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Three Russian River Wineries and dinner at Zin in Healdsburg - Report

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On Saturday, I drove up to Russian River with 3 friends. We had picked up some pastries and coffee at Cafe du Soleil (good coffee, unremarkable chocolate croissant) and ate that as we drove, and we arrived in Guerneville at about 11 AM. After a nice visit to Armstrong Redwoods, we drove to Monte Rio in search of sandwiches, and wound up getting some at Bartlett's, a grocery store just over the bridge on the south side of the Russian River. The sandwiches were okay - mine was salami and cheese, w/ mustard, pickles, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato. In the future, I'll pick up sandwiches before arriving in Monte Rio (either in SF or in Guerneville). We ate the sandwiches on the beach, enjoyed swimming in the river.

After swimming, we headed east and visited three wineries, all on Westside Rd.

First stop was at Porter Creek Winery. We tasted their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. I didn't think any were outstanding, but the tasting room staff were very knowledgeable and friendly. After tasting, we walked into the vineyard where I took some pictures and sampled a few grapes (Pinot Noir and a white grape that I think was Chardonnay). The grapes themselves were very good, and the Pinot Noir was at peak ripeness - they will begin harvesting on Monday.

Next stop was River Bend Ranch Winery - we were technically there on their opening day (before Saturday, the vineyard was Davis Bynum, and now it is River Bend Ranch). Here's an article explaining: http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release....

At River Bend, there were 6 wines for tasting - 3 with the River Bend label and 3 Luddite Vineyards (http://www.ludditevineyards.com/wine/...) - this is the label of the winemaker at River Bend.

We began with a River Bend Sauvignon Blanc which was very refreshing given the heat. I was tempted to buy a bottle, but once I tasted some of the Zinfandels, I decided my money would be better spent on that. Next was a Luddite Carignane, which was also very good. We continued with a River Bend Syrah (good) then tried two Zinfandels (2005 River Bend and 2004 Dry Creek Valley Luddite) side by side. Both wines were very good, but the age difference was definitely noticeable. The 2005 was brighter, lighter and more acidic - very nice raspberry aromas. Meanwhile, the 2004 was darker and spicier. I ended up buying a bottle of the 2004 Dry Creek Valley Luddite for 22 dollars.

The last wine we tasted was the 2004 Luddite Laguna Ridge Russian River Valley Zinfandel. This wine was fantastic. Very powerful aromas of dark fruits and pepper. I noted vanilla, molasses and paprika. This bottle was being sold for 48 dollars, and for those who like this type of Zinfandel, I think it was well worth the price.

Third stop was Arista Winery, where we sampled a Gewürztraminer (they described theirs as bone dry - I wasn't a huge fan, though some of my tasting companions enjoyed it a lot). I also tried a Pinot Noir (my friends tried a third wine, possibly also Pinot Noir). Overall, good. The highlights for me were the people and the beautiful gardens.

All three wineries had complimentary tasting, very friendly staff and beautiful grounds. I would be happy to return to any of them and recommend trying them all, even though I personally preferred the wine at River Bend Ranch. With the exception of the Luddite Laguna Ridge Zin (which was the most expensive wine we tasted), the price for bottles at River Bend was lower - ranged from 10 to 24 dollars for the other 5 bottles, while bottles at the other two vineyards were between 16 and 36.

After visiting the three wineries, we went swimming again, this time under the Wohler Rd. bridge, where we found a rope swing and lots of blackberries ripe for picking.

Feeling refreshed from swimming, we drove to Healdsburg in search of dinner. We parked and walked around the town for a while. We hadn't made any reservations, and I hadn't done much research into restaurants in Healdsburg, so we somewhat randomly chose to eat at Zin (though both a friend and I had vaguely recalled reading about it on chowhound.) Overall, we had a wonderful meal.

The menu from Saturday night is not online, so I don't remember exact descriptions of all the dishes we ordered.

