Did You Wine Know… How Wine Gets Its Flavor

This blog has a handy-dandy page that allows you to make a request for some specific wine know. While I do not likely know the answer to your request, I do have some trusty books and resources to conduct some informal research and will then share the wealth of Wine Know here in a post.  A friend of mine (we’ll call her MI cupcake) made the following wine know request… 

Hi Inga! I was restocking on wine last night (can’t beat the 20% 6 bottles deal), and I started wondering about the flavors descriptions on the labels. Since wine is usually just made with grapes, how does it pick up flavors like pepper, mocha, blackberry? Is it infused with these flavors, or do they develop during fermentation? Are winemakers able to predict the flavor profiles? Also, who are the people that taste and decide what flavor profiles are presented in the wine, how are they trained, and how much would they have to drink before figuring it out? I’ve read your posts on wine tasting, but I’m curious how the flavors get in there, and how the pros decide what to put on the bottle. Thanks much!

I think MI cupcake did a fine job of articulating the questions that we all ask in our own minds when standing in the wine store and reading the label that says the wine tastes like tobacco and strawberry flavors.

Let’s get it out there right from the start that there is no flavor infusion in the typical winemaking process. Barrels are not lined with additional aromas that would alter the flavor. Strawberries and tobacco leaves are not mixed in with the grape juice.  All those interesting flavors are a result of a few key things: (1) Terroir, (2) Fermentation, and (3) Personal Experiences.  (There are many more, but these are some of the big influencers…)

(1) Terroir

Terroir can be simply defined as “a growing environment”.  It’s the specific place where something grows that makes the something that grows there taste like it comes from there.  We often talk about “Idaho potatoes” or “Nebraska corn” or “Washington apples”.  What makes “Idaho potatoes” so famous and well-known? At some point, it became clear that Idaho potatoes tasted like Idaho potatoes and not California potatoes. They stood out because there was some unique characteristic of the growing environment of Idaho that made those potatoes so darn good. It includes the climate in that area (rainfall, humidity, fog, etc), the amount of sunlight and/or cloud coverage, what the ground water is like, the slope of the land, and the soil.

A great visual of terroir from the Le Terroir label from New Belgium Brewing Company beers.

A great visual of terroir from the Le Terroir label from New Belgium Brewing Company beers.

Grape vines (and their grapes) are especially sensitive to terroir.  Pinot Noir grapes from Napa Valley will have different characteristics compared to those grown in France.  They are genetically the same grape, but because of the differences in the terroir, the grapes taste more like “Napa Valley Pinot Noir grapes” instead of “French Pinot Noir grapes”.  Napa Valley Pinot Noir typically has rhubarb and floral flavors, for example.  French Pinot Noir typically has cranberry and peppery flavors. These are just common characteristics of one region vs another.  And from what I keep hearing, if you really take your Wino title seriously, and drink lots and lots of wine, you will start to identify the characteristics in wines from specific regions.

 

(2) Fermentation

How To Make Wine poster. Looks kinda hard. I think I prefer drinking it.

How To Make Wine poster. Looks kinda hard. I think I prefer drinking it.

Another key influence on the flavors of wine is the fermentation process.  Alcohol fermentation is the chemical conversion of sugar and yeast into ethyl alcohol, carbon dioxide and other compounds.  And guess what… it’s those ambiguous “other compounds” that are such a big piece of what makes wine so darn interesting to smell and taste. Get this, Winos. There 8,000 to 10,000 active chemical compounds in wine. And each and every one of those may invoke a different flavor or aroma. Just for the sake of comparison, imagine the deliciousness of a steak. That hunk o’ meat has only 120 active chemical compounds. 120 compared to 10,000!! This little fact helped me put things into perspective as to why you never think, “hmmm, this steak has a hint of blueberries.”  But with wine, you might! One or more of those 10,000 compounds could invoke the flavor of blueberries while you are drinking that fermented grape juice.

In addition to alcohol fermentation, wine often goes through malolactic fermentation, which, contrary to its name, is not actually a fermentation process. It is the transformation of malic acid and bacteria into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and (again) other compounds. Malic acid is a naturally occurring acid in grapes that can give the tart flavor of granny smith apples. (I can sense your salivary glands suddenly being activated.)  Lactic acid can calm down the excessive acidity in malic acid and even give some wines that “buttery” flavor (often tasted in Chardonnays).

So basically, the “other compounds” that are a result of both alcohol fermentation and malolactic fermentation create the incredibly complex and vast amount of flavors in a single mouthful of wine. Those chemical compounds could make one taste a number of various flavors.  Which is why personal experiences are a critical part of tasting flavors in wine….

