Hot 10 Under $20: Sonoma Summer Sips

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By Courtney Cochran

Funny things happen to people when the thermometer inches up (according to the FBI, crime rates rise 10% nationally during the summer months).  And this summer - which is tracking to be the nation's hottest on record - will be no cup of tea.  Which is why, amidst all the hoopla about the heat and the stress from the heat itself, there's nothing quite like a glass of chilled white or rosé to take the edge off of it all.

Whether the weather where you are is scorching (hello, much of inland California!), simply warm, or something in between, we've got ten summer-ready Sonoma wine reco's that are guaranteed to cool you down.

Gloria Ferrer Non-Vintage Blanc de Noirs -  $20
In spite of popularly held ideas that sparkling wine is only for special occasions (or perhaps because of them), we cannot recommend this fizzy pink quaffer highly enough.  Made of 92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay grapes, Carneros standout Gloria Ferrer's Blanc de Noirs bottling is a California sparkling standard that's a perennial hit at brunches, lunches, porch sipping sessions and pretty much any warm-weather affair.  PS: it can often be found for less than $20!

Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer - $14
A shoe-in for pairing with smoked meats (talk about great sandwich fare!), Kenwood's Gewürztraminer is distinctive in this summer sipper series for its relatively full body and marked sweetness.  Offering heady aromas and flavors of spice, lychee fruit, tangerine and rose water, this unique white is as much a conversation starter as it is an unexpectedly smart partner for heavier warm weather fare; match it up with "white meats," rich quiches and even sushi.    

Ferrari-Carano 2009 Sonoma County "Bella Luce" White Blend
- $16
Dry Creek favorite Ferrari-Carano may be best known for its lush, toasty Fumé Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc aged sur lie in oak barrels), but we think the winery's lesser-known Bella Luce ("beautiful light") blend is more interesting.  Made from a unique combination of Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, Semillon, Muscat Giallo, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, this unoaked white boasts effusive aromatics, a medium body and bright, food-friendly acidity.  Picnic, anyone?  

Inman 2008 Rose of Pinot Noir OGV "Endless Crush" - $20
Normally $24 (at its now-discounted price of $20 we figure it's close enough to our list max to include here!), this small-production Pinot Noir rosé from Russian River standout Inman pairs brisk acidity with lots of pretty aromas and flavors (think passionfruit, strawberry and orange zest).  We like the story as much as the flavor profile in this Provençal-inspired rosé, which commemorates the 20th wedding anniversary of owners Kathleen and Simon Inman.  

Kendall-Jackson 2008 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay - $14
There's an old adage that says you can look far and wide for something that may be under your nose the whole time; this is how we feel about this classic KJ pour.  Made in Sonoma using fruit from throughout California, the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay deftly matches toasty oak with ripe, tropical fruit flavors, spice and an unapologetic touch of residual sugar.  The result is a buttery, toasty, full-bodied Chardonnay with a hint of sweetness that many have come to love.

St. Francis 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay -  $15
A leaner rendering of the variety than the KJ Vintner's Reserve, St. Francis's Sonoma County Chardonnay is a little-known critical favorite that delivers big on value.  Aged for six months in French and American oak, this mostly cool-climate-sourced cuvée pairs fresh notes of citrus and melon with creamy vanilla tones and a touch of oak spice.  A top pick in its price range by Wine Spectator, the wine wraps up with a rich, balanced finish, making it a smart foil for the heat.

Benziger 2008 Signaterra Sauvignon Blanc, Parcel Seven - $19
It's no secret that Benziger makes a lot of wine; in fact, the Sonoma Mountain producer pumps out a lot of Sauvignon Blanc under the widely distributed "Benziger Family North Coast" label.  But this pioneering green winery also bottles far smaller-production renderings of the grape under its excellent Signaterra series.  To wit, the Parcel Seven cuvée delivers plenty of pure Sauvignon ebullience alongside signature elegance from Russian River fruit.

Korbell Non-Vintage Brut & Brut Rosé Sparkling wines (187mL) - $3.49
With a rich history dating back to the mid 19th Century, Korbell is a California original, and we love this Russian River producer's single-serving, "mini" bubbly bottles that are equal parts cute and affordable.  Available in the traditional Brut style as well as a visually-striking rosé (a distinctive blend of Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay and Chenin Blanc), these are a touch sweet and perfect for pairing with fruit salads, picnic fare and pretty much any warm-weather occasion.

Petroni 2009 Rosato di Sonoma
- $12
Harvested from steep vineyards overlooking Sonoma Valley, Petroni Vineyards' Rosato is a hearty blend of Sangiovese (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Syrah (20%).  A fuller-bodied rosé than those made in cooler spots from lighter-skinned grapes (see Inman rosé, above), Petroni's Ital-inspired rendering will suit sippers looking for more intensity in the glass.  Watch for vibrant aromas of wild strawberries and rose petals; pair it with charcuterie and anything from the grill.

Alderbrook 2009 Pinot Gris Russian River Valley - $20
Tipping the upper end of our price scale, Alderbrook Pinot Gris is an offering we simply had to include.  In its debut vintage, this Alsatian-styled Gris from the Terlato family is 100% barrel fermented (which lends it lovely weight in the mouth) yet delivers big on balance thanks to its cool-climate Russian River fruit source.  Pair this small production, full-bodied white with a host of rich summer-ready foods - or enjoy it on its own while soaking in a warm summer sunset.  

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