SONOMA-LOEB is known for its limited-production Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs sourced from top-tier growers in Sonoma’s cool valleys. But it has a long history in the Napa Valley too. John Loeb, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, founded the Sonoma brand in the early 1970s, but for the last twenty-plus years the wines have been made at Chappellet Vineyard and Winery in eastern Napa Valley by Chappellet’s longtime winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus. In recent years, John Loeb sold the brand to Chappellet — a natural fit because it give the Napa winery access to Sonoma-Loeb’s growers and Burgundian varietals and allowed Corallo-Titus to continue his style of fashioning those wines. The Chappellet family has a long history in the valley too — they built their distinctive A-frame winery on Pritchard Hill in 1967 — a year after Robert Mondavi started construction of his mission-style showplace in Oakville. John Loeb founded Sonoma-Loeb in 1973 and sold it to Chappellet in 2011.
Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay Carneros 2014, $38: Sonoma-Loeb’s Envoy is their most opulent, complex Chardonnay. Eighty percent of the fruit comes from the best blocks of Sangiacomo Vineyard — only Wente, Hyde and Robert Young clones — and the rest is from Poe Vineyard adjacent to the famed Hyde Vineyard. It opens with alluring aromas of lime zest, nectarine, apple, pear. Flavors are infused with spicy oak, texture is creamy, acidity provides the sturdy backbone for balance. Sangiacomo is one of Sonoma’s most prestigious vineyards, now farmed by the family’s third generation.
Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros 2014, $27: This beauty is 100 percent Sangiacomo Vineyard grapes. The fruit flavors — apricot, green apple, honeydew — are sumptuous, the acidity is juicy, the well-infused oak does not overwhelm. It has a rich, silky texture. Sonoma-Loeb has been buying Sangiacomo fruit since 1990. Winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus says: “We know their vineyard incredibly well, and we know which blocks we love.”
Note: With both Chardonnays, Phillip Corallo-Titus focuses on preserving the natural character of the grapes by only putting a portion of the wine through malolactic fermentation (to soften the acidity) and he is gentle with the use of new French oak barrels.
Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County 2014, $40: Again — it’s all about location. This is Sonoma-Loeb’s best Pinot and it’s made entirely off the prestigious Dutton Ranch in Sonoma’s Green Valley — the coolest part of the Russian River Valley, which gives it that distinctive cool-climate complexity. If you fancy yourself a Pinot fanatic, you have to taste a wine like this — it’s powerful but elegant with soft, mouth-filling flavors and supple tannins. The fruit is black cherry and raspberry complemented by chocolate, vanilla and brown spices. Tannins are like silk. It’s like a high fashion garment made from the most expensive materials by people who pay near-crazy attention to every detail.
Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County 2014, $27: This slightly more affordable Pinot is made from grapes at two high-rent locations in Sonoma: Dutton Ranch and Sangiacomo vineyards. It’s an expressive Pinot Noir — aromas of intense dark berry fruit, pomegranate, ripe plum followed by flavors of pomegranate, cola, spice, toasty oak and vanilla. It has a creamy texture, sturdy acidity, soft tannins. It’s such dense fruit you can almost chew it.
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