(3) Personal Experiences

Finally, personal experiences play a big role in what YOU are tasting when you taste wine. We all live in a world of smells and flavors and tastes.  And our brains recognize those smells and flavors and tastes and relate them to memories. And they trigger specific memories or even mentally transport you to the place where the memory is locked in your brain.  For example, for me the smell of fresh raspberries always reminds me of my grandmother.  And when I walk by dusty sidewalks being hosed down, I am transported to a specific morning I spent while traveling in Vienna. The brain is so cool.  Anyway, when you sip a glass of anything with 8,000-10,000 active chemical compounds, something is going to trigger some memory or familiar flavor or experience.  But that doesn’t mean it is easy to sense.  We don’t really exercise that part of our brain or often articulate what something smells like.  You don’t state aloud that bread in the toaster smells like toast.  You just know it does.  So when you sip on a glass of wine, it may trigger a certain flavor but it is often hard to identify it and pinpoint it to what that flavor is… mostly because you’re not used to saying it aloud.  And when you and I take a sip of the same glass of wine, those compounds may trigger a different experience or memory for both of us. So you may smell or taste fig while I taste bacon. And it’s not wrong either way.

This is your brain on wine.

This is your brain on wine.

When you read a label on the back of a bottle of wine, it will often give a flavor description.  These flavors are typically present in the wine – they may be commonly identified by a large group of people. But just because you don’t taste them doesn’t mean that you’re wrong.

The good news is that you can start exercising the part of your brain that relates smells and tastes to words. All you do is have a sip and start describing – as best you can – what you taste. The more you do it, the more you’ll be able to do it!

A quick recap:

(1) Terroir (the growing environment of the vines) make wines taste like the wine of that growing area.

(2) Fermentation results in 8,000 to 10,000 active chemical compounds in wine which are basically responsible for the flavors and aromas in wine.

(3) While you are experiencing the flavors of those active chemical compounds, you’re not used to verbally expressing what you are smelling or tasting. And your personal experiences and memories may lead you to taste something different from someone else.

So Winos… hold that glass with your head and pinky held high, and state with confidence that you smell mothballs and taste leather in this glass of Cabernet. Own it. You can’t be wrong!

Did You Wine Know… The Difference Between Syrah and Petite Sirah

After the most the most recent W2WK Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party, multiple people asked, “What’s the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah?” All I really knew before starting this post was that they are, indeed, different grapes/wines despite the similarity in name. There’s a bit more to it…

Syrah

Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible, describes Syrah as “the kind of guy who wears cowboy boots with a tuxedo. Rustic, manly, and yet elegant – that’s Syrah.” To Karen – 1. Thanks for explaining to me in simple terms why I love Syrah so much, and 2. I think we dig the same type of men. Back to wine…

The Syrah grape is from France in its Rhone region. French Syrahs (from Rhone Valley) have flavors of “leather, damp earth, wild blackberries, smoke, roasted meats, and pepper/spice.” (The Wine Bible)  Some may be thinking, who the heck wants to drink leather and damp earth flavored wine? I like to think of descriptors like “damp earth” as taking up all the smells/aromas that are so very pleasing about stepping out into the woods on a dewy morning and bottling them up to drink them all in. French Syrahs are very smooth, elegant, and age very well.

In contrast to French Syrah, Californian Syrah and Australian Shiraz use the same grape but produce wines that tend to have a different flavor profile. Their wines are “softer, thicker, [and have a] more syrupy boysenberry-spice character.” (The Wine Bible)  Note: “Syrah” is referred to as “Shiraz” in Australia and in South Africa – no one seems to really understand why, but it is the same grape as Syrah, despite the fact that the French Syrahs do have different tastes/flavors than Aussie/Californian Syrahs.

Petite Sirah

So what’s different about the “little” Sirah from Syrah? (Besides the “i” vs “y”.)

The short answer is that it is a different grape, and therefore, produces a different wine.

The long answer is that the grape was first documented in California in the 1880s, but no one really knew its origins. It was thought to be a “field blend” – a grape that was blended with many other grapes over the years, losing its own identity over time. But thanks to the delights of DNA testing in the 1990s, the origin of Petite Sirah became somewhat more clear. It is one of a few possibilities: (1) a blend of many grape varieties including “true” syrah, carignan, zinfandel, barbera, and grenache; (2) originating from an old Rhone grape, peloursin; (3) originating from durif, which is a cross between the peloursin and syrah created in France in the 1880s.  The latter is most likely its true origin.

