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Life By The Glass

Carefully Curated. Completely Engaging.

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A Toast to Terroir

Winemaking

It’s no secret that at Sonoma-Cutrer, a favored topic is terroir, or how a vineyard’s specific geology, geography and climate affect the flavors that end up in your glass. While you’re probably not thinking about the fog rolling in off the Pacific, or the California sun warming up the rocky soil when you savor that first sip, the truth is, terroir is directly responsible for the complexities that make our wines distinct.

So how does terroir translate to taste? It’s a good question that could involve a lengthy conversation! But we will spare you. Instead, let’s start by lifting a glass to the celebrity here in our part of the world: the fog.

At Owsley Ranch, our closest vineyard to the Pacific, ocean breezes blow cool fog off the water and into the narrow Bloomfield Gap, where it’s concentrated between steep hillsides before blanketing over the valley to make it up to 10 degrees cooler than other areas in the region.

This results in fewer, smaller grapes, which means intense concentrated flavor. So, when you take that first sip of Owsley Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, the deep earthy flavors and dark fruit complexities that you taste are directly indebted to those thick blankets of fog.

Grapes grown at Les Pierres vineyard are more influenced by the soil, which is made up of 50-70% rock (hence the name, which translates to “The Stones”). This inhospitable rocky soil makes the vines work extra hard to grow and gives low yields of smaller grape clusters with incredibly rich flavor.

The rocks in the soil at Les Pierres also absorb sunlight, slowly releasing the heat to offset the cool fog and lengthen the growing season. The resulting fruit is infused with a stony minerality that makes Les Pierres Chardonnay utterly distinct, a true reflection of the vineyard’s terroir.

The next time you’re sipping your favorite Sonoma-Cutrer wine, raise a glass to the dense fog, ancient riverbeds and distinguishing soils of Sonoma-Cutrer. After all, they are responsible for the depth and complexity of the wine you are enjoying. Cheers!

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Wine Tasting 101

Winemaking

This wine tasting primer is designed to give you a comprehensive understanding of the components of tasting wine. To make it easier, feel free to taste along if you wish. All you need is a quality wine glass of eight or more ounces and a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer 2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

There are 3 points of emphasis in any wine tasting- Sight, Smell and Taste.

Sight– Usually a full color will suggest a full wine and a light color will suggest a light wine. Our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is yellow-gold, clear and bright.

Smell– I use the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting. F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak.

Fruit can cover the entire world of fruits, but think about fruits that are in the range of the color of wine. For example, white wine may have flavors of citrus and apples; red wine may have flavors of red cherries and black berries.

Earth can encompass everything from the smell of fresh tilled soil to minerals. Like many other flavors in wine, it is not always present.

Wood or oak is used to age a good deal of wine, but not all. It can give a wine the smell of spices like, cinnamon, vanilla, allspice and more. To better smell your wine, try swirling it in your glass to release the aromas and make it easier to describe its flavors.

Our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay smells of apple, pear and lemon zest with the oak enhanced flavors of toasted nuts, baking spices and a hint of vanilla.

Taste – Our taste buds are equipped to sense four basic flavors: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.

Sweet is the presence of sugar in wine. Dry is the absence of sugar in wine. Medium-dry falls in somewhere between the two. You usually detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue. To better understand dryness in wine, try this simple demonstration: Place three glasses of water in front of you. Into the first glass of water, pour an entire packet of sugar – this equals sweet. Put a half packet of sugar into the second glass – this is medium-dry. No sugar will be put into the third glass of water which equals dry.

Sour refers to the acidity in wine, and while it carries a negative connotation, it really refers to the zippy-crisp component in wine. It typically can be sensed on the sides of your tongue. Let’s take our three glasses of water again. Into the first glass of water, squeeze an entire lemon this would be very crisp. In the second glass of water, squeeze half of a lemon this represents crisp. Put only a few drops of lemon juice into the third glass this is our low acid or not very crisp.

Bitter refers to the tannins in wine. Like sour, it carries a negative connotation. But, it actually refers to the mouth-puckering quality of wine. It may be sensed all over your palate. A heavily tannic wine can make any part of your mouth contract and dry out. A wine can be described as light, medium or heavy in tannin. Tannin can be sensed in grape skins, long steeped tea and espresso. Tannin is typically found in red wine because of the extended skin contact with the unfermented and fermenting wine during red wine production. So, we won’t really find any in our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

When you taste wine, allow the wine to stay on your palate for a minute, letting all parts of your palate touch the wine. This will allow you to more accurately use the various areas where you sense the taste of the wine. Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is dry and crisp.

Also, through your palate, you can establish the body or weight of a wine. The body of a wine is described as light, medium or full bodied; like a glass of water, milk or heavy cream respectively, Sonoma Coast is a medium to full-bodied Chardonnay.

Your olfactory system senses smell in your palate, as well as, through your nose. This helps you to connect the wine’s smell and taste. The aftertaste is the lingering flavor you get after swallowing the wine; an aftertaste is only bad when it tastes bad! A good aftertaste is pleasant and persistent. Our Chardonnay has a very pleasant aftertaste.

Overall, we would characterize the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay as yellow-gold with a nose and palate of apple, pear and lemon zest with the oak enhanced flavors of toasted nuts, baking spices and a hint of vanilla. It is dry, crisp, and medium to full-bodied with a very pleasant aftertaste. And don’t forget the easy descriptors like this deliciously, tasty Chardonnay is superb.

 

About the Author

A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.

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Focus on Chardonnay

Chardonnay is Chardonnay is Chardonnay.

