March 31, 2010
Never Enough Sonoma
I know it sounds a bit decadent to admit that I went back to wine country a mere month after my February wine ambassador trip, but that's exactly what I had to do. I took a different set of my wine ambassadors to Sonoma, CA the week of March 15th.
This trip started with lunch at the famous west coast fast food chain sensation- In & Out Burger. Even though wine was not involved with this meal, we were very happy that this was our first stop on the way to wine country- it hit the spot! When we arrived in Sonoma, the first winery we stopped at was Geyser Peak and although we were treated to many delicious wines, the one that really stood out for me was the 2008 Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has aromas of lime, lemon & citrus blossom and flavors of lime & citrus. The wine is balanced by bright, lively acidity and has a lasting impression of passion fruit. We continued drinking this amazing Sauvignon Blanc even after we arrived at our over night guest accommodations, sitting by the pool, watching & feeling the sun and temperature fall before we decided to go inside and warm up with some reds. My favorite red wine of the evening was the XYZin 50 yr old. This jammy Zinfandel comes from vines that were at last 50 years of age at the time of harvest, meaning that they were planted before the mid 1950's. The wine displays attractive racy fruit with a refined, exotic spice dimension. XYZin 50 offers beautiful briar and pomegranate fruit at its core followed by waves of sandalwood, mocha, and a light whiff of pepper on the finish. This wine was very enjoyable on it's own and with the chocolate brownies we had for dessert that night.
Day 2 was all about driving and power tasting and it seemed as if half the day was spent racing to the next tasting! The first winery we went to was Buena Vista and it is not fair to talk about any of the wines that we tasted because they were all barrel samples- tasty but not yet ready to fully critique. The next stop was Domaine Carneros. If you ever get a chance to go to Napa & Sonoma you must make this incredibly beautiful "sparkling wine" house one of your stops! Known for sparkling wine and Pinot Noir, Domaine Carneros is affiliated with the highly acclaimed champagne house in France, Taittinger. We were privileged to meet and lunch with the winemaker, Eileen Crane. Her wines were perfectly paired with a delectable 3 course lunch and my personal favorite wine was the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose. The wine's aroma has hints of wild strawberries and roses with notes of peach. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé is a wine of great balance, emphasizing fruity and floral characteristics. Although a pale pink in color, Brut Rosé is not sweeter than their other sparkling wines- it's a true Brut (dry).
We could have stayed at Domaine Carneros all afternoon drinking sparkling wine (champagne) but, we needed to keep moving and get to Kosta Browne & Jemrose jointly. The group was very excited to be able to get a chance to taste through some of the Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs & Jemrose wines because of the reputation of the acclaimed winemaker, Michael Browne. Michael's Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs really took off in 2005 when several of his wines were featured and rated over 90 plus points in Wine Spectator. His new wine-making venture, Jemrose, focuses around mostly Rhone grape varietals such as Viognier, Syrah and Grenache. In addition, Michael also makes a full-bodied Jemrose Merlot and a remarkable proprietary blend called Gloria's Gem (60% Syrah, 40% Merlot). We were honored and humbled to have Michael Browne and winery owners Jim Mack and Keith Jaffee hosting our personal wine tasting. Although all of the wines were truly incredible, my favorite Kosta Browne wine was the 2007 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir. The wine has sweet cranberries, pomegranate, fresh raspberries, ripe plum and black cherry that dominates the nose. Flavors of succulent Rainier Cherries with a slight cola edge are also present. Ripe raspberry dominates the midpalate with a hint of crème brulee. All of which harmoniously deliver a creamy, silk-laden finish. Very pretty and elegant like a silk blanket thrown across your tongue. The Jemrose wine that impressed me the most was the 2007 Foggy Knoll Grenache. Bright aromatics of strawberry, raspberry, blood orange with notes of sage. Medium to full body with dense berry and savory flavors. The wine finishes with soft leathery tannins and a long balanced finish. You can enjoy this wine, along with the Syrah and Gloria's Gem (personally signed by Michael Browne) at any of the IL Wildfire restaurants and at our McLean, VA restaurant as well. I cannot wait for our Wildfire customers to get the chance to meet Michael Browne at our Friday, May 7th Jemrose & Kosta Browne wine dinner at Wildfire Chicago and to taste for themselves why these wines are so highly regarded.
We ended our day by spending quality time with award-winning winemaker, Daryl Groom and his wife (also Sales & Marketing Director for Groom Winery), Lisa Groom, at their house drinking sensational wine and eating stone crabs and pizza- rough life! After stuffing ourselves with the biggest and most succulent Stone Crabs I've ever had and drinking the extremely yummy Groom Sauvignon Blanc pool side, it was time to go to Bistro M for dinner. The wines we had at dinner can only be described as ridiculous! It's very hard to single out one wine that stood out from the pack, but I personally really loved Daryl's 2008 DXG Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. This wine has flavors of juicy raspberries, cream, smoke and leather. The texture was velvety, silky and very balanced. Wildfire customers will be happy to know that they will get a chance to taste this same Pinot Noir along with 4 other amazing wines and meet Daryl Groom, himself, at Wildfire Lincolnshire on Friday, April 23rd for an exclusive Groom/DXG wine dinner! I am very fortunate to be able to call Daryl and Lisa friends of mine and if you love highly rated wines and having some laughs (Daryl's one of the funniest people I've ever met), this rare wine dinner experience cannot be missed!
Our last day in Sonoma started out by going to E & J Gallo's Frei Ranch for a tour, tasting and lunch. The weather on this day was so beautiful and the wines, winery, vineyards & lunch were first class all the way! My favorite wine at the lunch was the 2008 William Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay. This wine is made in a rich and elegant style with enticing aromas of creamy vanilla, honeysuckle and ripe fruit of white peach and pear. This wine is full bodied and rich with refined acidity that is maintained through the intense fruit and vanilla focused finish. The wine went perfectly with the baked Salmon that we had at lunch. We all immensely enjoyed sitting outside, soaking in the sun, the delicious wine, food, hospitality and charm that E & J Gallo Wine Estates is known for!
After lunch, we headed to the well-renowned Jordan Winery where we were treated to a sit down preview wine tasting in their hidden private library of the 2008 Jordan Chardonnay and 2006 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay has vivid fruit aromas and flavors of green apples, pears and peach, and a touch of quince and kiwi. The finish brings the fruit, balance and finesse of this wine full circle. The Cabernet Sauvignon has concentrated, lovely black fruits aromas of blackberry, blueberry and cassis. The mouthfeel is luscious and full with continued flavors of blackberry, cassis, black cherry with a suggestion of vanilla, coconut and cedar. Both of these wines are not available for purchase until May 1st and we were more than honored to be able to taste these impeccable wines before their release date- what a treat! We didn't want to leave the Jordan library but, we knew that our evening and last night in Sonoma would be topped off with dinner at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center.
Since this day fell on St. Patrick's Day, we were "lucky" enough to have the winery chef prepare an Irish themed dinner that consisted of corned beef, braised cabbage, butter & herb potatoes, sweet glazed carrots & onions. This course was perfectly matched with the 2005 Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is full-bodied, lush, brims with blackberry tart, black cherry jam, mocha, root beer, cola, molasses and sweet vanilla oak- enormously complex! Knowing that we had to go back to Chicago the next day, we spent our last hours together reminiscing about the wines, food, and time spent in the car and overall amazing experience that we shared together throughout the week! I know it sounds as if I would be a little burned out after drinking & eating incredible food and wine during both my Feb & March, Napa and Sonoma trips but, honestly I can't wait to go back!
Cheers to you!