Armida Winery: Savoring Sonoma

I first discovered the wine Poizin while visiting Luke and Mary while they still lived in Sonoma. We were dining at the aptly named Zin Restaurant at the time. I fell in love with it then, and somehow managed to score a few bottles on sale. Then friends gifted me with some, and I decided to make it my birthday wine. Each bottle I had would only be opened on my birthday.

Boy howdy, what a view.

This year, for my 40th birthday, I drank the last bottle of that Poizin. It was as amazing as I remembered. As soon as we decided to go to Sonoma, I determined I had one goal: I wanted to go to the winery that makes it, Armida Winery.

A really terrible picture of the Armida tasting room.

The staff at Armida, Kristina and … boy, I think it was CJ, but my notes are unclear [Edit: nope, that handsome man was Nick, and I should have my wine taken away for a week for that error!]…were incredibly friendly, helpful and warm. The tasting room was uncrowded, which I understand is a rarity. And, as many people have said, the winery has one of the most epic views in Sonoma County. But I wasn’t here for any of that. I was here for the wine.


The Wines

Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, 2010: This wine was grapefruity and had a strong mineral element. Mike found it crisp and refreshing and noticed pineapple in the aroma and the flavor. We were clearly getting to the end of the day, because I forgot to take down the year; fortunately, Mike took care of that for me.

Antidote Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, 2009: If you have Poizin, you have to sell the Antidote, right? This had a soft tangy smell. It tasted of candied lemons and tangerines with a hint of saffron at the finish. It was clearly the end of Mike’s day, too, because his tasting notes say “Grapey.”

Pinot Noir, Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2008: There was something in the nose that reminded me a little of skunk – but as I think I’ve said before, there’s a particular note in the skunk smell that I find not at all unpleasant, and that’s what I was getting here. Mike was getting candy, so either we got something entirely different out of the smell or he’s eating some strange candy. It tasted of velvety, rich grapes, with a nice raisin-y edge. Mike agreed, but tasted some more spice than I did.

2008 “Silkscreen” Poizin: Armida makes two Poizins. The first is the “silkscreen” version, which I gather is their more “mass-market” version (if you can call a place that makes only 10,000 cases a year mass-market). Much like I can’t describe my love for Mike, I also can’t describe my love for this wine. It is my personal Platonic ideal of a zinfandel. I know it may not be for everyone, but I just love it. Mike describes it as mellow, soft and rich.

Zinfandel, Maple Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, 2008: This had a velvety prune nose with a hint of candy. On the tongue, it tasted of raisins with the skins left on. All in all, very good. Mike said it had a deep, dark flavor with a nice, squared-off finish. (Mike often describes flavors in terms of shapes. I don’t, perhaps because I failed geometry and thus have PTSD when I hear the word “isosceles.”)

Zinfandel, Tina’s Block, Maple Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, 2008: Nick showed us the map of this vineyard, and it had a grid on it showing where vines of various types are grown. It had a velvety raisin scent, but I was not knocked out by this wine, as is evidenced by the fact that I don’t have a single note on the taste. Mike described it as having more tannins on the front and spicier. Then he wrote “Mapleier?” Clearly, we were hitting the end of a long day.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Stuhlmuller Vineyard, Alexander Valley, 2006: This smelled of plum, tobacco and leather and tasted of leather and plum with a nice chipotle finish. (Chipotle as in the actual pepper. It didn’t taste like a burrito, I assure you.) Mike also detected the chipotle, so clearly I was on to something.

Pinot Noir, Durrell Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, 2008: This was where the palate fatigue hit — or perhaps it was adjective fatigue. I knew I liked this one, but I couldn’t write anything specific about the flavor. Mike felt it was soft, fruity and accessible.

Well, I hadn’t been planning to walk out with their super-duper reserve Poizin, but then Nick brought out this bottle:

I've found my new love. Sorry, Mike.

I was so, SO tempted to walk out with that gigantic hot-pink laser-engraved bottle of reserve Poizin, but alas, it was even harder to justify spending $500 on that bottle than it was to justify spending it on an iPad. If I’ve resisted buying an iPad so long, clearly I could resist this.

But, it turns out, they had smaller reserve bottles. And each one came with its own coffin! Even if you don’t like their wine for some bizarro reason, you have to hand it to them for going all the way with their marketing.

Nothing comes between me and my Poizin!

