On the northeastern edge of Sonoma County’s winegrowing region, breathtaking views of expansive vineyards are the hallmark of Alexander Valley. Planted to majority Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and even Rhône varietals, Alexander Valley boasts several microclimates and gravel soil types that make the region well suited to these grape varieties. The valley was granted appellation status in 1984 and is currently home to more than forty wineries. Vineyards are planted on the sweeping valley floor and up onto the gentle hillsides as the land turns into the Mayacamas Mountains on the eastern boundary of the appellation.
For lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley is a must-visit appellation. To showcase the premier bottlings made by the humble winemakers in this region, the Alexander Valley Winegrowers organization hosts their annual Taste Alexander Valley—a passport-style weekend in which guests are given access to wine tasting at twenty-six wineries in the appellation. This year’s 18th Annual Taste Alexander Valley also featured an inaugural Magnum Dinner and Barn Dance to kick off the weekend on Friday night, as well as a variety of optional vineyard tours, cave tours, barrel tasting experiences and meetings with winemakers throughout the weekend.
Soil & Leaf Seminar at Robert Young Estate Winery
One of the weekend events, the Soil & Leaf Seminar at Robert Young Estate Winery, proved to be incredibly informative for true wine geeks seeking an in depth look at the terroir of the valley. Jim Young, the oldest son of Robert Young—and current Viticulturist at the estate—led guests through the vineyards both by gondola and foot for the Soil & Leaf Seminar. From a hilltop above the estate, Young detailed the eight soil types of the estate vineyards, which include various series and combinations of gravel, clay, rock and loam. Using a terroir soil map, he identified various microclimates around the region that were planted to the estate’s grapes.
The Wines at Robert Young Estate Winery
Back in the tasting room, guests were invited to enjoy Robert Young estate wines, two of which included their 2013 Chardonnay and 2011 Scion—their iconic Bordeaux blend. The 2013 Chardonnay, aged for fourteen months in neutral oak, is an incredibly well-balanced wine with luscious body and texture. On the palate, tropical notes of melon and papaya, followed by green apple, abound and delight. A touch of spice and caramel rounds out the fruit, all enveloped in a smooth and silky finish. The 2011 Scion is a Bordeaux blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Having been aged in only 40% new French oak for twenty-six months, the terroir and varietal characteristics of this Bordeaux blend shine on the nose and palate. The nose is full of anise, raspberry and black cherry. The palate is darker and earthier with notes of black cherry, crushed clay, cocoa, and a touch of herbs followed by subtle vanilla on the finish. The tannins are mild and the texture is quite smooth—a delightful expression of the rather cool 2011 vintage.
At Stonestreet Wines, exclusive single vineyard wines assuredly pleased palates. Their fabulous 2011 Terrace Ridge is a blend of 64% Sémillon and 38% Sauvignon Blanc; both grape varieties are planted in the the same clay and loam soil vineyard, situated at an elevation that ranges from 700 to 930 feet on the eastern edge of the appellation. The interplay between the two grape varieties yields incredible flavors and texture. Tropical fruit notes of kiwi, pineapple, mango and guava are expressed on the palate; the body is smooth and creamy, but equally balanced by excellent acidity—making for a beautiful wine with polished structure and poise. The 2010 Rockfall Cabernet Sauvignon was an absolute delight; hailing from a fabulous vintage, the aromatics of this wine burst from the glass with aromas of licorice, red cherry and tobacco. On the palate, this luscious bodied Cabernet tastes of red cherry, cherry cola, plum and cocoa; the body is smooth, the tannins are textured but not harsh, and the finish is pleasantly dry. Planted at an impressive 2,000 foot elevation in loamy soils, this vineyard site is ideally suited for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Stryker Sonoma Estate Wines
Walking onto the grounds at Stryker Sonoma is stunning; a vine-canopied pathway leads to the tasting room, where the wines are equally as impressive as the estate’s entrance. Their 2013 Chardonnay boasts caramel, spice, mango, kiwi and green apple on the nose, while the palate is more balanced by spice and minerality. A touch of caramel lingers in the background on the palate with notes of pineapple, green apple, fig, cinnamon, clove and minerality in the forefront. The body is silky and creamy, but still maintains a touch of acidity for balance. A definite show-stopper at Stryker was also their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Another fabulous vintage, 2012 produced Cabernet of astounding quality. This particular bottling expresses notes of cherry, boysenberry, clove and a touch of leather, and the tannins are tamed by the well-integrated oak—about as beautifully structured as it gets for Cabernet.
The wine tasting at Starlite Vineyards was perhaps one of the most personal experiences during Taste Alexander Valley. Starlite Vineyards is a small, family owned, boutique winery making only three varietals: Viognier, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each bottling is small production, made with high quality, estate-grown grapes. Bordeaux in style, the Starlite Cabernet Sauvignon harkens to its French counterparts, though still maintains desirable California fruit characteristics and seamless integration of terroir attributes.
Gary, the Tasting Room Manager, showcased some library vintages alongside current releases. The Starlite Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012 were all stunning, though of the four, the 2009 and 2012 particularly stood out. With six years of age, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was really showing perfectly. Robust aromas of dark cherry and vanilla give way to black cherry cola, plum and red currant on the palate; further notes of cocoa linger in the background, while the smooth texture envelopes the pleasurably chalky tannins. This wine is both robust and finessed, striking an impeccable balance on the palate. Although a few years younger, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was just as lovely—even in its youth. Highly aromatic, this wine smells of blueberry and cherry; the palate boasts red cherry, blueberry, dried raspberry and dried currant, perfectly integrated with gentle tannins, silky texture and full body.
Taste Alexander Valley
With their 18th year behind them, Alexander Valley Winegrowers’ Taste Alexander Valley has been a smashing success ever since its inception. However, with the first time additions of the Magnum Dinner and Barn Dance, as well as the weekend activities, Taste Alexander Valley proved to be even more fruitful and fulfilling than years past.