Author: Christopher Sawyer
In Sonoma County, Russian River Valley is framed between the charming cities of Sebastopol to the west, Healdsburg to the north, Santa Rosa to the east, and Cotati to the south. This agricultural zone is known for its cool to warm temperatures, intrIn Sonoma County, Russian River Valley is framed between the charming cities of Sebastopol to the west, Healdsburg to the north, Santa Rosa to the east, and Cotati to the south. This agricultural zone is known for its cool to warm temperatures, intrusive coastal fog, unique soils, diverse terrain, and long growing season. Through the years, the valley has become a renowned wine destination where collectors of high-end Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and old vine Zinfandels come to frolic; where sommeliers can be found learning lessons from winemakers and growers; and retailers can be seen on the hunt for pricy low-production wines they can’t normally get through brokers and distributors.
Whites: The most widely planted varietal is Chardonnay. On the smaller scale, other popular white grapes grown in the appellation include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Roussanne.
Reds: Pinot Noir is the king of Russian River Valley. With 5,434 acres planted in 2011, the AVA represents one of the highest concentrations in the state and a 117 percent rise in plantings since 1967. Another highlight of the region is old vine Zinfandel. Most of the gnarly vines are head pruned, dry-farmed, and planted either on the warmer eastern side of the appellation, above the fog line, or special nooks where the clusters can achieve physiological ripeness and high acidity. Newer to the mix are the red Rhone varietals, particularly Syrah and Grenache, which perform well in cool climate conditions.
White Wines: Chardonnay flavors are more focused on tropical fruit, ripe pear, peach, nectarine, and lush texture. The other widely planted white grape in the region is Sauvignon Blanc, which can produce lovely wines with notes of ripe melon, citrus, gooseberry, fig, fresh herbs and bright acidity.
Red Wines: As a general rule, the flavors of red wines from Russian River Valley are intense, balanced and distinctive. The Pinot Noirs often includes ripe notes of wild berry, plum, dark cherry, cola and baking spice; vibrant acidity; and a rich, silky texture. For spicy red wines, the old vine Zinfandels feature layers of ripe red fruits enhanced with layers of savory spices, cardmom and black pepper.
Try Chardonnays with fresh vegetables, delicate fish dishes and poultry. Sauvignon Blancs are ideal with oysters, spring rolls, figs, and gourmet salads. For reds, lighter Pinot Noirs are great to serve with grilled fish, chicken and medium bodied cheeses; whereas the more intensive versions are fantastic with salmon, wild mushrooms and red meats. For Zinfandel, try with savory sauces, stews, and barbecued meats.
By Christopher Sawyer