(Do you kinda wish you just skipped from the short answer to the this point?)

When picking up a bottle of Petite Sirah, you won’t see any of its potential vine origins on the label – it is simply labeled as Petite Sirah. What to remember is that Petite Sirah may be a small grape, but its wine is not at all small in flavor. The wine is big, but is typically well-balanced – it is fruity, jammy, and sturdily tannic.

What To Eat With Syrah or Petite Sirah?

While Syrah (or Shiraz) and Petite Sirah are most definitely two different types of wines, both are big and rustic in flavor. So both pair well with similar types of food.  Enjoy French Syrah with savory braised or slow-cooked meat dishes.  Californian Syrah and Australian Shiraz are a great partner to grilled food – especially gamey grilled foods like lamb or duck.  And Petite Sirah will also do well with grilled food – try it with a steak.

All that said, I’d venture to say that most Wions will enjoy any of these wines with any savory or grilled meat dishes. To further explore the difference in these wines, pick up a bottle of California Petite Sirah and a French Syrah… try both while grilling a steak or burgers and see which you like most.

Did You Wine Know…: Sulfite Are Innocent! But Are They “Free”?

Last week, I posted some information about sulfites in wine, and their innocence with regard to being the source of wine headaches. Several W2WK readers commented and emailed about this topic and had some additional questions, particularly about wines labeled “sulfite free”. So this post is a follow-up to the original discussion to get to the heart of what it means to be a “sulfite free” wine.

Sulfite Recap

Before we get too far, here is a recap a few of the key points from the “Sulfites Are Innocent!” post to make sure all of us Winos are on the same page:

  1. Sulfites are a naturally occurring by-product of the fermentation process, and therefore, are present in all wines.
  2. Winemakers may add more sulfites to wine to help the preservation of the wine. This compound can keep the wine from oxidation and spoilage.
  3. A very small population of people are actually allergic to sulfites, so they are an unlikely cause of the headache one might have after drinking wine. Wine headaches are more likely due to difficulty metabolizing wine.
  4. Sulfite labeling laws are different in different countries. In the U.S., “CONTAINS SULFITES” is a requirement on a label for any wine containing more than 10 ppm of wine. In some other countries, the “contains sulfites” label is not required despite the presence of sulfites in the wine.

Parts Per Million (PPM)

For those of us who haven’t used terms like “ppm” since our high school chemistry class, I thought I’d refresh your memories on what that means. It is basically a measure of concentration – the amount of one material in a larger amount of another material. PPMs are expressed as concentrations rather than total amounts so scientists can easily compare a variety of different environmental situations. In this case, if you poured a bottle of wine that has a sulfite presence of 10 ppm into a million little cups, 10 of those cups would represent the total quantity of sulfites in that wine.  Most wine has about 150 ppm or less.

Ok… Now that we’re all refreshed with our basic sulfite Wine Know, let’s figure out what these other common sulfite-related declarations on wine labels mean.

“No Added Sulfites”

Some winemakers have started including “No Added Sulfites” on their wine labels. While the wine does contain the naturally occurring sulfites as a result of the fermentation process, this label indicates that the winemaker did not add any additional sulfites for the purpose of preservation. Again, adding sulfites helps prevent oxidation, which ultimately keeps the wine from spoiling.  Even if there are no added sulfites after the fermentation process, the wine label still must say “Contains Sulfites” if there are more than 10 ppm.

“Sulfite Free”

If all wine contains sulfites from the fermentation process, how can a wine claim to be sulfite free? According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which is the government organization that sets the regulations for wine labeling, wine must have “no detectable sulfur dioxide present” in order to be declared “sulfite free”.  From what I’ve read, this basically means that the presence of sulfites is so small, that it is not detectable based on the methods to measure the quantity. However, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine:

“There have been attempts to produce wines without any addition of sulfur dioxide. Such wines are particularly prone to oxidation and the off-flavours generated by wild yeast and bacteria.  They need careful handling and possibly even pasteurization. It would be impossible to produce an entirely sulfur-free wine since a small amount of sulfur dioxide is one of the by-products of the metabolic action of yeast during fermentation when the material being fermented contains sulfate salts. Since sulfate salts are natural components of such fermentable materials as dough and fruit juices, it is normal to encounter small amounts of sulfur dioxide in such fermented products as bread and wine.”

