First saw wine made at age 7, became a Master Gardner and now my favorite plant is Vitis vinifera. Published wine reviewer, teach wine appreciation at the local school district. And at my old age completed some WSET levels just because I love all things wine. I pour wine for various distributors, have worked with chefs pairing wine and food at corporate events and do private home parties too. Between events, I meet with winemakers in various states and countries.
“The flavor of wine is like delicate poetry.”… Louis Pasteur
I usually avoid group tours like trying to avoid a bee sting. The tour host needs to be entertaining because many among the group will know little about wine and, surprisingly, not be interested in learning much more. It’s a day out in beautiful surroundings and everyone gets wine. So you’re going to hear “funny” stories about many things un-wine as part of the entertainment obligation the host feels.
I made an exception when visiting Cline Cellars, and took the “Syrah Hill” tour, and was happy that I did. Sure, there were several in the group whose only interest in wine was being able to get to it. But the stories that were non-wine were, thankfully, historical. Cline has a museum of early California missions, in fact, replicas of all 21 California missions that were constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair.
A view toward one of Cline's vineyards
The Mizer at Syrah Hill
The grounds are lovely. The views from Syrah Hill are spectacular, and the hilltop tasting room is a joy. But every view on Cline’s is a picture postcard including those views near the patio tasting room. The vineyard practices sustainable agriculture with organic cover crops, compost teas, crushed volcanic rock and oyster shells. Sheep graze the property eliminating the need for weed killer (in fact, Cline even resorts to hand picking when needed) and the sheep add natural fertilizer when composted. Solar panels installed in 2005 provide 100% of the winery’s energy consumption. But it’s not just that Cline Cellars practices “green” methods. It’s my belief that people that respect the land respect people and respect what goes into what people consume. That brings us to the wine. Here are some of those I tasted:
The 2010 Marsanne (71%) Roussanne (29%) white blend offers nice minerality along with enjoyable citrus. Rousanne contributes to the floral nose. This classic “ying/yang” blend is available for $22.
I particularly enjoyed Cline’s easy drinking 2011 North Coast Viognier. It offered rich texture with tastes of lemon-citrus edges on a base of peach and apricot with floral notes. At $12, this wine is a bargain.
The 2011 Ancient Vines Zinfadel presents without the typical Zinfandel nose (for me that’s a good thing in that it peaks interest). It’s more refined and subtle. The wine is luscious in the mouth, fruity without the pepper overdose of lesser Zins. Lots of black raspberry with a hint of coffee. $18. An excellent value.
The 2009 Heritage Zinfandel is a blend of three Cline single vineyard Contra Costa Zins. Beautiful nose. At 15.5% alcohol the mouth feel is rich and luscious. Lots of ripe plum with a hint of coffee. Available only at the winery. $38.
The 2009 Los Carneros Sryah: deep plum and black cherry, but I also picked up chocolate in the nose. $30. Great wine to enjoy as temperatures drop in winter.
The 2010 Bridgehead Zinfandel: From old vines in the Oakley area, this wine has layered flavors of blackberry, black pepper and notes of vanilla. $32.
Want something different and unusual? Cline makes a 2010 Small Berry Mourvedre. This is not a Mourvedre as you would expect.Bing cherry with a strong taste of anise. Truly unique. $40.
I opted for the 2011 Late Harvest Mourvedre, a good after-dinner port-like wine to enjoy with dessert or a cigar. $32. My companion prefers the dessert idea.
The Ancient Vine Carignane (Conta Costa County) begs to accompany grilled meats or braised short ribs. Its rich mouth feel (15.5%) is loaded with ripe plum, and hints of cocoa powder with clove. $18.00
Cline has been making Rhone style wines (and Zinfandel) before Rhone style wines became popular in the U.S. In all, they make 22 wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, Roussanne, white and red blends, rose, and a sparkling wine in addition to other Zinfandels, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Carignane. The Oakley ranch (40 miles east of San Francisco) is home to the “Ancient Vines” label, with vines ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old. Wine and Spirits referred to Cline’s Ancient Vines Mourvedre as “one of the top 100 values.” Robert Parker, Jr. said last year: “This is the finest portfolio of value-priced wines from Cline Cellars I have tasted to date.”
One of the many beautiful areas near the patio tasting room
If you opt for any of the group tours at Cline – or any winery – the Mizer recommends you stop in at the tasting room afterwards and, if possible, re-taste the wines when the pace allows more time and thought between sips. Use the dump bucket, bring a notebook and take notes on your impressions. Ask to see the bottle and ask questions. If you visit during off-peak times, you may be able to enjoy more personalized attention.
While not sharing palette or pocketbook, I share Parker’s impression about Cline’s value: Cline Cellars offers several varietals and blends that will go a long way in furthering your wine education and helping you develop a profile of your taste preferences. Why is that important? Because you’ll have fun tasting grapes that have been so popular in the Rhone, but which may be new to you. Cline wines remain true to the inherent flavor of the grapes they were made from. And with Cline, you can enjoy this education on a budget. You might even say their wines are “tuition” friendly.
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2473 Arnold Dr.
Sonoma CA 95476
Prices shown do not reflect club member discounts (approx 20%).