It was very hard for me to justify purchasing this wine, but somehow I did it. What I didn’t know was that the super-sneaky Luke and Mary had snuck off to buy me a bottle as well!!!

Back at the farm...
Back on the farm. Clearly, I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

I feel very lucky to have gone on this trip with Luke, Mary and Mike. We had great wine — but more importantly, we had great company full of fun and great stories.

Unti Vineyards: Savoring Sonoma

Mary and Luke used to live in Sonoma; in fact, Mary cooked at a fabulous little restaurant in Healdsburg called Bovolo. While she was there, she got plugged into the wine scene in a big way, and learned about many of the smaller wineries that are less well-known, and often not open to the public. As we had lunch on Bovolo’s porch, Mary and Luke decided they would take us to their favorite, secret winery, a place called Unti Vineyards.

Tasting at Unti is by appointment only, but Luke charmed them with a phone call and got us on the list. After a winding, beautiful drive, we wound up at the tucked-away tasting room nestled in the middle of the vineyard.

Unti Vineyards tasting room
This tasting room is much more like what we're used to.

Mike and I immediately felt at home in the tasting room; it was comfortable and as unpretentious as you could get. The laid-back atmosphere was really underlined when we finally introduced ourselves to the gentleman pouring for us; it was George Unti himself!

The wines were also tasty, although sadly the one we wanted most hadn’t been bottled yet. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The Wines

All wines were from the Dry Creek Valley Estate.

Grenache, 2007: This smelled like sugared cherries and had a juicy plummy flavor. I got a hit of oak on the second taste, which spoke to the complexity of this wine.

Zinfandel, 2007: The nose on this one was full of sweet plums with a high alcohol, which left me expecting a taste of plum pudding. Instead, the flavor was one of plums drenched in chocolate syrup; not exactly what I was expecting, but tasty!

Syrah, 2007: This clone comes from the Northern Rhone. It smells of cinnamon-spiced fruit. Mr. Unti says they leave the stems on when they make this wine and you could really tell; there were also a lot of heavy tannins here.

Syrah Benchland, 2007: This wine spends 15 months in the barrel, as opposed to 18 months for the first Syrah we tasted. I recognized the difference instantly. It was less astringent and I could really taste the fruit. I liked the second sip of this more than the first, but Luke found the exact opposite. But the fact that both of us found such a difference from sip to sip really pointed up one element I liked about Unti’s wines; they evolve on the palate. Drinking these wines is like watching a complex movie.

Syrah Benchland, 2006: Mr. Unti warned us at the outset that this wine was “less approachable,” but we all agreed that we liked it more. It smelled of velvety cinnamon. I could taste the blackberries and tannins.

Zinfandel, 2008: Unti is best known for their Barbera, but they don’t make a Barbera every year. This Zinfandel is 18% Barbera, giving a nod to the Italian grape. It had a blackberry and raspberry nose and a blackberry fruity taste that I really liked.

After all those tastings, George Unti gave us the piéce de resistance: the 201o Rosé.

Unti Winery
I realized after the fact that this photo made it look like a urine sample. It's not, I swear!

2010 Rosé: The Rosé is usually bottled in March, but due to a few scheduling conflicts it is being bottled just as this post goes live. 1350 cases will be bottled. If you’re up in Sonoma or planning to go up, I strongly recommend that you stop by Unti to pick up a bottle if not a case. It smelled like I would expect a Sauvignon Blanc to smell, and tasted like a dry strawberry wine with a little tannin edge to it.

Unti Winery
Drinking all this Unti wine is a hard job, but someone has to do it.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards: Savoring Sonoma

It’s a good thing we got ahead of ourselves in February, because our March was far too busy to allow for any wine tasting. I went on two separate business trips, a friend of ours was in San Francisco from New Zealand, and Mike had many deadlines to meet. It’s unusual for us to have a month where we don’t get out of town, but in March we didn’t even manage to taste any wine in Monterey County, which may be the first month on record where that’s happened.

Our palates were primed, our feet were itchy (with the urge to take to the road, not with athlete’s foot), and our blog was feeling abandoned. Fortunately, our friends Luke and Mary invited us to visit their favorite wineries in Sonoma, as well as Luke’s family’s farm.

