A little off the beaten wine tracks of Napa, Sonoma, Russian River etc., this is the northernmost appellation in the Sonoma Valley. It is well worth a trip, however, as this is an area that produces some of the best PQR (Price Quality Ratio) wines in all of California. The hot days and cool nights produce wines that are smooth, ripe and value packed. We visited just two wineries in this appellation so here are some notes:
Alexander Valley Vineyards
This medium scale winery produces around 100,000 cases per year, and many of the lower priced wines can be seen on any US supermarket shelves; that’s how I discovered AVV when I purchased a sub $20 Cabernet at Ralph’s. The first AVV wine was produced in 1975 and they have vineyards ranging from Russian River to the northern hillside slopes above Alexander Valley. Best known for its crisp Chardonnays and smooth Cabernets, we tasted a wide range of wines and all were very good.
2011 Dry Rose’ of Sangiovese; lovely wine with strawberry, raspberry and finishes dry and savoury.
2010 Estate Chardonnay; elegant and refined wine with apple, pear and citrus, just a touch of oak.
- 2009 Redemption Zin; cherry, blueberry, spice and sweet oak with soft tannins, very enjoyable and we took one home for dinner.
- 2009 Estate Syrah; dark cherry, blackberry, pepper spice and a lovely long savoury finish.
- 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc; plum, blackberry, violets and solid dusty tannins with vanillan oak, amazing value.
- 2007 Cyrus; their flagship wine of Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend with Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Dark Cherry, plum, blackberry, chocolate, ripe tannins and long finish, stunning wine.
Apart from the Cyrus, these wines all sell at the winery for $25 or less and are sometimes heavily discounted in the supermarkets. These will be my ‘go to’ wines next time I’m in the US.
Clos du Bois
This is a large scale winery and part of the giant Constellation group. They produce some 1.8 million cases per year, many of which are entry level wines that they are well known for, that all retail at under $20. However I had read glowing reports of some of their Reserve and Proprietary series wines and that is what we were here for.
Fortunately for us we had the outstanding service of a young attendant called Tyler Churchill, who not only had a great knowledge of all the wines we tried, but was able to pass that on to us with humour and interest, and a complete lack of BS, very refreshing.
- 2010 Calcaire; a wonderful Chardonnay from Russian River showing pear, citrus, creamy lees notes and sublime mouthfeel, fuller and richer than many and we lived it.
- 2009 Old Vine Carignane; blackberry, strawberry, spice, earth and tannins, it has 10% Zinfandel in it. I liked it but you need time to get used to it. Made from the somewhat maligned French grape Carignan that is grown mainly in the south around Languedoc, this is the grape that was responsible for the great French wine glut with its massive yields. Here it is low yielding on very old vines, hence a totally different wine.
- 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel; delicious rich cherry fruit with spice and fabulous savoury tannins.
- 2009 Cabernet Franc; blackberry, spice, plum and vanillin oak, full and rich with solid tannins.
- 2007 Petit Verdot; violets, blueberry, spice, blackberry and firm tannins.
- 2008 Marlstone; Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Suvignon dominant with Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. This is a great wine; rich and luscious flavours of blackberry, licorice and spice, velvet in the mouth with slinky tannins and a long delicious finish.
- 2008 Briarcrest; This is a straight Cabernet from Alexander Valley and shows just how fabulous fruit can produce fabulous wine. This is rich, unctuous and full bodied, spice, licorice, coffee and blackberry with cedary oak, it fills the mouth and is held together with fine supple tannins; the finish is full and intense, just like the wine. This is right up there with the best value top rung Cabernet that I have tasted.
- 2011 Fleur: This is a late harvest Riesling from Santa Lucia and may be only available at the winery. If you are visiting you must try this wine; fabulous mouth filling flavours that are not at all cloying, an absolutely brilliant way to finish a tasting, this taste went straight to the bottom. I won’t describe the wine here, just drink it and you will know all.
These are just two of the wineries in Alexander Valley; I have no doubt that there are many more treasures in this appellation, so I look forward to continuing the search on another visit. Wen you see the entry level wines from these wineries on the supermarket shelf, be aware that there are some seriously good wines in their top levels, and often at very good prices.