Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New and Historic Old Vines White Oak Winery – Healdsburg, California

After visiting Sausal Vineyards and Winery I headed down the road to see and taste the old vines of White Oak Winery. The estate is nestled among seventeen acres of Zinfandel vines dating back to 1929.

It was founded in the 1970’s by Bill Myers when he purchased his first vineyard in the Alexander Valley and began to make wine. He then established a small tasting room and wine production facility just off the square in downtown Healdsburg. He quickly became recognized for producing high quality Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. 

In 1997, Bill formed an alliance with Burdell to pursue his vision of founding White Oak Winery. They then brought in grapes from over 750 acres of prime vineyards in the Napa, Alexander and Russian River Valleys to the winery. Shortly thereafter they broke ground on this impressive Mediterranean-style winery in the most scenic area of the Alexander Valley and added small lots of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The tasting room was then opened a year later in October of 1998. 

White Oak Vineyards and Winery currently produces five quality wines for national distribution and two Estate wines, only available through the tasting room. While visiting I sampled these impressive wines which were as follows:

My first pour was the 2010 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose this wine is very herbal, grassy and explodes with lemon zest, grapefruit and a waft of wet stone. On the palate it is lively, refreshing with racy acidity with layers of lemons, limes, and a very pronounced minerality. It is medium-light bodied and extremely well balanced. Seriously, this has to be one of the best California Sauv Blancs I have ever tasted! It is no wonder why it is White Oak’s flagship wine. It is almost New Zealand-like but without the cat pee. This wine sells for only $16 a bottle and I brought TWO of them home. If I didn’t already have plenty of Sauv Blancs in my cellar I would have been tempted to buy case!

My second sample was the 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This wine is barrel fermented in French and Hungarian oak barrels using various yeast strains. Alcohol and malo-lactic fermentations were conducted simultaneously. The wine was then barrel aged sur lie (on the spent yeast) and stirred regularly for 10 months. It was then bottled in July of 2010 and allowed to mature an additional five months in bottle prior to release. This wine has everything you’d expect from this style of Chardonnay – on the nose it displays dried apricots, apple pie, butterscotch, caramel, marshmallows, and popcorn. On the palate it is full bodied and creamy and yet maintains really good acidity with a long popcorn finish. Although is a very BIG Chard, all of its attributes are well balanced with no one characteristic dominating the nose and palate. I have seen wines of similar style and quality sell for $35-$50, yet this one goes for only $24 a bottle.

My next wine and first red was the 2008 Napa Valley Syrah. This wine was aged for 18 months in barrels of which half were new, 74% French oak, 20% Hungarian oak and 6% American oak. This is a more subtle Syrah rather than an “in your face” fruit bomb which are commonly found in warmer regions of California. On the nose I picked up dusty wild blackberries, dried herbs, lanolin and a hint of soap (but not in an offensive way). On the palate it is full bodied with refined tannins and is well balanced from start to finish. A really nice wine for $26 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2007 Napa Valley Merlot. This wine was aged 18 months in 50% new Bordeaux style French and Hungarian oak barrels. The nose of this wine displays fresh cherries, milk chocolate, mint and a hint of eucalyptus. On the palate it is dry, full bodied with supple tannins with a medium length finish. A really fine example of this grape, reasonably priced at $26 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A Bordeaux blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, this wine is aged in 50% new oak barrels (60% French, 40% Hungarian) for 20 months. Ruby red with medium intensity in color, on the nose I picked up cassis, black cherries, red currants and anise. On the palate this wine is velvety with refined tannins and a medium length finish. It is very drinkable now but could age well for at least another 5+ years. I’ve had similar wines for $40 - $45, yet this one sells for only $30 a bottle.

My next wine (keep in mind that I’m drinking water spitting into a cup!) was an earlier vintage of the same wine, the 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is very different than the younger vintage, as it displays BIG black cherries, black currants, vanilla and mint and is seemingly youthful. On the palate it is silky smooth, luscious, and dangerously drinkable with velvety tannins and a medium+ length finish. This wine was not on the menu and isn’t listed on their web site but I have found it on the web for $31 a bottle. If I had to choose between the ’07 and ’04, I’d buy the latter.

We then transitioned to the Reserve Wine list…

The sixth wine was the 2009 Alexander Valley Zinfandel. This wine is 100% Old Vine Zinfandel from 78 and 85 year old vines, and is aged in 70% new French oak barrels for 16 months. This wine is displays big jammy black cherries, plums, Asian spice on the nose and on the plate it is seemingly sweet although there is no residual sugar. The alcohol is a surprising 15.9% which sounds rather high and yet the wine is remarkably well balanced with no heat, but it probably accounts for the sweetness of the wine. It is a really nice Zin for $40 a bottle.

My seventh pour was the 2005 Alexander Valley Reserve. It is a “right bank” Bordeaux blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Cabernet Franc aged in 80% new oak barrels (75% Hungarian and 25% French) for 22 months. This wine displays black currants, strawberry preserves, cigar box, and tobacco. Although it has a hefty price tag at $50 a bottle it will easily compete with many similar wines in the Napa Valley in the $60-$75 range.

The eighth sample was the 2006 Napa Valley Reserve. A “left bank” Bordeaux blend 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot, it was aged in 50% new oak barrels (50% Hungarian and 50% French) for 22 months. A slightly bigger and earthier wine than the Alexander Valley, with cassis, coffee, mint, sweet oak and toast notes. On the palate the tannins have a firm grip and yet the wine glides across the palate leaving a long cherry finish. This wine sells for $50 a bottle.

Well… by this time even though I was drinking water and spitting the wine into a cup my palate was becoming fatigued which tends to cause all wines to begin to taste the same. But before I left I tried one more wine before calling it a day and heading home - the 2006 Napa Valley Dessert Wine.  A unique wine (not on the web site) made from Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is silky smooth, displaying dark chocolate, dark roasted coffee and a slight nuttiness on the tail end. Although it is sweet it isn’t overly so and it has really good acidity and so it isn’t syrupy. It would undoubtedly pair well with cheese cake or some other rich dessert. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.

To see more pictures of White Oak Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

White Oak Vineyards and Winery
7431 Hwy. 128
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Phone: 1-707-433-8429

Tasting Room is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday.