For some time now, we’ve been hearing about the capricious imbibing habits of the millennial generation. That no matter how much they loved that Uruguayan tannat one night, they’re opting for an Alto Adige kerner as their next. That they exhibit little or no brand loyalty, but rather are on a never-ending quest for that shiny new penny.
Well, guess what? They’re not alone. Many of us more seasoned wine enthusiasts like to explore, too, seeking discovery in the ever-growing array of cool-kid wines that have reached our market in the past decade or so.
It’s all good.
Except when it’s not, when we basically forget about the wines that paved our path to Cork Dork-istan.
Over the past year, I have enjoyed dandy stuff from a handful of Sonoma wineries that were part of my formative wine years, but had slipped far off my radar. And I’m here to tell you that Rodney Strong, Kunde, Simi, Dry Creek Vineyards and Hanna have truly got it going on, producing wines that are superior to the ones many of us favored way back in the 20th century.
Been there, done that? Think again. It’s time to give these Sonoma stalwarts another try — or to dive in if you haven’t.
Besides improved vineyard and cellar practices, these wineries’ renaissance has been fueled by ardent young winemakers like Zach Long at Kunde. “If you’re not passionate about this, if your heart is not completely into it, you will fail,” Long said recently while visiting the Twin Cities.
He went on to cite what has become a common mantra among today’s top young talent: It’s the grapes, stupid. “Grapes are 99 percent of your job,” said Long, who deals with 17 varieties on Kunde’s vast estate. “You must be present to taste the grapes [as they ripen].”
The results are there in the bottle. Here are excellent exemplars from these wineries:
Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20): The 2016 recently was named best overall white wine from among 3,000 entries at the San Francisco Chronicle competition, and as one of the judges, I can vouch for its fabulousness. The 2015s are in our market now and are every bit as good, with zesty citrus and pear flavors. This is the ultimate summer refresher, but its flavors and energy also provide quite the winter lift.
Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2014 ($18): Hello, old friend. Culled from several sites — “Our house style is to reflect everything Sonoma County has to offer,” said winemaker Lisa Evich during a Twin Cities visit last year — this beauty rolls in with rich tropical and stone fruit, just enough (but not too much) oak and mouthwatering acidity beneath it all. A great choice the next time you have lobster, crab, shrimp, scallops, etc.
Dry Creek Clarksburg Wilson Ranch Chenin Blanc 2015 ($13): There’s a whole lotta goodness going on in this layered classic, way more than one has any right to expect for the price. It’s juicy but polished, with exuberant fruit (honeydew, lemon, peach) and a near-endless finish. It’s perhaps California’s foremost chenin blanc for the price, forceful but eminently approachable. If there’s a better picnic wine (particularly with fried chicken) or match for Easter ham, I’d love to hear about it.
Kunde Sonoma Valley Merlot 2014 ($22): Not only did this remind me of Kunde’s overall quality, it also exemplified why merlot became so popular before flaccid confections flooded the market. The grapes were picked at perfect ripeness (both fruit and pH), providing provocative flavors to go with the structure and length of classic merlot. With enough depth for winter braises and stews, this also would be the perfect burger wine once we thaw out.
Rodney Strong Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($35): This is old-school California cab, with some iron, earth and herbs undergirding the beautiful dark red fruit and spot-on tannins. It’s ripe but rustic, firm but elegant and about as consistent as a wine can get. A great match for lamb, game or beef, it also shares with these other gems a thoroughly redeeming attribute: reminding many of us why we fell in love with wine in the first place.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.