Interestingly, the alternative declaration on a wine label to “sulfite free” is “no detectable sulfites”. Although only a slight difference in meaning, a difference certainly exists. Either way, the amount is so small that as a wine consumer, when buying a sulfite-free wine, you may want to be more concerned about the wine spoiling due to the lack of preservatives in the bottle.

Intrastate Commerce & Sulfite Labeling

Another interesting tidbit on sulfite labeling is with regard to wine sold only in intrastate commerce. Wine that is produced and sold within a single state, is not required to declare sulfite content on the wine label. Since we often discuss Arizona wines here on W2WK, I’d like to point out that many Arizona wines are currently only sold in state since the wine industry is just getting off the ground here. So no declaration of sulfites on a local wine in a local wine shop doesn’t really mean anything!

Sulfite Testing Video

And finally, for you die-hard Wine Knows, here’s a little YouTube video from MidWest Supplies that shows how a Sulfur Dioxide Testing Kit works to measure the amount of sulfites in wine.

Phew! That was a lot of Wine Know for one week! Now we know that sulfites ARE innocent, but they aren’t exactly “free”!  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to drink some well preserved wine and blame my future wine headache on the desire to have just one more glass!!

Sources of Wine Know for this post:

  • The Wine Bible
  • The Oxford Companion to Wine
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Did You Wine Know….?: Sulfites Are Innocent!

CONTAINS SULFITES. [Insert doom music here.] It’s like a warning beacon written on every bottle of wine in the U.S. Maybe it’s the ALL CAPS but it seems to be shouting at Winos like the warnings on cigarette boxes warn smokers. But what are sulfites? Why the big warning on bottles? And why do people always blame the sulfites for their headaches after consuming a little too much?

Sulfur Dioxide Image Credit: http://www.windows2universe.org/physical_science/chemistry/sulfur_oxides.html

Sulfur Dioxide
Image Credit: http://www.windows2universe.org/

Sulfites Explained

Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, which means that all wine contains sulfites. In addition to their natural presence in wine, some winemakers add sulfites because it helps keep oxygen levels low, which is desirable because oxygen kinda ruins wine. Pesky oxygen.  Most wine has a sulfite presence of about 150 parts per million (ppm), and some wines can get up to 350 ppm (dessert wines in particular).

Now wine is in good company with other food products that contain sulfites.  Beer, of course, also contains them (back to that fermentation process), but examples of other food products with sulfites include: cocktail mixes, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, flour tortillas, canned soups, potato chips, trail mix, pickles, relishes, salad dressings, olives, vinegar, sugar, shrimp, dried fruit, tea, and fruit juice. (There are many more, but just wanted to make sure it was clear that lots of food products contain sulfites!)

Why The Big Warning?

CONTAINS SULFITES

CONTAINS SULFITES

So why is it that wine bottles have a big ol’ scary looking label about sulfites? Well back in 1988, a labeling law was put in place that required winemakers to note the presence of sulfur in a bottle of wine if it exceeded 10 ppm. Apparently in the 1970s and 1980s, the salad bar thing was becoming very popular. (Bear with me.) And what happens to salad when it sits out in that oxygen for too long? It gets kinda wilted and discolored. And no one wants to eat brownish lettuce. But… guess what keeps raw veggies from getting ugly while sitting out in that open oxygen-filled salad bar… sulfites. Salad bars started to get a nice little sulfite shower to keep everything looking fresh and delicious. While salad bar patrons consumed all those good vitamins and nutrients from their fresh-looking lettuce and tomatoes and such, they were also consuming a decent amount of sulfites – about 2,000 ppm.  (That’s a significant difference in comparison to a bottle of wine containing 150 ppm.)  The FDA started receiving reports of adverse reactions and enacted the labeling regulations. At that time, spraying sulfites on foods that were to be consumed raw was banned by the FDA, but are still found in many cooked and processed foods.

If you’ve taken your Wino habits to other parts of the world, you may have noticed the absence of the label “CONTAINS SULFITES” on wine bottles. This could be because (a) you can’t read the language of the country you’re in, or (b) the labeling laws of that country don’t require it. The U.S., South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are among the countries that do require the sulfite label when any product exceeds 10 ppm. But most of Europe does not have any regulation requiring the warning on wine labeling, which is why you don’t see “CONTAINS SULFITES” on bottles purchased there. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t sulfites in those wines… as noted above – ALL wine contains.

While many other food products in the U.S. do contain sulfites, the labeling may appear differently.  It will instead be listed as:

  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Potassium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite
  • Sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or sodium sulfite

Maybe it’s just me, but the wine label certainly seems to stand out more than it does on a pack of trail mix.

