Anyone who’s lived in the Bay Area for more than a year or two has probably been to the Russian River, and anyone who is from the Bay Area probably has a story of a lost weekend spent there; however, you can easily speed though the valley without giving much thought to wine: if that’s the case, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can’t avoid wine in Napa -drive up highway 29, and the various wineries beckon you inside like a sidewalk sign twirler in a gorilla suit at tax time. The Russian River is more subtle. Whereas Napa has given itself over to development, the Russian River insists on holding on to its wild-west roots. Black Bart robbed stagecoaches here, and supposedly buried the take from a Wells Fargo heist in the hills above Korbel.
Standing on the corner of Occidental Road and the Gravenstein Highway pumping gas and looking across the street at a rental lot for heavy farm equipment, it’s easy to forget that arguably the greatest Pinot Noir in the world is grown right behind the tree line barely 100 feet away. Indeed, you can walk to Dutton-Goldfield, Dehlinger, Lynmar and 10 other wineries from where I am standing.
Much like the whole of France, this area used to be a shallow inland sea. When that sea receded, it left behind a delectable ring of marine sandstone called the Wilson Grove Formation, the jewel of which is the clay and sandstone blend called the Gold Ridge complex. To the west of me is the Green Valley AVA where this combination sits on a bed of fractured rock, and along with the influence of persistent fog accounts for a long ripening process, producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to rival all but the greatest Burgundies. The Pinots are filled with blackberries and violets; the Chardonnays with flavors of tangerine and green apple.
Walking out of the tasting room with six bottles stuffed under our collective arms, now comes the question of where to go and enjoy it! Sebastopol doesn’t offer much, Forestville even less. Finding great places to eat here is more of a treasure hunt; it all depends on what you want. If you want a perfect pairing for that Pinot Noir, you need to sample the menu at Highland Dell in Monte Rio, owned by members of the Bohemian Club; the food belies the quiet image of the town. If you are short of time, and need to head home, then Willi’s Wine Bar where River Road meets 101 had the best food you will find in this part of the county.
And here’s the secret that every local knows: the best time to visit is between now and the end of October; the weather is mild, but sunny and the tourists have gone home. So if you have time in the next few weeks, then head north. You won’t be disappointed.
“I just could not spend another dime, I really wanted a wine that my friends and I could just drink and not talk about!” How often do you feel like this? Far too often I am sure. In my wine world, I taste and evaluate all price points and yes my soul awakens when I can taste and savor a glass of Krug Champagne or ponder over a pour of Château Latour – my pocketbook opens just once when those wines come into my periscope. So how about some wines that we all can afford? Where are the great value wines? The trends have been pointing towards Spain, Argentina and Chile, among other areas in the world. I agree those are the usual places that we should look. That said, when value-hunting, looking in unlikely places can often yield incredible discoveries. I have stumbled across three unlikely places for superb values under $15.00. Let’s take a look at Australia, Italy and the USA.
For two decades Australia has been lying in wait to be re-discovered. A star in the 1990’s this multi-faceted viticultural area has been fluttering in space. This was the country that had brought Shiraz (aka: Syrah) to the fore only to become mired in a “cheap” wine mode. Most recently the Aussies have made incredibly fine wines in all price ranges. The 2011 Wild Oats Shiraz drinks exceptionally well. Supported by some subtle sweet tannins for texture, this wine delivers its ripe fruit flavors all the way through its finish. Yes, this is one of the world’s best bargains in fine red wines.
When wine drinkers hear of Tuscany, they think of Chianti. As one of the world’s most revered regions, this area has found its sweet spot in the $20 to $40 range, but every once-in-a-while, one can uncover a super bargain and that is just what the 2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico offers. Decidedly sassy and true-to-the-region, this wine plays nicely into the hands of those that want to save a few $$$’s.
One area that one never hears of in the value camp is the USA and how about Oregon, no way! The 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris is so succulently good. Plenty of ripe fruit and nice acidity, this wine outplays many wines in the $20+ range.
