaging in that discussion.)

                                                                                        2. re: sunnyside

                                                                                          True, but then there are certain people I try to avoid on this site. Waleed (aka "albatruffles") is one of them, for the VERY reason eatzalot expressed earlier today.

                                                                                    1. Visited Jigar's new tasting room in Forestville. I was impressed enough to buy four of the six wines I tasted. Zinfandel ($26), a Syrah-Durif blend ($24), and a Pinot Noir ($32) were all balanced and delicious. A Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) probably suffered from being served with spicy food, I'd try it again with a simple beef dish.