Living in Wine Country means there are endless amounts of wine tasting options available, but sometimes, wine culture can be intimidating. For those who’ve ever wished for a more approachable, egalitarian tasting atmosphere, try Corner 103. Owner Lloyd Davis has worked to make his tasting approach relaxed and open, so anyone can come discover wines and pairings they enjoy. Davis explains, “We’re all wine experts, in that we all know what we like and don’t like.
“My philosophy when starting this place was that I wanted to make people more comfortable with their wine knowledge and give them the empowerment to express and enjoy themselves.”
Davis, originally from New York City and with a background in the financial industry, first encountered the wine world as a financial advisor for a wine retailer. He soon fell in love with the business and in 2006, became managing partner at Viansa Winery. Davis sold Viansa in 2013 and opened Corner 103 in April 2015. Corner 103’s wines evidently struck a chord, with 11 wines earning 56 awards. “I think the wines reflect what the varietals should taste and smell like, and I think the judges recognize that,” he says. Davis has been working with winemaker Ron Goss since 2006. We’re greeted with a light and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc on arrival, which made for a lovely welcome.
Corner 103 offers three tasting options; we chose a tasting of seven wines along with locally made cheeses from Vella Cheese Company. From the beginning, Lloyd emphasizes that the tasting is meant to show people how to taste and pair wine, and to explore their own palates—not to offer definitive opinions on the wines themselves.
“A lot of people are intimidated by their wine snob friends, and don’t know what the wine smells or tastes like,” he explains. “If something is a good pairing, then it enhances the flavor of the food and the wine. If you like a wine, don’t be ashamed of it, same if don’t like it.” Most refreshingly, Davis adds, “Don’t feel compelled to describe a wine. If I describe it, I can convince people what to smell and taste—but who cares what I smell and taste?” Davis makes clear that the interpretation of a wine should be up to the taster alone.
The tasting is done in three steps; first tasting the wine itself, then tasting the cheese alone, then pairing the wine with the cheese. “Don’t use water as a palate cleanser,” Davis advises. “Use the first sip of the wine as a palate cleaner, so it’s not distracted by the taste of anything else. You never judge a wine by the first sip. It’s by the third sip that you can be sure.”
Davis shows the power of the glass shape on smell and taste by offering the first wine, a 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, in a burgundian style glass, and then a smaller glass. In the bigger glass I found the Chardonnay had a buttery nose and was slightly bitter. In the small glass, the nose changed to become decidedly sharper, tasting sweet and tropical. The wine paired with Italian table cheese and crushed roasted hazelnuts, which offered a clean fresh taste alone, but with the wine became rounded and woodsy.
Second was a 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, paired with California Daisy Cheddar and dried cherries. The wine was spicy on its own, and the cheese was fresh and smooth. Together, the taste was rich and balanced; the cherries added a spike of candy sweetness.
Next we tried a 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel paired with Asiago cheese and dried herbs. On its own, the Zinfandel was deep and intoxicating, the Asiago bitter and the herbs flavorful and fun. Altogether, the flavors became smooth, with a peppery (but not sharp) finish.
A 2012 Alexander Valley Merlot paired with Oro Secco and bacon bits. The Merlot had a sweet nose with a soft mouthfeel, the cheese sharp and full, with the bacon adding a pleasantly smoky bite. Together, the wine brought out the powerful flavors of all elements. It really packed a punch and was my favorite pairing of the night.
Next up was a 2012 Sonoma County red blend paired with Romanello Dolce and green peppercorns. Made of a mix of Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, the wine was dark and heavy, with a peppery taste and bold mouthfeel. The cheese was mild but flavorful, with the green peppercorns adding a hint of an almost lavender-like taste. All three elements together made for a complex but rewarding experience.
Our final tasting was a 2012 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with Mezzo Secco and blackberry preserve. The wine had an unexpectedly deep nose, with soft tannins. The cheese was smooth and creamy, and the jam added a gentle sweetness. The three elements went together, making for perfect end to the cheese tasting.
We concluded with a sparkling rosé made of Syrah and Semillon grapes; it was delicate and gentle, with a wonderful spark of bubbles. My notes say it tasted “like a silk ribbon” with a flavorful finish.
As we left the tasting room, I remarked (jokingly) that Davis wouldn’t be disappointed in this article, as my opinions couldn’t be considered wrong. “I’m so glad you said that,” he smiled, “because it’s absolutely true.”
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