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Sonoma - the heart of Californian wine culture
Rugged Coastlines, deep woodland - and the best wines far and wide.
Just north of San Francisco lies the fertile Sonoma County, one of the best wine-growing regions in the USA. Let us take A journey into the heart of America’s wine production.
It all began forty-two years ago on beautiful May night in Paris. A handful of the greatest wine experts sat down for a blind tasting of a selection of red and white wines. The result was nothing short of a scandal: despite all expectations, the top places were awarded exclusively to wines produced in the New World. France, the unrivalled zenith of wine and sensual pleasure, had to bow down to the competition from across the Atlantic which, until then, had been dismissed as “incorporeal” and “ignoble”.
To add insult to injury, these new stars of the international scene came from a region of dubious repute, known, at that time, only for mediocre blends and mass-produced wines: the Napa Valley. The Parisian premier was the beginning of the meteoric ascent of an entire region, which quickly capitalised on the extraordinary diversity of its landscapes and soils, as well as its perfect climate, to develop an entire industry of world-class agriculture and wine production.
The switch to the New economy and the booming success of Silicon Valley provided a blossoming culinary culture of Northern California, upheld by a strong economic foundation and many wealthy customers.
Today, the region is one of the most illustrious Gourmet-magnets imaginable. Wine connoisseurs and foodies pilgrimage from across the globe to visit hot-spots in California's sprawling cities in the south, as well as the smallest of wine cellars in the north. Several of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List have settled in the region between San Francisco and the seemingly endless Pacific coast.
From Atelier Crenn, to the legendary French Laundry, to this year’s Miele One To Watch Award Winners, SingleThread Farms - the quality of the local produce encourages farm-to-table concepts to spring up in a class of their own.
Just like their European counterparts, each wine-growing region found in the USA has an official designation of origin called an AVA: American Viticultural Areas. Ever since the infamous judgement of Paris, the Napa Valley has become a symbol and the poster-child for the fine vintages of the New World. Although Sonoma County is slightly less well known, it is every bit as exquisite, boasting over 200 excellent wineries. And this particular region is quickly catching up with Napa Valley’s reputation.
The secrets of Sonoma - wines from off the beaten track
Behind ancient Redwood forests and tempered by the cool air coming in from the extended Pacific coast-line lies the Sonoma County. During the day, the Californian sun generates the necessary sugar in the grapes, and the moist sea-breeze carries cooling dew up into the hills of the Russian River Valley to balance the climate. This region’s rich and diverse soils and the environment is what makes the grandeur and depth of taste this wine-growing is known for possible.
Volcanic, clay, lime, and alluvial soils provide an abundance of minerals to facilitate the cultivation of a huge variety of different types of grape. It is common knowledge that Californian red wines have grown to international prominence together with spectacular tasting Chardonnays, but there are many hidden gems still to be discovered.
Therefore, we asked Evan Hufford, the Sommelier and wine director of the Miele One To Watch Award 2018 winner SingleThread Farms, to curate a selection of fresh, summery wines that might be lesser known to the average wine-dealership which characterise the unique tastes of the Sonoma region.
Littorai „The Haven Vineyard“ Chenin Blanc, Sonoma Coast 2016
Ted Lemon, one of the most talented winemakers of the Sonoma County is best known for his superb Chardonnays and Pinots. In contrast, Lemon’s Chenin Blanc is a rare pleasure as it is only produced in extremely limited quantities. One almost gets a sense of the Old World in this extraordinarily precise wine, as notes of fresh citrus acidity are contrasted by a bracing minerality reminiscent of crushed rock and a salty sea breeze.
This Chenin is the perfect accompaniment to Chef Kyle Connaughton’s first course which features a collection of small, Asian-inspired dishes to welcome the guests. The complex depth of flavour that this wine offers is never too dominant or garish, making it versatile for fish dishes, especially raw fish. The perfect serving temperature for the Chenin Blanc is 8°C.
Arbe Garbe, White Blend, Sonoma 2016
The Friulian winemaker duo Letizia Pauletto and Enrico Maria Bertoz have been producing in Sonoma for many years. Their Arbe Garbe is a distinctive Cuvée that has earned the top scores among wine experts. This white wine, a blend of premium grape varieties such as Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano harkens back to the homelands of its Italian producers. Arbe Garbe is intensely aromatic, bursting with floral notes and a blend of orange citrus and tropical fruit which are prominent on the palette. With such an intense aroma, one might expect a heavy-handed wine, but it is extremely mouth-watering and crisp. At SingleThread, Arbe Garbe is served only in unique situations, for instance when Chef Kyle presents his steamed white fish with kosho sauce. The spice of the dish is cut by the gentle sweetness of the wine enhancing its complex nuances.
If enjoyed alone we suggest a serving temperature of 10°C for the full breadth of flavour, or alternatively, a more muted taste can be achieved at 8°C when served with fish.
Arnot-Roberts, “Handal-Denier Vineyard” Falanghina, Dry Creek Valley 2016
This wine is a rarity, even for the most exclusive restaurants, and is produced in the Dry Creek Valley AVA by two childhood friends. Nathan Roberts and Dincan Arnot Meyers only produce around four barrels of this wine each year. The inspiration comes from southern Italy’s Falanghina, and is served at SingleThread with green asparagus and tofu. Subtle notes of green vegetables ring out combining a slightly savoury core of sesame and wrapping it in ripe meyer lemon. The slightly creamy texture is reminiscent of a great Chablis, and its combination of texture, acidity and intermingling of citrus and minerality will linger in mind long after for the lucky few who can get their hands on a bottle. Once again it is wise not to serve this wine too cold for the wine to develop its full bouquet. We suggest 8-10°C.
If you’re going to San Francisco – be sure to visit Sonoma!
Scott McKenzie’s famous song earns this addendum. The most important figures in the culinary world will gather together to discuss this year's theme, “Diversity”, at the #50BestTalks presented by Miele, and the Sonoma County is surely one of the glowing examples of this value. Nestled in stunning nature, this cultural space is full of secrets to be uncovered.
By the way: 30 years after the “judgement of Paris”, top wine critics and Sommeliers gathered together to try the very same vintages that were sampled on that famous blind tasting session. It was no surprise that the result did not change.
Author: Philipp Gosselck