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Here’s a Sonoma County Wine Guide Introduction

Sonoma Vineyard
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Sonoma has always been overshadowed by the Napa Valley in the California wine circuit. To be honest, we’re not really sure why. Sonoma boasts well over 400 wineries within county lines and often the same quality juice, usually minus the crowds.

Better yet, Sonoma has a wildly diverse growing scene, home to 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and more than 60 wine grape types. The big ones include Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc, but there’s so much more to it than that. And you get all this before a hospitable scene, gorgeous oak-strewn hillsides, and some of the best wine in America.

Keep in mind we’re still dealing with a pandemic, not to mention off-season hours and a potential backlog from some devastating wildfires over the last couple of years. That said, check in with each label and outpost independently to double-check hours of operation and public safety protocol.

B.R. Cohn Winery

B.R. Cohn Tasting Room.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

B.R. Cohn is nestled in the heart of wine country, near Sonoma Valley Regional Park and just down the road from esteemed Hamel Family Wines. In addition to tasty big reds like Zinfandel and Malbec, there’s a cool vibe and house-made olive oil. There are even Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Barbera, along with some sparkling. And if music is your thing, you’re in the right place. The owner was the manager of the Doobie Brothers and has some stories to tell.

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Ceja Vineyards

Ceja Vineyards.
Facebook/Ceja Vineyards

A true Latinx operation, Ceja Vineyards specializes in the great Burgundian duo of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and some great red blends. The Ceja family landed in California by way of Mexico in the late 60s and have since carved out some 113 planted acres of fruit that funnel into their label. The tasting room is right in town and the flights are both extensive and reasonably priced.

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Coturri Winery

Coturri Winery winemaking.
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Launched in 1979, Coturri Winery is based in Glen Ellen and makes standout red blends and lovely standalone Cab and Grenache. This label is considered by many to be the biodynamic standard of the region. Coturri does it the natural way, sourcing organic grapes and fermenting its wines with native yeast. It’s a tiny but beloved label, booked through most of 2021 already worth an email or booking the next available opportunity for an insightful, intimate tasting.

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Gary Farrell Winery

Gary Farrell Winery vineyard.
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Some of the most exquisite Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along the west coast is coming out of Gary Farrell. The label takes full advantage of its cooler, Russian River Valley setting to craft gorgeous medium-bodied wines. Even cooler, the winery really goes for the single-vineyard approach, showing just how distinctive wines from various sites truly can be.

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Horse & Plow Winery

Horse & Plow Winery tasting barn.
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The venue for this Sonoma label could not be much better. The headquarters is an impeccable barn, rustic and inviting, and set alongside sprawling gardens and orchards. In addition to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cab Franc, and Syrah, the small Sebastopol operation makes some refreshing ciders. It even produces an old-vine Carignane, an Old Spanish red you don’t see much of in the states. Horse & Plow will win you over as soon as you arrive on the property.

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Idlewild

Idlewild tasting room.
Facebook/Idlewild Wines

With a sweet spot right in downtown Healdsburg, Idlewild pours its Piedmontese wines. It pulls fruit from rugged sites in Mendocino County and finesses it into beloved wines. We’re talking about Dolcetto and Barbera, along with lesser-knowns like Cortese and Grignolino. You’ll discover something new and fascinating while tasting here, without a doubt.

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Patz & Hall

Patz & Hall outdoor tasting spread.
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Patz & Hall does its thing from a venue in the town of Sonoma. It’s as welcoming as a vineyard house, with indoor tastings as well as tastings outside in a spacious patio with tremendous views. In terms of wine, the focus is on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and bubbly. The label was born in 1988 and has become one of the better purveyors of elegant, Burgundian-style wines.

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In Addition to Wine

Wine should be the reason you visit Sonoma county but you may want a break from the stuff, or at the very least some complimentary grub or a pint of good beer to cap off a day out. For great beers, check out the iconic Russian River Brewing Company or Seismic Brewing Company if you like the German-inspired stuff. For spirits enthusiasts, Sonoma Distilling Company is a fine option and continues to take in awards for its bourbon and rye whiskies.

