During January, the Wine Pairing Weekend crew took up the cause of Sonoma Valley vintners, reminding our readers that, despite the fires that ravaged northern California last fall, they were open for business. Some of us attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa in November, constituting the first wave of writers to document the recovery process. Others of us did what we could from home, supporting the efforts by purchasing bottles emblazoned with the Sonoma County stamp.
We were fortunate to receive a few sample bottles from select Sonoma wineries, with the idea that we would take these wines and pair them with our favorite meals, encouraging other oenophiles to follow suit. It was a fun project, one we hoped would bolster the image that Sonoma wanted to project.
My sample package included two wines each from Geyser Peak Winery and Balletto Vineyards. You can read all about my experience with Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon here. I enjoyed both wines immensely and found them to be great food partners as well.
Balletto Vineyards – From Vegetables to Vitis Vinifera
John Balletto has always worked close to the earth, starting out as a vegetable farmer in his family’s small business. After his father’s death, he took over management of the farm, expanding its footprint from five acres in the 1970s, into the largest vegetable farm in northern California by the 1980s.
As interest in winemaking exploded in Sonoma during the 90s, John and his wife Terri made the transition to growing grapes, selling to some of Russian River Valley’s most famous producers. Today they focus on estate bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, made from the cream of their crop each year – only the top 10% of their fruit ends up in these offerings.
Both wines featured in this post can be purchased directly from the winery here.
2015 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Chardonnay (13.7% abv; SRP $28)
Chardonnay grapes for this estate bottling were selected from four distinct vineyards, blending together fruit from cooler, elevated slopes and also from warmer, sun-soaked spots. The Balletto winemaking philosophy involves picking at optimal ripeness to ensure the perfect balance of acidity and phenolic development. Fermentation is conducted with native yeast, and the wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation, both of which contribute unique aromas and texture. The Chardonnay is aged and finished in French oak (33% new) with lees-stirring every three weeks.
As I swirled the wine in my glass, pronounced aromas of lemon, pear, and nutmeg wafted from the glass, inviting me in for a sip. On the palate, there was lots of lemon zest, ripe pear, a hint of pineapple, and a little bitter citrus pith on the finish. Acidity is bright, providing the perfect counterpoint to the ripe fruit. I’m someone who normally approaches California Chardonnay with a raised eyebrow of skepticism. This one, however, was a delight! It was exquisitely balanced, reminding me of a wine from the southern reaches of Burgundy. It made a fantastic partner with Cauliflower Gratin, a pan-full of goodness on a cold winter’s night. The cauliflower provided edible comfort, and the Balletto Chardonnay provided the sunshine.
2015 Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir (14.1% abv; SRP $29)
Sourced from seven different vineyards, grapes exhibit the distinct characteristics of each one, providing the full complement of Pinot aromas and flavors. Special attention is paid to retaining the all-important acidity and keeping a check on alcohol levels. The wine is fermented in small, six-ton open tops, and is aged in French oak barrels, 32% new. The Ballettos believe it’s the key to crafting a wine that is simultaneously fruity and savory, structured yet delicate: in essence, the enigma that is Pinot Noir!
In the glass, this wine is medium ruby at its core, fading to pale pink at the edge. Aromas of red fruit (think raspberry and strawberry) rise, very ripe but not jammy. There’s also a hint of caramelized sugar that is enticing. On the palate, there is more black fruit than red, with a little sweet vanilla mixed in. The long finish is all sour cherry and a whisper of garrigue, ending on a savory note. A delicately powerful wine. It made a lovely match with herb-roasted chicken thighs, adding a touch of elegance to a week-night dinner.
Wine Pairing Weekend
Our group of wine-loving foodies gathers virtually on the second Saturday of each month, focusing on a particular theme. February’s topic was Woman-Owned Wineries. In March we embrace Open That Bottle Night, searching our cellars for a special wine. Our chat on March 10th, will be hosted by David at Cooking Chat. If you’re interested in participating, let me know; I’ll fill you in on all the details!