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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

If you've wondered why there's an abstract, colorful, rendition of a bucking horse on the Sonoma Creek Winery label, you join me and thousands of other curious wine geeks who ponder such things.

The answer lies in the heritage of the property on which the winery sets and of the family which has owned it since the 19th century.

The property was once the "embarcadero" for the city of Sonoma, back when San Francisco was a trashy little town called Yerba Buena. Steamboats and small craft of all kinds brought folks this far up Sonoma Creek, to disembark for a final wagon ride into Sonoma's Plaza.

It was owner Tom Larson's great-grandfather, name of Millerick, who bought the 120 acre spread in 1899 and made the ranch famous as home for many years to the Sonoma Rodeo. The family brand was the Circle-M, and it is said that the late August Sebastiani once won a roping trophy. One can't help but wonder if "Auggie" was wearing his trademark overalls that far back.

So it is the ranching and rodeo heritage that inspired the label's horse. Tom and his father Bob Larson began the new wine heritage in 1977 with the planting of the ranch's first 40 acre vineyard, a dry-farmed block of Chardonnay.

Tom went off to U.C. Davis to earn a degree in fermentation science, then started making wine in 1987, the rest, as they say, being history.

Situated in the cool climate of the famous Carneros region of Sonoma County, Sonoma Creek buys grapes as well from famous growers in neighboring regions. Most of the red grapes come from farther north, where the climate is more conducive to growing Zinfandel and Cabernet.

The current releases of the basic wines (there are also reserves and single vineyard wines in a different package) are not only as good or better than they've ever been, the value is downright amazing.

Sonoma Creek 1996 "Sonoma County" Zinfandel ($10) Plum and raspberry aromas and flavors, with some underlying spice notes. It's a delicious, "gulpable," quaffer, ideal for accompanying grilled meats and sausages. Rating: 87/90

Sonoma Creek 1996 "Sonoma County" Merlot ($10) Deep black cherry and pleasantly tart cherrystone flavors. Medium to full bodied, this is no wimpy Merlot. Way more flavor and complexity that you might expect in this price range. A solid "Best Buy." Rating: 89/95

Sonoma Creek 1995 "Sonoma Valley-Sangiacamo" Merlot ($27) Not just big black cherry flavors, but intense, concentrated and highly extracted flavors. Moderately, but not unpleasantly, astringent. This is one of those Merlots you can cellar like a Cabernet. The wine is packaged in a high profile Italianate bottle with a label that features a sort of sunburst looking design. Rating: 94/83

Sonoma Creek 1995 "Sonoma Valley-Rancho Jolina" Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) Earthy, slightly weedy bouquet on top of blackberry fruit. This is another concentrated "monster" wine with more blackberry in the flavor, plus cassis and a little chocolate. Boldly structured, but with round, approachable tannins. This wine is also in the "Reserve" packaging. Rating: 90/82

Sonoma Creek wines have reasonably good national distribution, though you're more likely to find them in specialty shops or restaurants. To inquire about retail availability in your community: Sonoma Creek Winery, 23355 Millerick Rd., Sonoma, CA 94576 (707) 938-3031.


Sonoma Creek 1997 "Sonoma County" Chardonnay ($10 or less) The best value Chardonnay I've tasted this year. Compare it to wines selling for twice the price and more, and then make your case purchases. Smoky, toasty and a little spicy; oak vanillin and nutmeg on ripe apple and tropical fruit flavors; pleasantly lingering barrel-sweet finish. A special wine; a great value. Rating: 90/98


All the talented Aussie winemakers have not immigrated to the U.S., it just seems that way. One of my favorites (I've followed his work through several wineries over the past decade and a half) is a chap named Neil McGuigan, who recently became a partner at a small producer called Briar Ridge, and even more recently started making enough wine to export.

Briar Ridge wines are being imported to the U.S. by a company specializing in small Australian and New Zealand producers and you can contact Ausvin at (760) 598-7888 for information on retail availability in your community.

Briar Ridge 1997 "Hunter Valley" Chardonnay ($17) Really rich and full bodied. Smells great if you like oak...and I do. Intense medium to heavy toast barrel flavors; tropical fruit; great depth; very long, very pleasant and complex finish. Rating: 94/88

Briar Ridge 1996 "Hunter Valley-Old Vines" Shiraz ($17) Big, ripe plum aromas and flavors. Juicy, intense fruit flavors. Bold and ripe, but not overripe. A wine with this aging potential, the Aussies call a "long-keeper." Rating: 88/84

Briar Ridge 1996 "Hunter Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) Aussie reds have a reputation for being big, brawny and slightly over-the-top. And all too often they deserve it. This wine does not fit that description. Beautifully balanced and elegantly structured, the mouthfeel says it could be from a ripe year in France or a cool year in California. Dark cherry, berry and cassis flavors are a wonderful mix and the pleasantly tart finish makes it great with beef, lamb or blackened salmon. Rating: 94/88


The official awards book of the Los Angeles County Fair "Wines of the Americas" wine competition is now off the presses and ready to mail. This is America's oldest continuously operating competition, and the book is an excellent shopping guide.

To receive your copy send $5 to: L.A. Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463


Raimat 1995 "Spanish" Tempranillo ($16) Tempranillo is the most important red grape of Spain, and especially of Rioja. You'll be hearing more about this varietal as New World producers begin to experiment with it. In Rioja, the wine is almost always blended, so this is an opportunity to taste a 100% varietal example. Think the flavors of Rioja done up California ripe and intense and you'll have this wine down pat. Spicy black raspberry with earthy complexity and a very long finish. It's cellar-worthy and well worth the $16, even if the package makes it look like a $7 wine. For retail information contact the importer, Vinum International (707) 224-9601. Rating: 92/88

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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