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So many wineries, so little time. Just as you can never hit all the amazing restaurants in NYC, the same applies to the California vineyards. With sprawling regions throughout the Northern Coast and over 500 wineries in Sonoma alone, the Sonoma/Napa regions boast a dizzying array of exceptional wineries, local tastings and pairings, and informative tours to give any wine enthusiast countless options for the new or refined palette.
Some favorites include:
*Best Informational Tasting* - Ram's Gate Winery. Located in the Sonoma Valley, Ram's Gate Winery wins the award for "Best Informational Tasting." They are home to carefully crafted fine Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and assorted varieties of grapes from the vineyards of Sonoma and Carneros, resulting in an array of rich and complex aromas, textures and flavors. Each bottle maintains the integrity of each vineyard site preserved in their wines. At $40, the Ram's Gate tasting bar flight featured four wines (2 Chardonnays and 2 Pinot Noirs), for a very informative, personalized experience. The Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that I tasted were exceptional, with terrific balance, fruit forward flavors, and smooth finishes. Reservations required.
*Best Outdoor Terrace View* -Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. Gloria Ferrer is not only the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, but also the first to plant Champagne clones and the first to plant in Carneros. Their tasting consists of a wide array of sparkling and estate varietal wines either inside their contemporary tasting room or on their gorgeous Vista Terrace overlooking the incredible expanse of mountains and vineyards. Unfortunately, when we visited, the caves were closed for maintenance, so we were unable to tour them for safety reasons. However, the wines are extraordinary, and offer notes ranging from crisp and bright to rich and vibrant.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. The Jacuzzi Family Vineyards owns and farms grapes at its estate in Sonoma-Carneros and the Sonoma Coast appellation, specifically the Petaluma Gap. Owned by the Cline family whose winery is across the street, the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and The Olive Press is a tribute to Fred Cline's Grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, and the Jacuzzi family home in Casarsa, Italy. Small groups of up to 5 guests can sample 5 complimentary wine tastings and unlimited olive oil/balsamic tastings with no reservations required. The Jacuzzi winery offers a laid-back, casual atmosphere with knowledgeable sommeliers for a quick sampling of a variety of reds, whites, and dessert wines.
*Best Olive Oil Tasting and Selection* - The Olive Press. The most highly awarded olive oil producer in the nation, The Olive Press (which is located inside the Jacuzzi Family Winery) offers the best and freshest California extra virgin olive oils, along with a variety of vinegars for creative and explosive pairings. Some award-winning olive oils include Mission, Sevillano, Italian Blend, Limonato, Lime and Jalapeño. Featured pairings are Peach Balsamic Vinegar & Jalapeno Olive Oil, Coconut Balsamic Vinegar & Lime Olive Oil, Fig Balsamic Vinegar & Limonato Olive Oil, and Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar & Master Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil. A must-see in Sonoma, you are free to mix and sample with breads, tapenades, mustards, and more.
Cline Cellars. Located right across the street from Jacuzzi Vineyards, Cline Cellars is family-owned since 1982 by Fred and Nancy Cline. All their wines are sustainably farmed and have won multiple medals, awards, and accolades from the top wine enthusiasts in the country. They are known for their awarding-winning Rhône-style wines and Zinfandels, as well as classic Sonoma County varietals including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Merlot. Cline Family Cellars' varietals are planted in prime locations to produce wines of great depth, power and intensity of flavor.Like Jacuzzi, Cline Cellars offers free samplings of 5 wines with no reservations required for parties up to 5.
Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery. Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery is located just a few blocks from historic downtown Sonoma. They pride themselves on using sustainable farming methods to ensure all aspects of their winery are environmental friendly. Sebastiani is a historic winery with a hospitality center, barrel room with antique redwood tanks, grand event space and daily tours, tastings and pairings. Their tasting bar is lively, casual, and informative to experience wine history, food and wine pairing, winemaking techniques and the culture of wine. My standout favorite was the 2012 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, which offers remarkable, complex flavors of black cherry fruit with soft tannins and nice acidity on the finish, made up of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.