My whites of Summer

For absolutely no logical reason, the warmer weather reminds me of my best-loved white wines. The foggy mornings in Sonoma County bring to mind our world class cool-climate chardonnay, but my list, years in the making, represents a broader range of varietals and California appellations. The current releases are designated, but my love of these wines goes far back.

Sauvignon blanc is the classic summer white that can be enjoyed with nothing but fresh air and conversation or, in its comfort zone, paired with shellfish, scallops, grilled fish and chicken. The sauvignon blanc in my cellar always includes two releases from very different appellations that are both produced by women.

Perpetually acknowledged as one of the highest rated among the varietal, the 2016 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc ($36), from the Russian River Valley icon, includes sauvignon musque and is barrel-fermented with several lees stirring that accounts for the rich mouthfeel. Complex stone fruit aromas lead to nicely restrained tropical fruit flavors and a wonderful minerality on the finish.

Sourcing grapes from the Happy Canyon appellation in the Santa Ynez Valley, winemaker Kathy Joseph has long explored the potential of sauvignon blanc with five releases including my favorite, the 2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Sauvignon Blanc “Goosebury” ($34). A popular wine of limited production, the 2016 vintage is now hard to find. The citrus and floral aromas lead to tropical fruit and savory flavors with a healthy minerality that pairs well with grilled or pan-fried scallops.

Whole-cluster pressed with no oak or malolactic fermentation, the complexity of the 2016 Carlisle Sonoma Mountain “Steiner Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner ($30) was first tasted a few years ago at their Windsor production facilities. Expect a crisp, fragrant wine with flavors that explode on the palate.

Similar to sauvignon blanc, my favorite chardonnay releases hail from the Russian River Valley and the Santa Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County. I have long appreciated the pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay wines from the heart of the Russian River Valley including the single-vineyard 2016 William Selyem “Allen Vineyard” Chardonnay ($65). This current vintage is excellent with stone fruit and spice on the nose and palate followed by a clear mineral nuanced finish.

As with previous vintages, the 2015 Foley “Barrel Select” Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills ($50), from the Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard, located between Buellton and Lompoc, is the perfect chardonnay for my palate. Whole-clustered pressed, the selected barrels are aged 18 months in 100% new oak with several lees stirrings. The complex bouquet and rich flavors of stone fruit, lemon and roasted nuts play out in an exceptionally extended finish.

Paso Robles is the world’s best source of Rhone-style wines outside of Chateaunef-du-Pape. From the patriarch of California Rhone Rangers with cuttings from Chateau de Beaucastel, the 2015 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas Blanc” Paso Robles ($45), a blend of roussanne, grenache and picpoul, exudes a fruity nose and rich flavors of ripened melon and enhanced spice.

Sourced from a single Paso Robles vineyard and created in her Santa Rosa production facility, the 2016 Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc ($24) is a complex, yet accessible blend of viognier, roussanne, marsanne and grenache blanc. The welcoming fragrant bouquet is followed by complex, layered flavors aptly described by Carol as “crisply dry, yet creamy and round.” From a somewhat obscure Calaveras County winery near Murphys, CA, I discovered a previous vintage of the 2015 Indian Rock Vineyards Pinot Grigio ($24) a decade ago. Many of the great pinot grigio releases come from Oregon, but this one is closer to home and has complexity on the nose and palate.

Napa Valley sourced and produced, the St. Supery 2016 Napa Valley Estate Virtú ($30), a white Bordeaux-style blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc, is always a “go to” wine when looking for something different. It is initially crisp before the luscious, rich texture seems to lengthen the palate.

Years ago at a Market Street wine bar, the som recommended a 1998 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese ($17). It was the first time that I experienced the soft “petrol” elements of German riesling. The Spatlese wines come from fully ripened grapes that produce balanced fruit forward flavors. The 2011 vintage, now available, is a huge value.

Albeit very unique and different, these wines all pair well with food and have the complexity to be enjoyed by themselves or with a nice Sonoma County goat cheese. Enjoy your summer.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at or email him at

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