Schug 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

104472-1-7 proof

Pinot noir is Walter Schug’s signature wine – the wine he grew up on, the wine that he started his winery to make.  And Schug does know how to handle it.

There’s a reason pinot noir is known as the heartbreak grape.  Every decision in the growing, harvesting, crushing. pressing – the entire winemaking process – shows up in the final product. The wrong pruning, the wrong yeast selection, too muck oak, too little oak – it’s all there for the world to taste and, alas, pay too much money for most of the time.

And there is a lot of bad pinot out there these days, with high alcohol contents – we came across one a bit back that listed its total alcohol at 15 percent.  That’s nuts for a delicate wine like pinot noir.  The good news is that if you do find a good one, pinot is a very versatile food wine.

The other good news is that Schug makes some wonderful pinots, including a sparkling rose. There are also the Sonoma and the Caneros pinots, with the Sonoma being only slightly better than the Carneros.  But that may have been because the Sonoma is twelve dollars cheaper.

The Sonoma is steel-femented to keep as much of the fruit as possible, giving the wine a rich nose of roses and red berries. The 13.5 percent alcohol was also wise – like we noted above, high alcohol pinots are bad. There was some spicy character in addition to the dry fruit which made for an excellent balance.
We not only bought a bottle, but when we went out to celebrate our recent anniversary at one of the nicer restaurants in our neck of the woods, we brought that bottle to enjoy.  And enjoy it we did.  Anne had a lovely pork tenderloin, while Michael indulged his yen for salmon.  Better yet, because Michael was nice enough to share a taste with the waiter, the waiter was nice enough to forget to charge us for the corkage fee.

Many restaurants will let you bring your own wine, but they do charge a fee, called corkage.  Do note, however, that it’s not cool to bring a wine they restaurant has on its list, nor is it cool to bring the local bargain brand.  Bring something special and unusual, and they usually don’t mind, especially if you buy some of their wine.

Schug 2007 Sonoma Chardonnay

104472-1-7 proofThis is a cool climate chardonnay which was fermented in steel and given no oak flavor of any kind – oak being one of those things folks have come to expect in chard. So what does it taste like?  Yummy.  Okay, there’s citrus – orange and lemon peel – and minerals – flint and graphite – in the nose and in the mouth.  There are also the peach and slight spice notes that good growing conditions and careful winemaking can give a badly abused grape like chardonnay.

The wine has a lush mouthfeel that could be enough of a draw, if you’re looking to suck some back at the local wine bar or big party.  But the moderate alcohol is very well balanced (14.5 percent, slightly higher than the standard for Schug wines) makes it a great food wine, whether summer salads, winter bisques and cream-based sauces and gravies on chicken and pasta.

Three Sticks Winery and a (Sigh) Mess-Up


Oh, deep and profound annoyance!  We had gotten turned onto Three Sticks Winery at the Family Winemakers event in Pasadena last spring.  Then, after several rounds of phone tag and other missed opportunities, Anne finally got a chance to to talk to winery owner Bill Price.  Then Anne spent two weeks….  Two whole weeks, mind you, trying to find the note book pages on which she’d written the interview notes, only to find them on the hard drive of her computer.  She’d typed them rather than hand written them, which is better because Anne types faster than she writes.

What attracted us to Three Sticks were the lovely Burgundian-style wines that Price’s winemaker, Don Van Staaveren, was making.  Price told us that’s on purpose.

“We try to make a more classicly Burgundian style,” said Price, who is also the owner of Durell Vineyards in Sonoma County, California.  He’s got roughly 150 acres in Sonoma, with about 40 acres planted in chardonnay, 40 acres in pinot noir, and then 10 acres planted in syrah, with the rest in a few of the Bordeaux varieties of grapes, including cabernet sauvignon.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get that there’s a big difference between the soil in Sonoma County, California, and the Burgundy region in France.  That’s what’s called terroir, and Price agreed that it does make a difference.

“We reflect what the land gives us,” he said.  “Though maybe in a more subtle way than… our extreme coastal competitors.”

The result is food-friendly, though perhaps not for the budget-conscious.

The Three Sticks Winery website is here.  They do expect to be releasing a cab sauv soon, but, hey, check us out on Wednesday, when we post the pinot noir notes.

Checking Out Robledo Family Winery


This is one of those stumble upon finds that we discovered last spring.  We were wandering around the southern edge of Sonoma and Napa counties.  Can’t remember which winery we were actually looking for, if any.  But as we often do, we asked some of the folks working in the tasting rooms who else is good in the area, and more than one suggested Robledo.

Wine Trip April 09 059What a treat!  The tasting room is dark and homey, with tables and lots of memorabilia celebrating the family’s Mexican heritage.  The parents came as farmworkers and eventually found the money to buy vineyards and make their own wine.  And their tasting menu is extensive.  We tried at least 10 wines – maybe a couple more.  We split our flights to stay standing.  Not everything was great, but most were and we brought home several to enjoy later.

You can access their site at, or visit them at Robledo Family Winery 21901 Bonness Road, Sonoma, CA 94576.  Or call 707.939.6903, toll-free 888.939.6903robledo2

Ceja Summer Sipping

Sauvignon blanc is finally developing a following for the right reasons as opposed to being the Anti-Chardonnay. Lean, citrusy and crisp, it’s a great summer wine, and the Ceja 2007 sauv blanc, out of the Sonoma Coast region, fires on all the right cylinders.
If harvested and made with slightly underripe grapes, sauv blanc can have a distinctly “catbox” aroma. If overripe, it goes soft with melon and pineapple/tropical fruit aromas and taste. It is in that thin middle ground that its characteristic grapefruit aroma and crispness really gets to express itself.  Although, too much grapefruit and the wine is definitely out of balance.
The Ceja had the grapefruit aroma indicative of a normally ripe fruit at harvest. Not much oak was detected due to the use of older barrels, which added almost no flavor to the wine but did concentrate the fruit flavors. The concentration became obvious in the mouth with the lemony/lime crispness and minerals on the mid-palate. The decent finish and modest mouthfeel make this a good palate cleanser and an excellent aperitif.
While many sauv blancs are little more than lemony water, the Ceja is a nice summertime refresher.  Or try it alongside any number of dishes from chicken that’s been marinated in lime juice and garlic, ceviche or anything that has citrus elements.