The 5 Great Bordeaux Varietals – Tasting by Stryker Winery

(By Guest Author, Brian Shapiro) Last night we had a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the wines from Stryker Sonoma. The winery is located in Alexander Valley and in our opinion typifies the types of wines being produced in that region of Sonoma County — big, bold reds with a focus on the Bordeaux varietals. Stryker Sonoma brought us five wines; each was a single vineyard 100% varietal wine. The theme of the evening was the “Five Great Bordeaux Varietals” and the winery did not disappoint!  Fresh off of harvest Winemaker Tim Hardin joined me (Stryker P.R. guru) in describing the wines and the unique aspects of each. You could tell that Tim was a bit tired, and when asked he told the group that he had drained, raked and pressed off 4500 gallons of wine that day, and that he would leave most of the talking to me. The winery produces only around 5,000 cases and about 80% of their production goes straight to the wine club.  The remainder is sold in the tasting room and in a few select restaurants in Northern California.

1) Cabernet Franc

Stryker Sonoma poured their 2005 Alegria Vineyard Cabernet Franc first. This was a bit surprising at first, but once you took a sip you could see why. The wine was delicate, with hints of violet and rose potpourri not showing the green or astringent qualities that you can expect from a Cabernet franc at times. Tim went on to explain how he was able to produce such a well balance Cab franc… picking the grapes the day before Thanksgiving!  Velvety smooth and delicious, tannins quickly making room for a second sip. This wine shows all the “Good” qualities you would expect from a Cabernet franc.

2) Merlot

The second wine that Stryker Sonoma poured was the 2006 Rockpile Vineyard Merlot from the Rockpile AVA. Rockpile is the new darling for Sonoma County; it seems to be recognized mostly for its Zinfandel and Petit Syrah. These grapes thrive and produce beautiful wine at the lower elevations of the AVA but one needs to remember that Rockpile starts at 700ft and goes up to 2,000ft! As you climb in elevation the temperature drops and the cooling breezes from the Pacific come earlier in the day. Rockpile Vineyard is located where “The Road Ends” literally. The vineyard is planted to mostly Bordeaux varietals including this amazing Merlot! Dark and inky this Merlot is done in a style that would make any “Right Bank” wine producer proud. Notes of dark berry, plum and tobacco reach out from the glass while tannins reminisce of black tea grip your mouth for more than a moment. The bœuf bourguignon was made for a wine like this.

3) Malbec – Favorite of the Evening

The third wine from Stryker Sonoma was described as a transition wine. Not because it’s in more of one blend than another but because it’s gone out of favor in France, and it is now mainly being produced in Argentina and the US. Part of the reasons why Malbec isn’t produced in France as much is the same reason why Stryker Sonoma struggles to get the vine to produce wine grapes in Sonoma County. The vine is just too happy! So much vigor in the growth of the vine leads the clusters to mature poorly and show signs of shatter. Tim went in depth into the viticulture practices he has been playing with to get the vines to set fruit.  We can see why he would go to all the trouble! The 2006 Estate Malbec was the hit of the night with 18 club members choosing it as their favorite! Malbec can be considered the “rustic” wine of the bunch and really held to that with this wine, rustic not in the sense of earthy or dingy but more in the complexity of the wine. It had a beautiful violet color and the nose showed of dark fruit and cassis while the mouth was simply delicious, Black berry and chocolate tumbling over your tongue to a bright and lingering finish. The Swiss chard was so delicious with this wine!

4) Petit Verdot

The next wine in the flight was one that not many folks knew about prior to tonight, let alone tried, and Tim hopes it stays that way because he loves being one of the only producers of Petit Verdot in the Valley. The 2006 Rockpile Petit Verdot was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t garner the support of the Malbec, but it really showed itself well. Petit Verdot is usually used to prop up a Cabernet Sauvignon or blend. It’s known for its deep dark color and gripping tannins and usually accounts for only 1-5% of a blend.  This wine began with a color reminisce of India ink, and that’s where the similarities ended. The wine simply showed black cherries and vanilla on the nose and on the palette, the simplicity of the wine was extraordinary. It was with a sense of relief that most of the guests could agree with the character of the wine and didn’t have to come up with words like “Cassis” or “Stone Fruit”. Simply put this was a delicious wine balanced and intriguing.

5) Cabernet Sauvignon – Harvest Fair Sweepstakes Red Wine Winner

Everyone that attended was looking forward to trying the last wine of the evening, not just because it was a Cabernet Sauvignon but because it was from Stryker Sonoma’s Estate Vineyard which produced the 2010 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Sweepstakes Red Wine Winner. That wine was a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and Tim and decided to bring his 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon which in his opinion was showing quite well. At times Cabernet Sauvignons that are produced as 100% varietal wines can lack the complexity and balance that we’ve come to expect from that wine. Tim and Stryker Sonoma work to bring these characteristics back to a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon by planting more than one clone of Cabernet Sauvignon on the Estate. The 2005 is comprised of 25% Clone 6 and 75% Clone 15. Clone 6 brings tannins and tobacco notes to the wine while Clone 15 adds balance in the form of velvety smooth hints of chocolate and black fruit. The nose showed signs of green Bell pepper but just enough to let you know it was a Cabernet Sauvignon in your glass, The first sip was a rush of bright fruit, Black Berry, Cherry, Raspberry where some of the words used to describe the wine while tobacco and chocolate carried you through to the tannins that lingered for more than a second or two. Guests were surprised by the amount of acid in the wine, there was a tartness that made your mouth water just a bit and asked for a bite of Parmesan Cheese followed by another sip. When it came time to vote on the wines, the club dubbed this wine the second best of the night with 12 votes.

Wine & Food Pairing

The winery had created beautiful placemats with each of the wines being poured along with a small sampling of Vignon Almonds to cleanse the palette between wines. Chef Gianna once again created an amazing pairing menu starting with fried caramelized walnuts, sheep’s cheese with raspberries and Parmesan cheese to nibble on. The main course was bœuf bourguignon a well known traditional French recipe. It is a stew prepared with beef braised in red wine, traditionally red Burgundy, and beef broth, generally flavored with garlic, onions and mushrooms added towards the end of cooking. Gianna said the recipe was a family secret, and we can see why, it was incredible! The beef was tenderly and slowly cooked to a melt in your mouth consistency and her two secret additions were Swiss chard and small potatoes. It paired wonderfully with each of the wines.

When You Visit Stryker Tasting Room

All of the wines are available in the Tasting Room and at their online store (www.StrykerSonoma.com; 800.433.1944; and on facebook & twitter). The case production on each of these wines was less than 300 cases and will sell out fast! Thank you so much for the amazing presentation and wines, you’ve set the bar for future tastings.

2005 Cabernet franc, Alegria Vineyard, Russian River $34

2006 Merlot, Rockpile Vineyard, Rockpile AVA $36

2006 Malbec, Estate Vineyard, Alexander Valley $27

2006 Petit Verdot, Rockpile Vineyard, Rockpile AVA $45

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Vineyard, Alexander Valley $50

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