Sulfites Are Innocent! 

You hear it all the time… “Oh, I have such a headache from those sulfites in my wine last night.” Or, “When I was in Europe, I never got a headache from wine because their wines don’t contain sulfites.” For those of you who have made such claims, you are now obliged to come up with a new excuse for your wine headache. While there are people who have allergic reactions to sulfites (albeit only 1 in 100 people), the physical reaction is not a headache.  Instead, it is in the form of hives, rashes, itchiness, nausea, and the like. And since sulfites are naturally occuring in all wines, even those bottles that aren’t marked with a “contains sulfites” tag, have them.  So, if you’ve been laying the guilt on sulfites for your over consumption of wine, I suggest the more truthful statement when you have a wine headache: “I drank too much wine last night.”  May the truth set you (and sulfites) free!

Sources for Wine Know:

Did You Wine Know… What is (and is not) a Red Blend

Recently, a friend and I were chatting about bottles of wine labeled, “Red Blend”.  We Winos know these bottles are a mix of various grapes blended together.  But why is it that some bottles are categorized as “blends” whereas others are not? And what exactly makes up a “red blend”?

Upon looking for a little extra Wine Know on the topic, I concluded that it is easier to explain what a red blend is by explaining what it is not. So, fellow Winos, on today’s “Did You Wine Know…?” post, in order to explain what it is not, we will begin to explore the wonderful world of wine labeling…

Labeling by the Varietal

We are all familiar with enjoying a glass (or bottle) of Cabernet Sauvignon, or Malbec, or Syrah. Most wines from around the world are labeled according to the type of grape (“varietal”) from which they are made.  In order for a bottle to be labeled “Cabernet Sauvignon”, for example, the wine must be made mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. And “mostly” is far more ambiguous than the rules actually state.  The American Viticultural Areas (AVA) defines and establishes wine regions and labeling rules in the U.S.; it states that in order to name a wine by the grape varietal (“Malbec”), that 75% of the wine must be made from that grape. And some states have made the rules even more strict. For example, in Oregon, most wines labeled by the varietal must be made from 90% of that varietal.

There are other ways to define a bottle of wine besides the varietal. A few such options (in the U.S., anyway) include:

  • Labeling by AVA Wine Region: When designating a wine from a specific AVA wine region, such as “Napa Valley”, 85% of the wine in that bottle must be made from grapes grown in that region.
  • Labeling by County: Likewise, when labeling wine by a county, such as “Sonoma County Wine”, 75% of the grapes that made that wine must be from that county.
  • Labeling by State: And similarly, when labeled by state, 75% of the must be made from that state.

Note that these rules are only for areas within the AVA, which includes only the U.S.  The European wine laws are approached much differently (…stand by for future W2WK post!).  Other wine producing areas of the world have their own regional wine laws, but have a similar approach to that of the AVA’s system.

Photo Credit: FoodandWine.com

Photo Credit: FoodandWine.com

(…Once Again…) What’s a Red Blend?

So back to the beginning… what makes up a red blend?! Well, based on the above labeling rules, a red blend is basically red wine that is made up of less than 75% of any one varietal. Most bottles of red blends list the different grapes that make up that wine, and often list the percentages of those grapes as well. For example, I recently enjoyed a bottle of Alamos Red Blend, and its label indicates that it consists of: 53% Malbec, 15% Bonarda, 14% Tempranillo, 13% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Why Blend?

Why do winemakers mix up so many varietals? Usually, they are doing so to find a certain texture, or flavor, or complexity in the wine. Mixing varietals allows a winemaker to balance harsh or soft flavors of different grapes to create a unique flavor.

Most European wines are a blend. There, they are not labeled according to grape varietal, but by region. So when you drink a Bordeaux, for example, you are drinking a glass of wine made from grapes in the Bordeaux region, but a mix of Bordeaux varietals.

Hopefully that clarifies a little about red blends. I’m considering this an introduction on the topic. Once I started reading about some of this, I discovered there is A LOT to understand about labeling, wine regions, and how it is approached differently around the world. In the meantime, check out this list of 10 red blends for under $10. (Oh, and although it may be tempting to make your own red blend by mixing the last drops of one bottle with another, I don’t recommend it.)

