San Francisco Chronicle
THE CHRONICLE'S WINE SELECTIONS
Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs $36 and up
W. Blake Gray
Friday, April 27, 2007
Sometimes tasting wine for a living really is work. And sometimes we get to sample 52 Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs priced more than $35.
The cool climate of this Sonoma County subappellation is perfect for the fickle variety that's often called the heartbreak grape, and wineries there have a longer track record of success with Pinot Noir than in any other area of California. Pinot worship in the Russian River Valley has created an intertwined community of growers and vintners; you often see the same vineyard names on the labels of different wine brands.
Good Pinot Noir is rarely cheap because of the difficulty of growing it, its low yields and the care it requires in the winery. Considering the quality of the wines listed below, we think they represent good value in a wine world where good Burgundies regularly fetch three-digit prices.
Even many of our rejects from this week's edition were solid wines that we wouldn't mind having again, though perhaps they cost a bit more than we would pay. That should tell you how much we enjoyed the wines listed below. Yep, it is good work if you can get it.
TWO STARS 2005 De La Montanya Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42) Marin County native Dennis De La Montanya went on a land-buying spree in the 1980s and early '90s, just before Sonoma County vineyards got super-expensive. His foresight paid off in 200 acres on eight different ranches. Most of the fruit he sells, but he keeps enough to make 30 different wines, yet only 4,500 total cases per year. This one, of which only 52 cases were made, has a beautiful berry and crushed stone nose, a light body and a raspberry-cherry flavor with interesting minty and meaty notes.
TWO STARS 2004 Esterlina Sterling Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40) The Sterling Family owns Esterlina winery in Philo and much of their production is of Mendocino County fruit, but they also own a vineyard off Eastside Road in Forestville used to make this bottling. This wine has some backbone: There's plenty of cherry fruit, and also noticeable oak and strong herbaceousness.
TWO STARS 2004 Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($65) Founder Gary Farrell sold his winery to Allied Domecq in spring 2004, but continued on as winemaker. When Allied Domecq was sold off piecemeal in 2005, Gary Farrell winery wound up owned by Illinois-based luxury goods company Fortune Brands. Farrell left the winery in August 2006, though he still consults. This wine, one of the last he made, starts with bright cherry and strawberry, along with notes of violet, and builds up to a sweet crescendo on the long finish.
TWO STARS 2004 Gary Farrell Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($65) Allen Vineyard is adjacent to the famous Rochioli Vineyard on Westside Road, and was planted in the 1970s by the Rochioli family. This is a very mild, likable wine, with gentle strawberry and cherry fruit and notes of soy sauce and toast in the nose.
TWO STARS 2005 Rochioli Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50) The name "Rochioli" is golden in Russian River Valley Pinot. Tom Rochioli both makes wine from his 161-acre vineyard and sells his fruit to other wineries, which have coveted it since Tom's grandfather first leased the property in 1938. This wine is Rochioli's entry-level Pinot because it blends grapes from different blocks. The result is a straightforward wine with good cherry-strawberry fruit, a rich truffled note in the aroma and a hint of herbaceousness on the palate.
TWO STARS 2005 Roessler Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($38) Restaurateur Roger Roessler, founder of Swiss Hotel in Sonoma and Cuvee Napa in Napa, decided in 2000 to get into the wine business with 250 cases of a single-vineyard Pinot Noir. Since then the winery has grown to 4,000 cases, but it's all still single-vineyard wines from cool areas on the California coast. This ripe, concentrated wine delivers plenty of stewed cherry fruit with notes of soy sauce on the nose.
THREE STARS 2005 Roessler Widdoes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($48) Shirley and Don Widdoes lease their vineyard in the cool Green Valley to the Dutton family, who farm it. This is a lovely wine, with strawberry fruit flavors and plenty of floral notes on both nose and palate. It's light-bodied, balanced and has a long finish. Comparing the two very different Roessler wines -- farmed by the same people, and both made by winemaker Scott Shapley -- is a good way to toast the impact of terroir.
THREE STARS 2004 Rutz Cellars Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45) Rutz Cellars made the only 3-star wine in last week's category, Russian River Valley Pinots priced $35 and under. Many California wineries talk about making wine in a Burgundian style, but owner-winemaker Keith Rutz -- who has worked with this vineyard block for 15 years -- delivers the goods. This wine has great savory secondary characteristics like leather and orange peel, and reveals more and more raspberry fruit with air. It's balanced and intriguing and tastes like Pinot Noir should.
TWO STARS 2005 Siduri Ewald Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($44) No California Pinot Noir tasting would be complete without a selection from Texas natives Adam and Dianna Lee at Siduri Wines. The Lees make single-vineyard wine from more than 25 different vineyards and spend much of the summer visiting each one up to a dozen times. Ewald Vineyard, near the well-known Dehlinger and Kistler vineyards, was added to their portfolio in 2004. This sweet, ripe wine is fairly simple, but delivers delicious blueberry and cherry fruit and gets toastier on the finish.
TWO STARS 2005 Siduri Sapphire Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($42) Adam Lee says he calls this wine from a vineyard west of the Sonoma County airport "no elbows, no knees" because nothing pokes out at you. That's a fair assessment: We liked its gentle nature, its light strawberry fruit with some mineral notes and its long finish. The aroma is warmly toasty.
THREE STARS 2005 Testarossa Graham Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($54) Talk about boardroom to cellar: Howard Graham retired from a career in high-tech finance in 2000 and joined Los Gatos' Testarossa Vineyards as a harvest intern so he could learn the ropes of Pinot making. He bought a 10-acre vineyard the following year and planted it in 2002; this is the first vintage, and it's extremely promising. It's a subtle, sophisticated wine that just keeps getting better with air, with flavors of strawberry, pine needle and earth and a slight grip on the finish. We can't wait to try future vintages.
TWO STARS 2005 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($65) Winemaker Bob Cabral combined fruit from five growers -- the Allen, Bacigalupi, Bucher, Flax and Rochioli Riverblock vineyards -- along Westside Road to create this juicy wine with cherry fruit, a gentle mouthfeel and violet notes that intensify on the mid-palate.
RATING KEY: FOUR STARS...Extraordinary, THREE STARS...Excellent, TWO STARS...Good
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