Sunday, February 23, 2014

Red Car Winery: Exciting Wines from the Sonoma Coast

Across the board, Sonoma County’s Red Car winery makes damn good stuff. Their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are fresh, tangy and nuanced. Their aesthetic is defined by cooler climate vineyards, earlier harvesting and minimalist winemaking.

The Red Car winery is located on Graton Road in Sebastapol, right next to Dutton-Goldfield. Even though I’ve surfed all over the Sonoma Coast, and passed right by the winery several times, I’m sad to say I’ve never stopped into the tasting room. But earlier this month I had a chance to sit down here in D.C. with Jenny Harrow, Red Car’s director of hospitality, and taste through a bunch of their wines. I was impressed, and a visit to their tasting room is now on my must-do list for my next Sonoma trip.

Red Car kicked off in 2000; at the time they focused largely on purchased fruit from the Central Coast. Their estate vineyard, located in Fort Ross-Seaview, yielded its first bottled juice in 2009. These estate wines, the product of Sonoma sun and cool coastal winds, offer a lot of elegance, complexity and interesting pieces to ponder. Red Car is part of In Pursuit of Balance, a California coalition of producers that “share a commitment to seeking balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.” So, you’ve got an idea of what Red Car is going for. I think balance is a great way to describe their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, as they offer crisp acid, fresh fruit and beg for food. The Red Car style has changed over the years, though, as evidenced in the older “Fight” Syrahs I tasted, which pack punch just like their boxing-themed labels.

I tasted the wines with dinner at Ripple in Cleveland Park, one of DC’s most wine-friendly eateries. The food and service at Ripple was, as always, top-notch. And I had a great time picking Jenny Harrow’s brain about Sonoma Coast vineyards, vintages and the current drought problems.

Here are some notes on the wines I tasted…

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rosé Bybee Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($25)
Very pale in color. Aromas of wild strawberry, watermelon, nettle and white flowers. Crisp but plump on the palate with strawberries and melon, mixed with sea salt, white flowers and minerals. Complex, pure, tangy and fresh. A very impressive vin gris. (89 points)

2012 Red Car Chardonnay Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($35)
Aromas of lime, apricot, white flowers and crushed seashells. Tart, but also rich at the same time. Apricot and lime mix with honey, subtle mixed nuts. Mineral-laden, but lots of lemon curd and honeycomb. With nuanced 10% new oak, 100% maloactic fermentation and live-wire acid, this has a lot of personality. (90 points)

2012 Red Car Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($40)
Ripe cherries, plums, red currants, mixes with red roses and clove on the nose. The palate is juicy, tangy, with flavors of cranberry sauce and red currants. Also some spice, tobacco, minerals. Rich, but so balanced and elegant. (89 points)

2012 Red Car Pinot Noir Heaven & Earth Bohemian Station - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($68)
Plummy, cola, sweet roses on the nose, very complex and deep. Tangy acid, fine tannins, with red currant and cranberry fruit, some cola and rhubarb. Tart, herbal, tangy, ripe, with lots of floral and earthy elements. Burgundy meets Sonoma Coast. (91 points)

2010 Red Car Syrah Estate - California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross-Seaview ($50)
Aromas of plum, smoke, bright flowers, cherry blossoms. Fresh and juicy but also firm and structured. Currant and blackberry mixes with soil, chestnut, green olive. So long and pure, the 13.3% alcohol and fresh acid provide a sleek mouthfeel and an elegant approach. Love the earth and green olive notes. A beauty of a Sonoma Syrah with lots of complexity and nuance, deserves some time in the cellar. (91 points)

2010 Red Car Syrah Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast ($40)
Aromas of currant, violets, plums and smoke. Fleshy on the palate, rich, pure, silky. Dense with grippy tannins but also fresh and open with plum, black olive, earth and flowers. Delicious, but restrained. (90 points)

2008 Red Car Syrah The Fight - California, Napa Valley ($50)
Nose shows blueberries, plum sauce, violets and milk chocolate. Richer than all the other wines, with blueberry, bold coffee, vanilla and black pepper-soy sauce. Full, bold, but clearly well-made with a lot of concentration. Time ahead. As a boxing fan, I gotta love the label. (88 points)

2007 Red Car Syrah The Fight - California, Napa Valley ($50)
Aromas of blackberries, blueberries, charcoal, olive and BBQ sauce. Jammy on the palate, with pure blueberry pie and sweet BBQ sauce. Rich, a bit roasted, with fig paste and plum sauce, pepper marinade. Well-made, more bombastic than their more recent vintages. (87 points)


  1. Did I ask for routine ruminations from Isaac Baker's nuanced palate and rakishly inebriated keystrokes? No. No I did not. But I wish I had asked, 'cause then I would take credit for the inspiration.

    As it is, all I can do is imbibe and enjoy. I look forward to reading more and have bookmarked this as a 'must' read.