Sonoma-Cutrer was founded in 1973 by Brice Cutrer Jones, who planted Chardonnay vines in the area later to be known as the Sonoma Coast. The fruit from those vines became a hot commodity among neighboring wineries, and by the early 1980s Sonoma-Cutrer was establishing a winery of its own. Under the leadership of legendary winemaker Bill Bonetti, Sonoma-Cutrer became an iconic California Chardonnay.

Bonetti handed off winmaking responsibilities to Terry Adams, who in turn was succeeded by Australian-born Michael Shroeter earlier this year. Along the way, in 1999, Sonoma-Cutrer was purchased by beverage giant Brown-Forman. While some purists worried that production would increase and quality might decline, this did not turn out to be the case. There’s more of their flagship Chardonnay, the Russian River Ranches, but the wines are better than ever.

A few sips of the 2008 Russian River Ranches ($22) reveals why it’s one of the best-selling Chardonnays in American restaurants. The wine is nicely balanced, with apple and citrus flavors highlighted by hints of vanilla and butterscotch. The texture has just enough richness to pair with seafood and white meat dishes in substantial sauces, but retains enough acidity to keep it fresh.

The 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($24) is even better. It’s leaner and more focussed than the Russian River Ranches—bone-dry, with fine acidity, it reveals flavors of citrus, white peach and Honeydew melon that give way to a peppery finish. Perfect with shellfish of all sorts, it’s a dream with oysters. At the other end of the spectrum, the fruit for the single-vineyard Les Pierres comes from an old rock quarry on the border with Carneros. A bottle of the 2005 ($42) was remarkably well-preserved for a five year-old California Chardonnay, with powerful mineral notes and green apple notes bolstered by bright acidity. Close your eyes, and you’re in Burgundy.

In the early 1990s, Terry Adams planted selected clones of Pinot Noir in a corner of the Cutrer Vineyard. At first, the wine from those vines was only consumed at the winery, but Pinot Noir was finally released to the public in 2003. The 2006 Sonoma Coast bottling ($38) is sumptuous and silky, revealing lively fruit tannins and flavors of cherry, black raspberry and spiced red berries. It’s a lovely match with poultry, game, white meats and salmon.


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