Source for this post’s Wine Know: The Wine Bible

Did You Wine Know… All About Sonoma County Regions

No matter what store you’re in while on a wine shopping trip, you’ll see Sonoma County, CA wines on the shelf. And each of them says something about a valley or a region. Do you ever stand there and wonder (like I do), “what difference is there between Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley?”  While I’ve always been curious about the differences between these sub-regions within one of California’s biggest wine-making region, I have been too lazy to look up the answer. Until now…

Sonoma County Fun Facts: Before jumping into the details, let’s look at some quick facts on the region.
  • Located directly north of San Francisco and borders the Pacific Ocean
  • Consists of 1 million acres of land (two times bigger than Napa Valley)
  • The first vineyards in Sonoma were planted in the early 1800s, initially by Russian fisherman.  (Who would have guessed?!?!)
  • Made up of 12 “American Viticulture Areas” (AVAs). What’s an AVA, you ask? Well, upon an initial glance, I think we need a whole post just on this topic. But in summary, AVAs are wine regions based on geographical/climate differences.

Sonoma County RegionsSonoma’s American Viticulture Areas (AVAs):  So let’s talk about these AVAs. Because Sonoma is so big, it has quite the landscape variety – mountains, valleys, rivers, plains, etc.  And all of these climate differences change the way vines grow… and therefore, the make-up of the grapes… and ultimately, how the wine will taste.

While Sonoma has 12 AVAs, there are four key regions. And those are the four regions that we’re going to discuss here. Why is this information important to know? Well, because we’re going to review what each region produces best…. so when you’re at the store wondering if you should get a Pinot or a Cab from say, Alexander Valley, you’ll know which is your best bet. That or you can impress the fellow shopper with your wine know about Sonoma.
Alexander Valley: 15,000 vineyard acres, 42 wineries
This area is located on the northern end of Sonoma County, and has a warm days, relative to the area, and cool nights due to coastal fogs.  Because of the warm days, it best grows grapes that do better in warm climates, including Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. My favorite part of this post’s research are these words from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine: “Alexander Valley is noteworthy among other Sonoma county appellations for the fleshy voluptuousness of its wines.”  Finally! I’ve been looking for a fleshy voluptuous wine!! The Wine Bible notes that Alexander Valley Cabs are “agreeable with notes of chocolate warmth”.  Chardonnays from this area are more bold, full-bodied that Chardonnays from cooler climates.
Wineries from Alexander Valley to check out: Geyser Peak, Clos du Bois, Murphy-Good, Silver Oak
W2WK Note: Anyone who has been following this blog for a little while knows that W2WK is a fan of the Costco and Trader Joe’s wine selections… both have delightful self-labeled Cabernet Sauvignons from this region!
Russian River Valley: 15,000 vineyard acres, 70 wineries
The Russian River Valley is much cooler than the Alexander Valley as much of it is only 10 miles from the ocean.  Naturally, this results in the production of more wines from grapes that grow best in cooler climates. This primarily includes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley will be less full-bodied than those of Alexander Valley, but more well-balanced. Pinots from here will have a lovely richness and and complexity to them.  Grapes from this region are also used for Sonoma sparkling wines.
Wineries from the Russian River Valley to check out: Williams & Selyem, J. Rochioli, Kistler, Iron Horse, Sonoma-Cutrer, Gary Farrell, ad Dehlinger
Dry Creek Valley: 10,000 vineyard acres, 50 wineries
This region is one of the oldest in Sonoma, where one can see lots of old gnarled vines (indicative of old vines). The climate is warm during the day with night/morning fog. This leads to a balance between typical maritime and inland climates. The warm days result in the region being known for producing Zinfandels and Cabernets.  “Some Dry Creek zinfandels are big and meaty; others, soft and graceful. What the rest of them share is a sensual richness of flavor that can be irresistible.” (The Wine Bible)  As far as white wines go, look for Sauvignon Blancs from Dry Creek.
Wineries for the Dry Creek Valley to check out: A. Rafanelli, Ferrari-Carano, Mazzocco, Ridge
W2WK Note: This blog has posted about a Ridge Zinfandel before. Check it out!
Sonoma Valley: 14,000 vineyard acres, 55 wineries
Sonoma Valley has a variety of geography and climate as it sits at the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountans.  This variability allows for a large variety of grapes to be grown in the region.  This includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, and Chardonnays.
Wineries from Sonoma Valley to check out: Laurel Glen, Ravenswood, Hanzell, Kistler, Matanzas Creek.
What are your favorite Sonoma wines? And which do you think you’ll run out to try? I think I’m going to dive into some Dry Creek Valley wines myself!
Sources of all Wine Know for this post:
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine
  • The Wine Bible
  • www.sonomawine.com