Side Show

Varietals are the spice of life at Sidebar Cellars

If you know your top-shelf California Chardonnay, you may know the name Ramey. But if you want to know what a California Kerner tastes like, you’ll have to get to know the name Sidebar.

Sidebar Cellars is a “second wine” project from David Ramey. Based in Healdsburg, Ramey is a career winemaker with 40 harvests to his credit, having helped to establish names such as Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd before earning the good reputation of his eponymous label. He’s best known for his Chardonnay, which has been called a “hybrid” style—meaning it’s made similarly to classic, oak-aged California Chardonnay, but reminds tasters of the brightness of white Burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A little Syrah on the side is about as crazy as the conservatively packaged Ramey Wine Cellars label gets.

“Sometimes I joke that winemakers just want to have fun!” Ramey says. “To make a rosé, to make a Kerner from Lodi, a Zin-based red field blend from 125-year-old vines—all that stuff is totally cool,” he explains, “but should have a different ‘umbrella’ than Ramey.”

In other words, the variety and price point offered by Sidebar, founded with the 2014 vintage, would dilute the image of the parent winery, which isn’t the sort of place where you walk up to the bar and choose your favorite flavor. You order a bottle of Ramey for a special restaurant meal, while you bring Sidebar to the barbecue—as a bonus, wine-knowledgeable folks will note that you can forage a $25 wine with pedigree. See how it works?

Sourced from a rare planting of this German Riesling hybrid, the 2016 Mokelumne River Kerner ($25) hints at its parentage with a whiff of jasmine and pineapple. The lemon drop finish is not sweet, and, wow, it’s tart. Also dry, the 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé ($21) comes from a flagging vineyard that used to go to cult Syrah, but now ripens grapes just enough for fine, crisp rosé.

Everything you want from a barbecue-ready Zinfandel, Sidebar’s 2015 Russian River Valley Red Field Blend ($27) hits the spot with spicy, tangy red fruit smoothed out with milk chocolate undertones. Lean and zesty, layering thyme over citrus notes, the 2015 Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($34) sits on the fence between an herbal and tropical style. Ramey has purchased Chardonnay from grower Kent Ritchie for years—with Sidebar, he couldn’t pass up a little Sauvignon Blanc: “Why not?”

Find Sidebar’s rosé at Baci Café & Wine Bar, SHED, Madrona Manor and Big John’s Market in Healdsburg, Cloverdale’s Savvy on First, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, and at the winery, 25 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.0870.