While the expensive and exotic marquis wines get all the ink and a few regions in the world have gained the reputation for their “great wine values,” the best values are often found in the most unlikely of places. As a wine retail veteran of 40+ years, I have learn that deals can show up from anywhere in the world. If you are like me (a bargain hunter) let the world be your oyster. Remember the best pearls are often found after the dirt has been washed away.
Stand back, a new, ultra-premium Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc producer has entered the arena. Jenny Wagner, of the famous Wagner Family of Wines- Caymus Vineyards, Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos and Emmolo, put her stake into the ground. Taking her mother’s (Cheryl) vision and drawing from her father’s (Chuck) winemaking acumen, she is producing World Class wines! Learn more from our storyboard below.
If you’re a seasonal drinker like me, you naturally reach for cold white or rose wine in the summer heat. We all have our go-to wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, maybe even something like Albarino if you’re feeling adventurous! But there are some great off-the-beaten-path wines that you should be drinking to stay cool and refreshed this summer. These are my top 5.
Oysters, anyone? Muscadet hails from the western end of the Loire Valley, right near the Atlantic Ocean. The maritime influence leads to a wine with crisp acidity, fresh and lively – but subtle – fruit and a mineral undertone. Super mild but amazingly quaffable, I adore sipping a chilled Muscadet on its own or with a light shellfish appetizer.
Pronounced PEEK-pool, you should drink this just because it’s so much fun to say! You should also try it because it’s dang good. A Rhone-based varietal used in the blends of the Southern Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Picpoul is a fairly neutral grape, but it’s bright and refreshing and super affordable!
This has everything you want in a summer sipper. Bright fruit, crisp acidity, a slight spritz and low alcohol. Beat that! A lovely lunch wine, a great picnic wine, pretty much a go-to for summer fare.
You’ll see this from the NW are of Spain, as well as some in Portugal and even Australia. The wine is dry, but has a great texture that makes it ideal for spicy dishes, like pesto pasta, ceviche or chicken with garlic.
Ga-ga for godello? Yes! Another Spanish gem, this is my favorite. I think it’s the texture that sells me. It has some Chardonnay-like texture (not from oak but just from the variety) and yet a mineral backbone that gives it this unique quality. Perfect for a dinner where you want a white wine but something that goes with everything. I’m thinking clam bake and lobster boil!
Once upon a time, there was this lonely grape called Petite Sirah. Upon discovery, farmers and winemakers loved this grape so much that they nicknamed it “petet serre” and said it very fast with a grin. The real name of the varietal is Durif (named after a French scientist who crossed Syrah and Peloursin at the end of the nineteenth century). For years, this varietal sat lonesomely on the shelves gathering dust. Customers breezed by it, reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and other more famous varietals. It is my intention to bring this varietal to the fore.
Not as ferocious as most Zinfandel, less stately than many Cabernet and much more robust than elegant Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah has found its home among people who simply enjoy wine and food without pretense. I often call upon it for parties and when the gang comes by on the weekend for outdoor grilling and potluck meals. In today’s lesson, I have chosen three Petite Sirah for your enjoyment.
The 2012 The Crusher shows a shading of wood and plenty of pleasing grapiness. Coats the palate well and invites a plate of polish sausages, hot links and plain ‘ole hot dogs. For a fruiter style, with a bit less wood, I would go for the 2012 HandCraft. Perfectly poised, with its pretty red fruit flavors that pair nicely with roast chicken, I can almost feel the match on my palate. In the lighter and more elegant style, the easy-drinking 2012 Bogle does the trick nicely.
Not just for meals, Petite Sirah can serve as a cocktail wine to be paired with hors d’oeuvres. So take a trek off of the beaten path, snag one of these Petite Sirahs, and educate your palate about one of California’s hottest under-the-radar varietals. For more information, check out the group: P.S. I Love You, here is a link to their website. I think I’ll grab a bottle of Petite Sirah to enjoy with a savory pot roast for a comforting dinner on a foggy summer day in the city by the bay.