For a bite, check out the amazing Mexican fare at El Molino Central. You can get great wine-friendly picnic goods and other fares at the Oakville Grocery, which has been doing its thing since 1881. This is the land of fine dining too, with no shortage of worthy options, all aspiring to be the next French Laundry. We’re especially fond of SingleThread Farm and Restaurant, a genuinely world-class culinary experience.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
There are several health benefits of wine – we explain them here
We turned to an expert to find out why wine is good for us
Selection of ETTORE Wine bottles on wooden table.

Beyond its endless variety of styles and flavor profiles, wine is also a beverage with fantastic health benefits. In fact, these benefits have been historically embraced in some cultures with impressive results. In France, the rate of heart disease is comparatively low — a curious fact considering the country's notorious love for butter and cheese. This phenomenon is known as the French paradox. For some health experts, France's consumption of red wine is the answer to this conundrum. According to the Mayo Clinic, when consumed in moderation, the high level of antioxidants in wine can help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

But not all wines are created equal. At ETTORE, founder and experienced winemaker Ettore Biraghi has made high-quality wines his passion in life. A certified organic winery in Mendocino, California, ETTORE is centered on sustainable farming practices with an emphasis on producing the finest grapes in the wine industry. As an expert on everything wine, Biraghi shared his expansive insights into the health benefits of this alcoholic beverage.
"Wine is a great way to keep your spirits high and happy!" Biraghi said. "Drinking wine in moderation can be healthy, especially when it is well-sourced, organic wine like ETTORE, and is best enjoyed with good company!"

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Trader Joe’s has wine and food: Here’s how to pair the two
You don't want to make multiple stops at several stores anyway
Trader Joe's store

For ages, Trader Joe's has offered bargain groceries and its own line of tasty, ready-to-eat dishes. Turns out, the grocery chain has some decent wine options, too, most of which stay well below the $20 mark.

That got us thinking: Why aren't we pairing these items? Food and wine love each other and at a place like Trader Joe's (TJ's), you can come away with a great meal and accompanying wine that needs little more than to be heated up and poured into a glass, respectively.

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A beginner’s guide to sherry wine, an incredibly misunderstood drink
Sherry deserves another chance. Here's a breakdown of the classic fortified wine
sherry fortified wine glass

Sherry, for those in the know, is absolutely wonderful. More often than not, though, it still draws a wince from the casual restaurant or bar-goer (another fortified wine, port, knows how it feels). The stereotypes -- cheap, used only for cooking, only consumed by old people -- are pervasive, much to sherry's discredit. It's time to change all that.
The last several years have seen beer become more like wine and wine become more oxidative (e.g. natural wine styles, Jura Chardonnay, skin-fermented or orange wines, etc.). Sherry has held a certain esteem throughout, wearing its nutty, briny, dried fruit flavors on its shimmering gold sleeves and for good reason -- the sherry designation contains some of the driest as well as the sweetest wines on the planet. No matter what sort of wine you are looking for, chances are you can find something similar to it within the category.
It has maintained at least a couple of small lines on most restaurant bar menus, especially as a post-meal sipper. In soccer-speak, dessert wines like port and Sauternes play the role of the quintessential number nine, scoring goals and basking in fame. Sherry wears the number 10, showing artistic flare, and it's just as happy to deliver assist after crafty assist, even though it can easily take the place of number nine.

What is sherry?
Born in Spain and made primarily from the Palomino grape, then fortified with grape brandy, sherry goes back a few thousand years but really gained a European footing in the 13th century. Columbus traveled to the New Word with plenty in tow. Shakespeare loved it. Magellan, in what is one of my favorite drinks legends ever, is said to have shelled out more on sherry than arms as he prepared to sail around the globe.
Today, sherry, just as with other spirits or liquors, can only be made within a specific region. Known as the marco de Jerez or "Sherry Triangle," sherry is made in three towns in Southern Spain -- Jerez de la Frontera (known simply as Jerez, and pronounced "he-ref"), Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Built around vulnerable grape vines, Sherry has withstood its share of disease problems. A massive phylloxera outbreak in 1894 caused significant damage to the area. It has since mostly recovered and is largely made up of four major dry types, two sweet types, and a variety of blended sherries. The four major dry types are Fino and Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso. The two sweet types are Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, which are both named after the varietals used to produce them. We will be focusing on the dry sherries for the remainder of the article.
The production of the dry sherries -- which are the bulk of all sherries produced -- runs along a spectrum, from completely biological (that is, aged under the flor) to completely oxidative (aged without the flor).

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