Or is it? Not really. You might be surprised how different Chardonnays can really be. Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grape varietals in the world and the #1 selling wine varietal in the United States (1). The Chardonnay grape is less pungent than many other white varietals which lends itself to have a wonderful affinity to oak and the complexity derived from the barrel and the winemaker.

Often, you will hear the terms “Old World” and “New World” used when describing wine. It certainly comes up in discussions about Chardonnay since this resilient varietal is grown in many grape growing regions around the world. While some might find those terms confusing, the definition of them is actually quite simple. An ‘Old World’ wine refers to wines that are grown in the classic grape growing regions of Europe (France, Italy, Spain Germany, etc) or, basically, any country that was around during the Roman Empire. By contrast, “New World” wines are the ones that are grown everywhere else. Old World vs. New World terminology is used because it helps depict the style in which the wine was crafted. While Old World wines are generally made under tight regulations & using traditional techniques that are passed down over generations, New World wines have pushed the boundaries of what can be accomplished using technology and viticulture to expand upon the traditional methods.

The Chardonnay grape is so malleable that it can be vinified in many different styles offering a wide variety in the flavor profile of the wine. Old World wines will tend to be more lean and subtle with minerality. New World wines offer a wide variety of flavors including Oak and a vast array of upfront fruit characters.

Chardonnay is a wine that offers the wine lover a wide and varied palette of flavors to enjoy. Taste testing different styles of the wine will help you find the type of Chardonnay that best fits your personal taste preferences. Try it for yourself. You may discover a whole new world in Chardonnay.

Cheers! Mick

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The Philosophy of Terroir

Terroir is something that we spend a lot of time talking about at Sonoma-Cutrer. At the heart of Burgundian winemaking methodology, the philosophy of terroir can be loosely defined as a “sense of place”. This sense of place – the soil, the climate, viticulture practices and the topography- is what you taste whenever a bottle of wine is opened, poured and enjoyed.

The six Estate vineyards of Sonoma-Cutrer- The Cutrer, Shiloh, Kent, Vine Hill, Les Pierres and Owsley- each display their own unique terroir that leads to the individual characteristics of the grapes that are grown and expressed in the wines that are produced. The two extreme examples of terroir differences in our vineyards can be found when comparing Vine Hill to Les Pierres. Vine Hill is our largest vineyard made up of gentle, rolling hills that face southwest. The soil here is an ancient seabed of deep, sandy loam known as Goldridge Series. Vine Hill has moderate temperature fluctuations that make it perfect for growing both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This allows the grapes to have longer growing season with extended hang time. Vine Hill grapes are used in crafting our Russian River Ranches, Sonoma Coast and Pinot Noir blends.

By contrast, Les Pierres sits atop an ancient riverbed of gravelly clay loam where the red volcanic soil is made up of 50-70% rock content. If you have ever visited our winery, you would have noticed our many stone walls around the building. All of these walls were built using Les Pierres rocks. The vineyard itself is east facing and receives warmer temperatures during the day followed by cool, breezy nights. The daytime warming of the stone and rock provides an extended ripening time each day resulting in Les Pierres being the first fruit to be harvested. We routinely thin the clusters so the grapes achieve the deep, complex flavor found in our Les Pierres wine.

Every block of grapes in each of our vineyards are microclimates that express their own unique sense of place. As winemakers, our job is to blend those blocks together and craft the wines of Sonoma-Cutrer that have become the very definition of our terroir.

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Salsa Verde

Recipes

This is a quick little sauce of Spanish origin that is delicious on all kinds of grilled, pan seared or roasted meats, fish, and vegetables. Note that I’ve used blanched or roasted garlic rather than the fresh raw type. I think this is especially important if you are going to make the sauce ahead of time. Over time, raw garlic can become harsh and hot. Blanched or roasted garlic maintains it’s more subtle and sweet flavor and doesn’t overpower the sauce as it sits.

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Celebrate America with California Chardonnay

The Fourth of July is a time to fire up the grill, light some sparklers, and toast this amazing country. And what better time to celebrate America’s most popular wine varietal? Our country’s story of grit and determination is not unlike the history of Chardonnay’s rise in the United States.

While Chardonnay cuttings were first imported from France more than a century ago, it took many more decades for the wine to catch on in the United States. Wente Vineyards’ 1936 vintage was the country’s first varietally labeled Chardonnay, and in 1960 the “Michelin Guide” declared Wente Chardonnay equal to the finest white wines of France.

Yet most Americans still reached for what they knew—French wines labeled “Chablis.” It wasn’t until the legendary Judgment of Paris in 1976 that Chardonnay came into its own in this country.

When Chateau Montelena’s California Chardonnay was declared the winner in a blind tasting featuring the best from both France and California, a boom in Chardonnay production followed. California’s meager 100 acres of Chardonnay grapes in 1940 soon swelled to today’s 100,000 acres.

This overnight popularity did not come without some growing pains, however. Over-eager producers loaded up on new French oak barrels, and it wasn’t long before there was a backlash against heavily oaked California Chardonnays. This led to the more recent trend of producing “unoaked” Chardonnays on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Fortunately, Sonoma-Cutrer is not one to follow trends. In the winery’s own 30-year history, the goal has always remained the same: Combine Old World Burgundian winemaking methods with New World technologies to produce elegant Chardonnays that are deeply rooted in a sense of place.

This place: America … California … and a pretty little corner of the Russian River Valley.

This Independence Day, toast the resourcefulness, initiative and ingenuity of America with a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer’s flagship wine, Russian River Ranches—the most popular Chardonnay in the country’s finest restaurants.

While you’re at it, lift a glass to all of the winemakers who have brought this same American spirit to that glorious glass of Chardonnay in your hand.

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