We meant to wait until after we dropped their kids off, really we did. But we passed so many great wineries on the way that it was inevitable someone would crack. In the end, it was Luke who could no longer resist. Mary brought the kids to the farm while Luke, Mike and I went to a winery that, surprisingly, Luke had never tasted at before: Jacuzzi Family Winery.

Jacuzzi Family Winery fountain
I tried to hot tub in their fountain. They were not amused.

Yes, that Jacuzzi. The wine is named after the family that built aircraft propellers and pumps and eventually invented the famous hot tub that their last name has become synonymous with. Much like their spa tubs, their winery is an immersive experience. (Okay, okay, the bad hot tub jokes will end here. Maybe.)

The Vibe

From the moment we stepped into Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, I thought, “This must be what Napa is like.” By and large, the wineries we’ve visited to date have been small family affairs. While Jacuzzi Family Vineyards is also a family affair — the owner, Fred Cline, is the grandson of Vanteriano Jacuzzi — both the family and the affair seem rather larger than what we’re used to.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
This is just one tasting room. There's an additional room for olive oil tasting, plus a covered back patio, plus that patio with the fountain - it's ginormous!

There were three tour buses in the parking lot when we came in, but we were still easily able to find a spot at the bar.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Mike and Luke held back the crowds just long enough for me to take this photo.

Mike, ever the craftsman, immediately noted the detailed woodwork that ran throughout the tasting room. I noticed the jewelry, the Italian accoutrements, and the general country-Italian-villa-teleported-to-Sonoma sense. I also noticed that there were no purse hooks, which anyone who reads this blog will know is a particular hang-up of mine. (Hey, I said there wouldn’t be any bad Jacuzzi jokes…I never said there wouldn’t be any bad jokes.)

The Wines

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Cary was awesome!

Cary, the tasting room associate who was kind enough to pour for us, was friendly and efficient and told us everything we might want to know about the wines. Much to our surprise, we each got to taste six wines for free. Eighteen wines on the list, three people tasting…could we hit them all?

Sadly, the whole “sharing” strategy didn’t occur to us until about halfway through. But we did taste a large portion of the list nonetheless.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Luke and Mike discuss sharing a manly fashion.

Fred Cline also owns Cline Cellars, whose Ancient Vines Zinfandel we’re a fan of. He established Jacuzzi so he could create some wines that referenced his Italian heritage. I am no expert on Italian wines, but I can say that these wines were delicious. I encourage Mr. Cline to continue exploring his Italian heritage!

Tocai Friuliano, Alexander Valley, 2009: Italy may have been banned from using this name for their wines because the Hungarians are concerned it will be confused with the unrelated and prestigious Tokaji, but Jacuzzi has stuck with the traditional name.

No matter what you call it, this enjoyable country white is a pleasure to drink. This one was tart with hints of lemon and grapefruit, but softer than a Pinot Grigio. Mike tasted some pineapple in there, and said that on first impression it was tart, but then it mellowed. (Kind of like me!) And as I’m typing this, I’m wondering why the heck we didn’t get a bottle to add to our cellar…

Arneis, Paicines, 2010: The great thing about tasting at a winery that’s doing something other than Rhône-style wines is that sometimes you get to taste something you’ve never heard of. I’d never heard of Arneis or Paicines. Wikipedia tells me that Arneis is a type of grape grown in the Piedmont region of Italy, while Paicines is a San Benito County AVA.

As San Benito is over 50 miles from Sonoma, this AVA clearly doesn’t count, but that doesn’t mean the wine wasn’t great! It was similar to the tocai friuliano, but mellower; Mike noticed that the acidity emerged later and it was overall not as tart. This makes sense, as Wikipedia tells me that this grape was used to soften the harsh edges of the Nebbiolo grape in wines from the Barolo region.

And no, Mom, if Wikipedia told me to jump off a bridge, I wouldn’t. Unless it was a really cool bridge.

Bianco di Sei Sorelle Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2009: This grape was named after the six original Jacuzzi sisters of the generation that originally emigrated to the U.S., and the label bears their photo. The bottle, unlike most of the wines from Jacuzzi, is a country jug style.

This wine has a great nose, which reminded me of slightly sugared flowers. I tasted hints of dry mead when I sipped it. Of course, when I said that, Luke looked at me like I was crazy, so your mileage may vary. Mike found it acidic.

