Sonoma County Wine Picks That Will Make Any California Grapes Fanatic Swoon

Two Bottles Under $40 Show Kenwood Vineyards' Power

BY // 02.19.20

Zeke Neeley, the winemaker at Kenwood Vineyards, loves Sonoma County. When he was a boy, long before he knew anything about wine, Neeley — who grew up in Daly City, in the San Francisco Bay area — would often visit his grandparents, who lived in Sonoma. The region’s natural beauty made an impression on the young future vintner and his wines seek to represent Sonoma in all of its complexity.

“When walking a vineyard near harvest it feels like a conversation between me, the vineyard, and the wild forces of nature discussing what personality this wine will have, and then I do my best to reach that ideal,” Neeley says. It’s a notion, I kept in my mind as I opened and tasted two wines he had sent me recently to sample.

Zeke Neeley has deep roots in Sonoma County. (Courtesy Kenwood Vineyards)

The lineup for the tasting was the 2017 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Pinot Noir ($30) and the 2017 Six Ridges Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), and they both are now on my Buy List.

You have without a doubt drank a Pinot Noir emanating from the Russian River Valley, and that’s where this one comes from. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean produces unique microclimates — cool breezes and fog abound — and this Pinot definitely expresses its terroir. You’ll appreciate an aroma of subtle spiciness and red fruit (black cherry dominated).

Our first taste — immediately after opening the bottle — continued the black cherry experience, plus hints of strawberry, a touch of woodsy mushroom and cinnamon. The mouthfeel is supple and the tannins linger. If you like Russian River Pinot Noir, this one will not disappoint you.

Neeley says that mild growing conditions in the spring and warm summer temperatures resulted in an early harvest for the 2017 vintage. Each vineyard lot was fermented separately, on the skins, then aged for 11 months in French and Hungarian barrels. It was bottled in February of 2019, and alcohol clocks in at 15.2 percent. I loved pairing this wine with a mild Italian pork sausage and pasta, with a simple tomato and garlic sauce. Try it with lasagne, hamburgers, or a charcuterie plate.

Next up, the Six Ridges Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Alexander Valley. Warmer growing conditions are involved here, and the grapes that make up the 2017 vintage were harvested between September 29 and October 24. Neeley fermented the lots separately, again, on the skins, and then aged the wine for 19 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak.

We opened this bottle about 20 minutes before tasting it, and our first impression was: We like it now, and can’t wait to taste this vintage in two years. It is drinking a bit young, though by that I in no way am disparaging it.

On the nose, you’ll enjoy ripe blackberry and leather. In the glass, it is a dark red, appealing and inviting. You’ll taste black fruit, and a touch of spice, plus forest-floor soil. Tannins here are a bit soft. We drank this with a few slices of ribeye steak, a fine pairing.

If you have not tried any of Neeley’s wines, both of these bottles are good entry points.

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