California Wine Trip Tasting Recap

For the second straight year, we chose to focus our wine country trip upon Dry Creek Valley and Healdsburg rather than Napa Valley. Quite simply, it’s become almost impossible to vacation with children in Napa, and with Courtney six months pregnant, it didn’t make a ton of sense to be spending $50-$75 to taste. The fact of the matter is that the top Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs and Syrah blends in these regions rival Napa’s Cabernets in terms of quality, and often at about a quarter of the price.


Sidekicks enjoying an outdoor grove tasting at Seghesio, which continues to set the gold standard for single vineyard Zinfandel in the Sonoma Valley and its neighboring appellations.


Tasting wine with an 8-year old in tow doesn’t have to be hard, and Alex makes it easy! He enjoyed the hospitality and scenery at Limerick Lane while his Dad evaluated their consistently exciting wines.


The scenery leaves nothing to be desired at Unti, a unique winery which produces strictly Italian varietals, and is well worth the stop on Dry Creek Road.

In all, I tasted just over 50 wines. Below are my top 20 favorites, sorted by score and then by price.

  1. Bedrock Zinfandel The Heritage 2017, 94 Points, $45- Thick but not overripe, with intense blackberry paste up front and plumcake notes underneath, turning silky as it lingers with black pepper spice and a hint of orange peel that adds complexity, finishing with a firm tannic grip.
  2. Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2016, 94 Points, $50- Bright, jammy red berry fruit and black cherry flavors combine above focused minerality and cracked pepper undertones. Incredible finish that lingers for minutes with tobacco and bay leaf undertones. Rich and polished.
  3. Siduri Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley 2016, 94 Points, $50- A nearly flawless offering, as lively wild berry and baked plum fruit combine above mushroom, white pepper, white chocolate and tobacco notes. Lingers long with a seamless texture. A textbook Pinot, in the deeper style.
  4. Hartford Family Zinfandel Old Vine Russian River Valley 2017, 93 Points, $40- A huge, jammy fruit bomb of wild raspberry and dark plum gliding over a rich texture that shows notes of allspice and baking spice as licorice notes creep in late and linger long. Beautifully polished and balanced between its deep blue and purple berry fruit notes as exotic spices carry through the finish.
  5. Sbragia Zinfandel Nonno’s Reserve Dry Creek Valley 2016, 93 Points, $44- Ultra-ripe on the nose, as a plump texture of blackberry and licorice picks up undertones of smoke, briary underbrush and tobacco spice. Earthy character lingers long beyond the fruit. White pepper spice creeps in as it lingers, a true Dry Creek terroir expression.
  6. Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Beeson Ranch Dry Creek Valley 2016, 93 Points, $45- Dark currant aromas gain a smoked meat nuance on the nose. Lush body of blackberry jam is rich and juicy, showing undertones of white pepper spice that catches a mocha hint as it lingers long. Incredibly polished.
  7. Unti Syrah Benchland Dry Creek Valley 2016, 93 Points, $55- Classic Syrah profile, showing smoked red meat, black pepper, and black and purple fruit aromas. Velvety texture comes across like a cool-climate Hermitage, with hot brick, smoked meat and fresh leather up front, leading into plush blackberry, dark plum and black licorice flavors. Finishes with a blast of bay leaf and cracked pepper that are all in balance with the fruit as this extends and lingers long.
  8. Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Alexander Valley 2015, 93 Points, $58- Thick and rich black and purple fruit flavors are backed by cracked pepper, briary herbs, mocha bean and clove spice. Thick, burly and complex. Long finish offers a firm tannic grip.
  9. Limerick Lane Zinfandel 1910 Block Russian River Valley 2016, 93 Points, $60- Super complex, with dark berry aromas shaded by briary tobacco lead and pepper nuances. Intense flavors of blackberry, black cherry fruit is backed by undertones of baking spice, clove and vanilla bean. Long finish shows a firm tannic grip, but this will be even more amazing in time. Packed and powerful offering.
  10. Hartford Family Zinfandel Old Vine Hartford Vineyard 2016, 93 Points, $60- Huge nose of blackberry and briary herbs. Deep, dark and elegant, with blackberry and plum paste notes above savory undertones of bay leaf, tobacco and cracked pepper. Rich and polished through the long finish, with minty nuances and chewy tannins lingering.
  11. La Crema Pinot Noir Shell Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2016, 93 Points, $60- Jam-packed, with blackberry and black licorice notes above orange peel spice and a complex echo of tobacco. This showcases an amazing texture all the way through the long finish, lingering on a creamy note.
  12. Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2017, 92 Points, $25- Delivers a pure Dry Creek Valley essence, with appelation-specific and heavy notes of cracked pepper and briar up front that braces juicy wild raspberry and blackberry fruit. Long finish over an elegantly silky texture, a perfect 4th of July wine.
  13. Unti Barbera Dry Creek Valley 2016, 92 Points, $38- Aromas of smoked cured meats show red currant fruit in the background. Explosive and juicy cherry and wild berry fruit picks up steam behind crackling briar, white pepper spice and smoke. Long finish with savory spice and pepper lingering for minutes. A big surprise.
  14. Unti Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2016, 92 Points, $38- Deep plum, blackberry and tobacco aromas. Velvety and ripe, with thick flavors of plum paste and blackberry preserves above a backbone of tobacco and peppery spice. Extremely rich but not overripe; very polished through the long finish as silky tannins add grip.
  15. Sbragia Zinfandel La Promessa Dry Creek Valley 2016, 92 Points, $40- Silky, floral body is heavily perfumed showing flavors of red plum, raspberry and cherry fruit that finishes with cinnamon spice, clove spice and exotic baking spice. Feminine in style and delivery, with a weightless texture. Cracked pepper lingers; this is all spices and no herbs.
  16. Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2016, 92 Points, $40- Ultra-silky and ripe, with snappy dark plum, blackberry and black licorice flavors that explode into undertones of peppery spice and tobacco that really pick up as this lingers long.
  17. Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel DCV7 Wallace Ranch Dry Creek Valley 2016, 92 Points, $42- Plummy body is silky and fruit-driven, with a plush texture that evolves into peppery, briary undertones. Long finish of juicy red plum, black cherry and dark raspberry lingers with savory spice, baking spice, black tea and peppercorns.
  18. Dry Creek Vineyard Somers Ranch Dry Creek Valley 2016, 92 Points, $44- Huge blackberry preserve and dark raspberry flavors are shaded by cedary spice, chocolate, cinnamon and clove spice. Long finish with plump, juicy dark fruit notes that echo beyond the exotic spice notes.
  19. La Crema Pinot Noir Fog Veil Sonoma Coast 2016, 92 Points, $65- Juicy, plummy and full of ripe raspberry and black cherry fruit that evolves into strong baking spice notes and undertones of creamy mocha. Silky and expressive through the long finish.
  20. Hartford Court Pinot Noir Jennifer’s Vineyard Russian River Valley 2016, 92 Points, $70- Expressive nose of baked red fruit, cherry pie and tobacco. Silky and elegant, with wild raspberry and black cherry flavors that gain depth from heavy tobacco, pepper and mushroom undertones. Long, lip-smacking finish.



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