Moscato Bianco, Alexander Valley, 2010: The scent reminded me of the syrup used to pack canned peaches. Mike smelled pineapple, banana and melon. It wasn’t quite a dessert wine, but it was close! Mike’s tasting notes are — and I quote — “Creamy, gentle flavor with a suggestion of orange marshmallow circus peanuts.” I think he really likes marshmallow circus peanuts, though, so that’s a positive review. This would be great with some cheese, or maybe a fruit plate. And once again, I am lamenting not having it in my wine cellar…

Nebbiolo, Carneros, 2009: On to the reds! I smelled cherries and raspberries here; Mike smelled a hint of chocolate. As I sipped, I found the skins very present, with a hint of cherry in front. Mike tasted chocolate and felt it was a bit spicy, with nice acidity.

Sangiovese, Sonoma Coast, 2009: Mike is not the only one who has strange associations with smells and tastes while tasting wine. On this Sangiovese, I smelled oak and band aids. This isn’t the first time I’ve smelled band aids when I’ve sniffed a wine, and it won’t be the last. It’s not an unpleasant smell, by the way. Am I the only one who ever smells this? Clearly Mike didn’t; his notes say “mellow fruit nose.”

I found the flavor very rich, and felt this would go well with a steak. (Says the vegetarian.) Mike found it warm, but a little reserved — which is exactly what I thought of him when we first met.

Primitivo, Lake County, 2008: Cary told us as she poured it that this wine is “a little on the young side.” The scent was unusual, cinnamon and spicy pepper with underlying blackberries. Mike smelled charcoal, fruit, tobacco and lipstick. For me, the taste followed right along with the smell: blackberries, spice and a little astringency. Mike tasted fruit with slight vanilla and ester components, and some nice acidity that emerged late in the arc.

Barbera, Mendocino County, 2009: There was something on both the nose and palate on this one that was a little plasticy for me. The smell had hints of coffee, and the flavor had a slight hint of stewed prunes, with a little chocolate aftertaste. Mike’s experience was very different. His notes say: “Almost meaty aroma. The taste – wow! Explosion of fruit and vanilla. Reminiscent of berries and cream. Acidity is just right. Noted that the flavor – not the mouthfeel – has a thickness to it.”

Rosso di Settle Fratelli Merlot, Carneros, 2009: As the chardonnay is named for the six sisters, so this is named for the seven brothers. (Mike said that perhaps they should have a rosé named for seven brides. But I digress.) Mike said it smelled like cremé brulee, a combination of vanilla and toasted sugar, and he wasn’t wrong, but I also smelled a rich fruit underlining that. For me this tasted of caramel, oak and a deep meaty grape flavor, for him it tasted of creme brulee dusted with cocoa powder and a tannic floor. Either way, this was a yum.

Montepulciano, Tracy Hills, 2009: I smelled chocolate frosted caramel and toasted oak. I couldn’t put my finger on the complex, subtle flavor, but Mike called it wood smoke, fruit and a hint of vanilla, with soft tannins.

Lagrein, Paso Robles, 2008: After watching Mike and I share all our tastings, Luke just couldn’t resist any more and gave us each a sip of his wine. To me, the nose had stewed prunes with a little sugar; Luke got spice. The flavor was tart but complex with a hint of oak.

There were three reserve wines also available for tasting for $1 each, but Cary was kind enough to comp us. I’ll try not to let that influence my reviews.

Pina Prosecco, Asolo Italy, 2010: I always thought it was pronounced pro-CESS-oh, but Luke and Cary put me straight; it’s pro-SEK-oh. This one was a little dryer than what I’m used to. There was acid and a hint of almond on the nose, and the taste was of citrus with that same hint of almond underlining it. Mike felt the flavor had an added richness you don’t find in standard sparkling white.

Valeriano, Carneros, 2007: This had chocolate covered plums on the nose and a nutty and tart flavor. Mike smelled vanilla and berries and tasted fruit and tobacco notes.

Late Harvest Aleatico, Sonoma Valley, 2008: This grape isn’t frequently planted, Cary told us, but according to Wikipedia there is something of an Aleatico trend beginning. (I know, Wikipedia again! So sue me!) I smelled sugar, strawberry, raspberry and cream; Mike smelled dried pineapple. I tasted a hint of yeast along with sugared plum; Mike tasted raisins, prunes and pineapple.

This was a great way to kick off what we knew would be an exceptional day. We tasted from a wide range of AVAs, but under our rules only four counted: Alexander Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Sonoma Valley.