We started with a salad of caramelized peaches topped w/ prosciutto over frisée w/ a balsamic reduction and homemade goat cheese. This was a good start to the meal - since 4 of us shared this single appetizer, it disappeared quickly. We each ordered a different main dish, and there was lots of sharing since everything was so delicious. I had the pork chop, served w/ apple sauce and andouille sausage stuffing. I thought everything on my plate was outstanding - the pork chop was caramelized on the outside and smoky throughout. The apple sauce was not overly sweet, and the cornbread stuffing was delicious - I could have eaten an entire plate of just stuffing. One friend had the pasta dish (the lone vegetarian item). The pasta was cooked perfectly, sauce was similar to pesto, but richer, creamier and more complex in flavor. There were also vegetables, including tomatoes. Once again, I apologize for not remembering exact menu descriptions. Next friend had the chicken, which was lightly fried and served w/ corn succotash, fried onions and a sweet sauce. Combined into one bite, the taste reminded me of a very grown up (and significantly more delicious) chicken mcnugget. Sounds bad to say this, but I mean it in a good way. This dish was very comforting and tasty. Final friend had the duck - she really liked this, though I thought it was the weakest of the four dishes (she thought mine was weakest, so I guess it all depends on personal taste). I thought the duck was a bit overcooked and tough, but I liked how the sauce was served on the side, which allowed you to choose how much you wanted to add. This was served w/ some fancy grits, to which my friend added butter (a pretty awesome idea). The butter had been served w/ the bread (a nice chewy sourdough). So overall, we were very happy with the main courses.

With our dinner we had a 2005 Marietta Cellars Zinfandel which paired nicely with all of the dishes - this Zinfandel had a gentler fruit flavor, with good spice (though not too much). Not as good as the Zinfandels we had had earlier, but still good.

For dessert, we shared two creme brulées (vanilla bean w/ blackberry) and a brownie sundae w/ kona ice cream. The creme brulée was excellent - perfect caramel crust, smooth cream and fresh blackberries under the cream - each served w/ two small and deliciously crispy oatmeal cookies, melted and sealed into the caramelized crust. The brownie sundae, in my opinion, was the weakest thing we ate. The sundae looked very good, but the brownie was not good (a bit dry, not very flavorful, seemed like it had been baked perhaps the day before).

Total bill, including food, wine, tax and 20% tip, was 180 dollars for the 4 of us. Not too bad a deal considering quality of food. I would definitely recommend this place, and was glad we gave it a try. We were able to walk right in at 7 PM and get a table right away (not sure if this was normal for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, or just super lucky, since the place was full all night). Service was good from the start, but got better as the evening went on.

It was great playing tourist for a day in Russian River, and I hope to return sometime soon. Once again, sorry for not having better descriptions of the dishes at Zin, and thanks for bearing w/ me with the wine descriptions - I think this is my first time ever attempting wine descriptions on chowhound.

Ciao

Dave MP

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Porter Creek Vineyards
8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar
344 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

La Cafe Du Soleil
200 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94117

River Bend Ranch Winery
8075 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Arista Winery
7015 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Bartlett's General Store
Main St, Monte Rio, CA 95462

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  1. I was with David on this adventure. It was loads of fun. The #1 wine of the day I feel was the 2004 Luddite Laguna Ridge Russian River Valley Zinfandel. I even ponied up the cash and bought a bottle.

    The food at Zin was truly good (not cheap, but certainly worth the price). At first I thought it was because we were starving from a day of swimming in rivers and alcohol, but even as we were getting full the food tasted delicious. The wine we had throughout the day was enjoyable, and the one we had at Zin was probably my second favorite of them all (good choice David). Though I have to say I don't think it paired all that well with the food.

    Oh, and I Don't recommend Bartlett's General Store for lunch (shocking, I know).

    1. Thanks for the nice report, Dave. My daughter's SO, Nick, grew up in Healdsburg and has been trying to get us to go to Zin for quite a while -- it's his favorite restaurant in the area. I think that we'll try to visit Zin the next time that we're up in Sonoma County.

      --NancyB