An opportunity for local wine professionals to learn more about Sonoma County's Alexander Valley arrived with a group from Rodney Strong Vineyards last month. The seminar and tasting were held at Hotel Zaza. All of the wines were from the 2010 vintage and were tasted in groups of three to showcase a particular aspect of the terroir of the Alexander Valley.
We started with an examination of the soils and geology. The area has a history of soil upheaval from tectonic plate movement. This has created a diverse mix of soil types creating a need for wine growers to carefully match the correct variety of rootstock and grape variety to each vineyard site. For example, highly acidic soils are better suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils on the valley floor are younger and more fertile while the hillsides have older soils. In the valley, the grapes are thinner skinned and plumper which create softer and more supple wines. All of these wines were soft, smooth and easy drinking. The Scion was the softest. Side by side, I liked the Alexander Crown from the Jimtown area the best because of its higher acidity.
Elevation and the effects of altitude were examined next. The older hillside soils are well-drained, rocky and less fertile. As the elevation increases, the thickness of the grape's skin increases from the higher UV exposure while the berry size remains smaller. This adds color, flavor and structure to the wine which was apparent in the next tasting line up. The Rockaway from a 550 ft hillside vineyard was more structured than the first three with more complex aromas and concentrated flavors. The Stryker was the softest of these three and it came from the lowest elevation at 190 feet. The Stonestreet Monument Ridge is a mountain wine at 1800 feet and it had lighter aromatics than the others and it also had a bit of eucalyptus or laurel in its profile; it was also a bit more rustic and tannic than the others in this set.
Last, we looked at the weather and climate, which winemaker Justin Seidenfeld said was the most important factor in the terroir of the Alexander Valley. The cooling fog that comes in off of the Pacific through the Petaluma Gap and Russian River Valley keeps Sonoma cool for a majority of the day which helps to preserve acidity which add freshness to the wines while the sunny afternoons allow for full ripening. The Hawkes Pyramid had more green flavors from cooler vineyard temperatures. The warmer vineyard area of Skipstone Oliver's had produced a wine with more plum aromas and flavors with a bit of black olive in the finish. It did have 6% Merlot while the other two were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge was from the furthest north, it was well-structured and rich with a distinct mineral finish from the soil blend.
Try a Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the Alexander Valley's 2010 vintage on your next steak night, there are many enjoyable wines to be found.