Friday, December 21, 2012

Shootout in Sonoma: Brothers From A Different Mother; Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Vs. Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

One of the games that we Cork Dorks like to play (and for the record I vastly prefer the term Cork Dork to Wine Nerd, thank you) is to do a comparative tasting of wines from the same producer.  You can do wines at different price points, wines from different regions, whatever.    When the new crop of Beaujolais Nouveau hit the shelves I did one where I compared wines from Beaujolais,   My friend and partner in winecrime calls them "throwdowns," but this term seems a bit too evocative of tacky pro wrasslin' vernacular.  I was raised on classic violent American media and  I like to call them "shootouts."  (Too many Sunday afternoon cowboy movie matinees, maybe?  We all have our vices).  

Today we match up two very different wines from a fantastic producer.   Sonoma-Loeb was founded 1n 1973 by John L. Loeb, who from the very beginning sought to make Chardonnays rivaling the great wines of Burgundy.   His vineyards are located in the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, California, and are vinified by the expert hand of Philip Titus.  Their catalog of wine has now grown to include Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon as well.  There are several wines at escalating price points, but today we focus on two of their enrty-level wines.

2011 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay

I have long been a fan of the Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay.  At $21.99, I think this wine outfights most others in its price class.  In the glass it exhibits a lemon yellow complexion, with the tiniest tint of green.  It gives off an incredibly inviting bouquet of tropical fruit, notably pineapple, mango and banana. 

On the palate, the first thing one notices is a sense of harmonious balance.  This is a very full bodied wine, an absolute mouth coater.  There is a touch of tingling green apple acidity, the roundness of an oak aging regimen, some butter.  And the fruit, oh the fruit.  Mango, green apple, pineapple gone just slightly overripe, and a ghost of banana on the finish.  And even though all these elements show up to the party, none of them make a scene.  There are no fistfights or acrimonious arguments; everybody gets along just fine and has a good ole time.

Assessment:  This is a real stunner.  There's oak, there's butter, there's fruit, there are all the elements that make a great California Chardonnay, but none of them dominate the mix.  If I had to use one word to describe this wine it would be HARMONY.  While I don't care for Chardonnay as a cocktail hour wine, your guests who do would enjoy a glass or two of this while standing around making small talk.  And for the dinner table, this wine will really stand out whether you are serving lobster, fettuccine Alfredo or a roast turkey. 

2011 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

This was a new discovery for me, and a recent arrival on our shelves.  It prices a bit higher at $24.99, but is definitely worth every penny.  It has great color extraction and depth for a grape that so often produces lighter red wines.  And it has an incredible, inviting nose that evokes (to me) everything a Pinot Noir should be: cooked dark fruit, white truffle, and that earthy note of terroir. 
The fruit elements are comprised of lighter, brighter red fruits: pomegranate, red cherry, raspberry and a touch of plum.  But they are not sharp; it has a low acidity, although it begins to grow in prominence as the wine opens in the glass.  Savory elements dominate this wine, a true umami Pinot.   There is an earthiness reminiscent of fresh mushroom, or leafy forest floor, or what I sometimes call "barnyard."  (That's a troubling term; some people wrinkle their nose when I use it, and I guess if you grew up on a cattle ranch in west Texas or a pig farm in the Carolinas , it means something entirely different, and it's not a note you want associated with your wine.  Point taken.)  There is a vanilla note at work here as well, which is a dead giveaway for some oak barrel aging, and a slight touch of white pepper. 
Assessment:  A wonderful, soft red velvet pillow of a wine.  Fabulous complexity, very approachable, and a great example of what New World Pinot Noir can be.  Not a fruit bomb or a sear and strip exercise in acidity.  Again, the word of the day is HARMONY.  This is a Pinot that will hold its own against a big thick steak with sauteed mushrooms and truffle whipped potatoes, and would pair lovely with a holiday turkey.  It may be a bit full for something as delicate as fish, so in that case perhaps you should look for something with greater acidity and less extraction. 

In conclusion, if Ambassador Loeb set out to make California wines that could rival those of Burgundy, I'd say he has definitely accomplished his goal.  My stalwart Old World advocate friends will take exception to this, but I say that the proof is in the bottle.   I won't get into any "Judgement Of Paris" arguments here, but these are quality wines that show evidence of the TLC that went into them.  You would do well to have these bottles grace your table, whether during the Holiday season, or any other time of year. 


  1. So, what you're saying is that I should drink the Pinot Noir with my standing beef rib roast and mushroom bread pudding for Christmas dinner?

  2. That would work most excellently.