Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: The Triumph of Terroir
With a region as large and as varied as the Russian River Valley, it is important to know exactly where the fruit was grown in order to know what’s in the bottle.
BY STEVE HEIMOFF
For fans of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, three recent vintages (’07, ’08 and ’09) have been treasure troves. Although each vintage presented challenges, vintners finessed them. Collectively, these years add up to the greatest series of harvests in California Pinot’s history.
There are several reasons for this: Vines planted in the early 2000s started to mature, vintners fine-tuned their techniques and Sideways helped—as demand for Pinot Noir rose, so did prices, giving winemakers the means to invest. Another important factor was that all three years were relatively cool.
The result has been Pinot Noirs of unprecedented purity and transparency. That’s great news for wine lovers, and the icing on the cake is that these balanced wines allow the Russian River Valley’s multiple terroirs to shine through—terroirs, plural, being the operative term. The valley is so vast and diverse that the wines exhibit subtle differences. For Pinotphiles with discerning palates, knowing these differences can help them zero in on the wines that are most likely to offer deep enjoyment.
Climate drives the differences
The Russian River Valley is a huge appellation, sprawling over 126,000 acres. As anyone who’s ever explored it on a summer day knows, one minute you can have the headlights on in a misty redwood grove, and the next, you’re reaching for the sunglasses and air conditioning as the sun beats down. The average July high temperature in Occidental, at the far southwestern edge of the appellation, is 11 degrees lower than in Healdsburg, 20 miles northeast.
Classic Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley’s main subregions
98 Williams Selyem 2008 Litton Estate Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $100. This is the best of the winery’s new releases, both for drinking now and for cellaring. Combines power and elegance, with upscale flavors of cherry, currant, cola, rhubarb, dried herbs and oak, wrapped into devastatingly rich tannins and a perfect touch of acidity. Should age well for 10 years. Cellar Selection.
93 J Vineyards & Winery 2008 Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $50. Here’s a luscious, delicious Pinot Noir for drinking now. It’s made in the modern style of soft ripeness, and features upfront cherry, cranberry, sweet fig and sandalwood flavors, with a tangy dusting of Indian spices. The acidity and tannins are near perfect. Drink now–2016.
88 Tudal 2009 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $50.
The vineyard is in a warmer part of the valley, and the wine is a bit rustic, lacking some delicacy. But it has deeply delicious raspberry and cherry pie-filling flavors, with earth and licorice notes elaborated by smoky oak. Give it a good, long decant.Santa Rosa Plain
Santa Rosa Plain
97 Joseph Swan 2007 Trenton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $52. An awesome Pinot Noir—it’s hard to find words to describe its beauty. It’s bone dry and rich in stimulating acidity, and the cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have an earthy, mushroomy quality that grounds the wine and gives it a real sense of terroir. Shows the fleshy attractions of the amazing ’07 vintage, with an undisputed capacity to age. Now–2017, at least. Editors’ Choice.
94 Fog Crest 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $45. A marvelous Pinot Noir to drink now and over the next 6–7 years. It feels so rich and elaborate, with waves of raspberries, cherries, cola and oak, yet is tightly controlled by firm tannins and a great burst of citrusy acidity. Grows better and better as it warms in the glass.
96 Merry Edwards 2008 Klopp Ranch Méthode à L’Ancienne Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $57.
So delicious and complex now in wild cherry, raspberry, Dr. Pepper cola, bacon and smoky sandalwood flavors, brightened with crisp acidity and totally dry despite the fruitiness. But you’ll also find a firm tannic structure that gives it some astringency. Drinkable now for sheer beauty but easily capable of aging for a decade.
96 Freeman 2008 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $47.
So pale in color, it’s hard to believe it packs so much flavor. Stuns with the complexity of its cherries, raspberries and cola, with fantastically spicy notes. Hard to describe just how intricate it feels, changing by the second as the palate uncovers additional nuances. A great Pinot Noir, defining silkiness and delicacy, and should age effortlessly for at least the next six years.
95 Marimar Estate 2007 Don Miguel Vineyard Cristina Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $49.
Massive, flamboyantly rich, a real treasure in the mouth. Just dazzles with the intensity of cherries, black raspberries, Dr. Pepper cola, plums, sweet vanilla- scented sandalwood and a wild array of savory spices. The wine is a small-production barrel selection from the estate vineyard, which is in the heart of the Green Valley. Drink now and through 2013, at least.
94 Dutton Goldfield 2009 Dutton Ranch Emerald Ranch Pinot Noir (Green Valley); $58.
An extraordinarily beautiful Pinot Noir, dry, silky and just captivating. With profoundly ripe cherry and mulberry fruit, it shows earthy complexities, spices and flowers, and the oak overlay is just about perfect. A gorgeous wine that should age for six years.