Wednesday, April 4, 2012

California Bubbles at Iron Horse Vineyards

During my trip to Sonoma last month, my brother Zeke and I got up at dawn and drove to a remote beach break on the Sonoma Coast called Salmon Creek. We suited up, forged the creek and paddled out into the cold water. The waves were pounding and powerful, and the conditions were, to say the least, epic. By noon the winds had changed and the conditions had crapped out, but we were cold and exhausted anyway. We had the afternoon to spend bumming around Sonoma, so I suggested visiting Iron Horse Vineyards, a well-known producer of sparkling (and still) wine located in Sonoma's Green Valley appellation. 

During my visit, vineyard workers were busy
tying cordons of young vines to the trellises.
The winery is hidden at the end of a one-lane road, tucked between wavy hills of vines. As we arrived the sky turned cloudy and the winds cold, but the beauty of the area was unmistakable. When we pulled up, I was still cold from surfing and I realized the Iron Horse tasting room is actually outside, under a kind of lean-to. Luckily, it blocked the wind and the heating machines hanging above were warm, which helped me restore my core body temperature.

The winery has a decent tasting setup, offering a flight of sparkling wines, a flight of white wines, and a "Reserve" flight that included both sparkling and still wines on the high-end of Iron Horse's spectrum. My brother and I went for the reserve tasting, and were were both glad we did. All of the wines in the flight cost more than $50, so they're not exactly cheap. That said, the tasting was a lot of fun. We had a great time sipping our generous pours, warming up and taking in the view.

I'd definitely recommend this winery to people traveling in Sonoma, especially lovers of the bubbly. And who doesn't love bubbly?  

2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Brut X - Green Valley
The first sparkling wine of the trip, and it was a really impressive one. Very pale straw color, almost translucent. Very yeasty nose, with lemon-lime and minerals. Razor sharp and very focused on the palate. Sea shell, salt and lime zest flavors streak across an extremely dry palate. You could've fooled me that this was Champagne. I was begging for oysters with this sparkler. Zeke really loved this as well. (91 pts.)

2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Fairy Tale Cuvée - Green Valley
Apparently, this is the wine that Iron Horse serves on Disney cruises and resorts, so I wasn't expecting much. To my surprise, this wine was quite nice. It's a gorgeous salmon color. Wild strawberries and fresh biscuits on the nose. Tangy acid on the palate with a burst of white cherry and a rush of minerals and ruby red grapefruit. I was expecting something sweet and fruity, but this is much more my style. (87 pts.)

I love it when wineries display artwork,
especially when it's a funk-tastic sculpture.
2009 Iron Horse Vineyards Chardonnay Native Yeast - Green Valley
This chardonnay is only made in certain vintages, when the native vineyard yeasts do the fermentation job without any help from introduced yeasts. Aromatically, this wine is both rich and lively, with lots of lemon and tangy grapefruit as well as cream. The palate starts off with a rush of acid, then creamy pears swoop in, as well as grapefruit candies and Smarties. Very complex, showing whipped honey and melon rind as well. Acid lingers on the refreshing finish. Very nice. (91 pts.)

2010 Iron Horse Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled - Green Valley
This pinot is heavenly. Bright ruby color. Smooth black cherries on the nose, an aroma that reminds me of those black cherries you come across in the best black cherry ice cream. There's some cherry cordial as well and rose petal. The palate starts off with tangy acid and smooth black cherries. Subtle tannins and pure fruit make this one elegant pinot noir. It's pretty much all fruit flavors, but it's so complex as the wine graces the palate. Tangy acid carries the finish, which ends with just a hint of that gorgeous sweet black cherry. This was one of Zeke's favorite pinots of the trip and it was right up there on my favorites list as well. (92 pts.)

2010 Iron Horse Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River - Russian River Valley
This pinot was darker in color than the 2010 Green Valley Estate. Lovely aromas of raspberry jam and smoke, then there's this carmelized sugar aroma that reminds me of creme brulee and cloves mixed together. Aromatically, this wine is serious stuff, and I'm loving it. Significant tannins, but they feel plush. The fruit tastes sweet, but not goopy. Still, this is a much bigger pinot than the Green Valley. Finishes like a hedonist, with vanilla and chocolate-covered cherries. That hint of clove sneaks in on the finish. (90 pts.)

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