This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. All opinions are 100% mine.
I'm no wine expert, by any means, but I do like to drink wine (a lot!) -- especially with friends so I can try a variety of wines without committing myself to drinking an entire bottle of one vintage. Isn't that what good friends are for? Among other things, of course...
So when Sonoma-Cutrer Wines contacted me about trying three of their most popular wines, I knew an impromptu wine tasting was in order. Which is how on Saturday night, while waiting for the Rousey vs. Holm fight to start, three of my girlfriends and I sampled some delicious wines as our hubbies imbibed in their favorite craft beers. More wine for us!
Obviously this was not a sophisticated, high-class affair -- and I'm pretty sure we were all good with that. Using the tasting notes that Sonoma-Cutrer provided and the below tasting tips I found on their website, we swirled and sniffed and tasted each of the three wines.
Wine Tasting 101: Sight, Smell & Taste
Tasting wine is a sensory experience, which differs from simply drinking it. Slow down and pay attention to the following senses (in order) for a proper wine tasting adventure.
Sight: Look at the wine against a pale white background. Is the wine clear or cloudy? What about the color? Light colors suggest a lighter wine and darker colors typically suggest a full wine. You can also tell a lot about a wine by gently swirling it in your glass. Notice how thickly the wine streams back down the sides of the glass. Thicker streams equate to more body and thinner streams to a lighter body.
Smell: Tip the glass toward you, get your nose in close, and inhale. Don't worry about looking silly... Friends, remember? Three scents stand out when it comes to wine. Sonoma-Cutrer suggests using the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting -- F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak.
Taste: Finally, take a sip -- even slurp it if you'd like. Not rude at all! Let the wine roll around your tongue and see which of the five basic flavors you can detect (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami).
When tasting a variety of wines, traditionally you will want to start with the lightest and move progressively to the fullest.
As I mentioned, we tasted three Sonoma-Cutrer wines: The Cutrer, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, and Russian River Valley. The Cutrer and the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay are both white wines, and the Russian River Valley is a red pinot noir.
Often winemakers will provide "tasting notes" on their websites, which can be useful not only as guidance when choosing a wine but also as an educational tool when tasting wines. We used the tasting notes that Sonoma-Cutrer provided after we had already tasted a wine to see how our observations aligned with theirs.
Sonoma-Cutrer "The Cutrer" (ARV $34)
First of all, take whatever you've heard about screw-top wines and toss it out the window. Many winemakers are moving to them these days, and it is not at all an indication of whether a wine is low or high-end.
Back to The Cutrer, we all agreed that this was a delightful and refreshingly light chardonnay. I enjoyed the bright, crisp finish, and this was actually my favorite wine of the three -- even though I almost invariably drink reds. It pays to keep an open mind!
Flavor notes: Complex aromas of Golden Delicious Apple, white peach, and nectarine are accented with nougat, honeydew, and brown sugar. Flavors of peach, apple, and crème brulee meld with hints of butterscotch, caramel, warm pie crust, and baked apple with a light touch of vanilla and oak spice.
Sonoma-Cutrer "Sonoma Coast Chardonnay" (ARV $11.50)
The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is an award-winning chardonnay (92 points in the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition) and was a favorite among my girlfriends. Aged in French Oak, we all enjoyed this fruity, medium-bodied wine -- and you certainly can't beat the price for a classic chardonnay!
Flavor notes: Fruit aromas of Golden Delicious apple, Bosc pear and white peach are accented with oak spice, a hint of vanilla, toasted nuts, a light floral note and a touch of butterscotch. This wine has the signature Sonoma-Cutrer balance between elegance and richness for a medium-bodied, mouth-filling wine. The creamy richness is balanced with a bright acidity and highlighted with flavors of apple, pear and lemon zest. There is a long finish highlighted with notes of toasted almonds and barrel spice.
Sonoma-Cutrer "Russian River Valley" (ARV $17)
We capped things off with the Russian River Valley, a rich pinot noir. Also an award-winning wine multiple times over, most notably a 95-point Platinum rating at the San Diego International Wine Competition, this is another affordable, high-quality wine. If you're a true pinot noir fan, you'll love the slightly smoky, hint of tobacco found in this wine. As I mentioned, I'm partial to reds, and this was a close second to The Cutrer for me and a favorite for my sister-in-law.
Flavor notes: The first impression starts in the nose with deep, dark fruit aromas of blackberry, dark raspberry, and black cherries, followed by an earthy, forest floor complexity and accented with hints of cola, tobacco, licorice, and baking spices. Classic red fruit flavors of Bing cherry and wild strawberry greet the palate, followed by barrel spice and dark chocolate.
I did serve some simple foods while we were tasting the wines, but instead of pairing specific dishes with each wine, I opted for an interactive spread with a variety of flavors. I'm a bit of a rule-breaker when it comes to pairing wines and foods, so I like to have the option of trying different distinctive flavors with each wine I'm trying -- this is a great way to learn what pairing and flavors you personally prefer.
Ideas for a spread include: raw vegetables and/or fruits, cured meats, cheese, olives, nuts, herb sprigs, salt and quality dark chocolate. I didn't include all of these elements, but you can totally just mix and match. I also recommend serving water crackers, both for the cheese and to cleanse your palate between tastings.
Sonoma-Cutrer wines are a fabulous choice for the upcoming holiday season -- great wine at a great price! Plus, purchasing wines from their online store (Shop Online for Sonoma-Cutrer Wines here) makes for seamless gift giving, or for the gift that keeps on giving, consider purchasing a Club Cutrer subscription. I know I'd be thrilled to receive one!