Our 100 most amazing Sonoma County wines in 2022
What makes an amazing wine? Sheer quality, of course. Deliciousness. Mouth-pleasing texture. Fascinating aromas and flavors. Refreshing finish. Five hundred wines could have easily made our 100 Amazing Wines based on these parameters alone; Sonoma wines are that good.
So winnowing to 100 required unveiling the layers of the wines under consideration and revealing the stories behind them, the exciting newcomers, the emerging winegrowing regions and grape varieties and the everything-old-is-new-again ways in which some winemakers impact drinking trends. Which wine lovers don’t enjoy a good story behind the label?
7 sparkling wines
Breathless Wines Late Disgorged Sonoma County Brut ($75)
The longer a traditional-method bubbly producer has been in business, the more time it’s had to build up a stock of blending wines and age the bottled wines while they undergo secondary fermentation (which creates the carbonation). This one was bottled 10 years ago, in contact with the yeast lees, allowing it to gain richness and Champagne’s benchmark fresh-baked-bread complexity. Sisters Sharon Cohn, Rebecca Faust and Cynthia Faust started Breathless in 2008 to honor their mother, Martha Jane Faust, who died of a rare respiratory condition. With unofficial sister and winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster, they waited a decade-plus to release this sparkler, and it was well worth the wait for consumers who appreciate a late-disgorged style. For fans of fruitier, zippy-fresh sparklers, the Sonoma County Brut ($29) is a fine quaff.
Brick & Mortar Wines 2021 VP Sonoma Coast Rosé Brut Nature ($30)
Matt and Alexis Iaconis — he’s a winemaker, she’s a former sommelier/wine director for Barndiva and Meadowoood Resort — produce a range of small-lot wines from the Sonoma Coast, Napa Valley and Mendocino’s Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge AVAs. From their home and winemaking base in Healdsburg, they bottled this vin pétillant — a pinot noir/chardonnay blend for which fermentation occurs naturally in the bottle once it’s capped, creating the carbonation. Not as complex as methode traditionelle Champagne-style bubblies, it’s accessible upon release, needs no cellaring and is delicious for its vibrant strawberry, cherry and red-apple flavors. Still wines also run deep for them, with a 2020 West Block Petaluma Gap Syrah ($36) offering a pure, less-is-more expression of dark berries, savory earthiness and freshness.
Flaunt Wine Co. 2017 Russian River Valley Brut ($48)
Texas native Dianna Novy earned her winemaking stripes through the Siduri Wines brand she and Adam Lee founded in 1994 and sold to Jackson Family Wines in 2015. Novy segued to her Flaunt brand, which began with this finessed, Champagne-quality sparkling wine and now includes still pinot noirs and a pinot noir rosé. The brut is comprised of 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay and aged on the spent yeast cells for three years; this contributes fresh-baked bread aromas and a creamy midpalate to this elegant, refined bubbly.
Gloria Ferrer Wines 2012 Carneros Cuvée Late Disgorged Carneros Brut ($88)
This Best of Show Sparkling Wine at the 2022 North Coast Wine Challenge wowed judges, including me, with its delicate brioche notes that add depth to the crisp citrus and peach flavors. The wine rested in the cellar for eight-plus years before it was disgorged — the process by which the fermentation yeast is removed from the bottle and the cork inserted. The later a methode traditionelle sparkling wine is disgorged, the longer the yeast can work its magic to add richness. Jose and Gloria Ferrer opened the winery in 1986, and it’s produced millions of bottles of bubbly since. Another top choice is the nonvintage Blanc de Noirs Carneros Rosé ($28), widely available and often discounted.
Iron Horse Vineyards 2014 Stargazing Cuvée Green Valley of Russian River Valley Brut ($195/1.5 liters)
The Sterling family continues to expand its bubbly offerings, some with charitable tie-ins, others with striking labels and all of them capturing the bright, sunny fruitiness of Sonoma County grapes and the methode-traditionelle depth of Champagne. New to the lineup is this Stargazing Cuvée, bottled only in magnums (1.5 liters) and with a label depicting an image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. Iron Horse co-founder Audrey Sterling is said to have come up with the name for this 2014 vintage sparkler; the tiny, precise bubbles of this blend of pinot noir and chardonnay suggest Dom Perignon-like stars (a reference understood by Champagne devotees). Also worthy is the 2018 Gratitude ($72), a chardonnay-based bubbly from which $5 of sales go to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Iron Horse’s most popular sparkler, the pink-hued, berry-scented 2018 Wedding Cuvée ($56).