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Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Tasting Help

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Looking for Pinot Noir tastings spots. We do not care for the new trend in >14% alcohol fruit bomb Pinots. We like our Pinot to taste like classic Pinot Noir and not Syrah or Zinfandel. I am of the generation that learned to love Pinot Noir by drinking Burgundies. I used to be able to buy RRV Pinots that were light and elegant with the fruit and earth tastes in balance. I find it difficult to find that style in CA anymore. Want to give RRV a chance while I visit in July. My favorite wine shop is Kermit Lynch in Berkeley if that helps define my needs a little. Thanks.

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  1. You may be interested in this small factoid. Kermit Lynch WM has sold/represented only one California wine producer in its history. That winery was Joseph Swan Vineyards in the historic Trenton township in the Russian River Valley. Swan PN is exported to France and represented in Beaune by Becky Wasserman (Le Serbet).

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    Joseph Swan Vineyards
    2916 Laguna Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I never visit the Bay Area with out a few boxes from KM in the trunk. I will put Swan on the list if they allow visits. I actually met Becky Wasserman and her husband by accident at Michelle LaFarge in Volnay. Later found out they lived next door to the hotel we were staying at in the country side and they had us over for a tasting of some of the wines in her "stable". I still hold those Pinots up as my holy grail. Rarely do I find something that lives up to those memories. It may have been an in the moment type thing though.

      1. re: scfinson

        Funny that you mention Michel Lafarge. I love the wines, but had not tasted any for a few years. In March, i had the pleasure of a dinner shoot-out between the 1990 M Lafarge Clos du Chateau des Ducs vs. 1990 Joseph Swan RRV Estate Pinot Noir. Here's the dinner wine photo,
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

        You'll find more info about the winery hours by clicking on the blue Places link. I am a friend of the winery, so will limit my comments.

      2. re: Melanie Wong

        I think that the Swan Pinot Noir that I have tasted fits the OP's description.

      3. I too love Swan's wines. But it would be a shame not to visit Davis Bynum, Gary Farrell, Merry Edwards, Walter Hansel, and Rochioli. Some of the best Russian River wineries, including the marvelous Radio-Coteau, do not have tasting rooms.

        1. On Tuesday night, I had a chance to try a number of Pinot Noir wines from the west county area (i.e., Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast) at a dinner party in Healdsburg. All were in magnum format with one exception as noted. This was a social occasion and not a tasting event, so I could barely keep the vintages and vineyard designations straight and didn’t note the alcohol levels. But I must say that it would be hard to stay under 14% alcohol. What I can offer is that the wines in the first group had the acidity and tannin structure to keep the alcohol in check and weren’t reeking of oak nor overly ripe/extracted. The *’s are not quality ratings, just an indication of how much I enjoyed each. I’ll add that some of the winemakers and/or owners were present, so that could have influenced my assessments.

          I think you’d enjoy these wines for their perfume, finesse, complexity, and restraint. Don’t know if they all have public tasting rooms.
          ** 2003 Williams-Selyem “Bucher” RRV PN – wine of the night for me
          ** 2005 J. Rochioli “East Block” RRV PN
          ** 2006 Bjornstad “Hellenthal” Sonoma Coast PN
          *2005 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch-Freestone” RRV PN
          *2006 Joseph Swan Trenton Estate RRV PN
          *2005 Porter Creek “Fiona Hill” RRV PN
          *2007 Siduri “Ewald” RRV PN
          *2007 Freeman “Akiko’s Cuvee” RRV PN

          Also liked these three, but probably too big in style for your tastes.
          *2003 Martinelli “Bondi Home Ranch, Water Trough Vineyard” Green Valley PN
          *2006 Arista “Mononi” RRV PN
          2006 DeLoach “OFS” RRV PN

          Not recommended:
          2007 Picket Fence PN (750ml)
          2006 Kutch “MacDougall” Sonoma Coast PN
          2004 Marimar Torres “Don Miguel” RRV PN
          2007 Pfendler Sonoma Coast Estate PN
          2007 Balletto RRV PN

          Also tasted:
          Gloria Ferrer “Va de Vi” Cuvee sparkling wine
          2004 Dumol “Jack’s ___” RRV Syrah
          2007 Novy “Rosella’s” Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah
          2005 Sbragia “Monte Rosso” Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
          *2006 Navarro “Methode Ancienne” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

          2 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie
            Does DuMol have a tasting room? I love their PN and would love to visit.

            1. re: KateMW

              I haven't followed Dumol closely, so am not certain of this, but as far as I know, it doesn't have a tasting room open to the public. It did construct a new winemaking facility in Windsor, but no tasting room. I have seen an elaborate brochure for an open house before, so you might check to see if there's one coming up.

              Also wanted to mention that the 07 Siduri Ewald that I noted above might not be released yet. I went to Siduri's open house last weekend and it was not among the 07's released so far, most wines were 06's. I noticed that most of the PNs were labeled as 14.1% alcohol. Only the Keefer Ranch from RRV would come close to the style that OP is seeking, so probably not a producer of interest.

          2. Go to Merry Edwards (Best non-mailing-list-only tasting in Sonoma... by a lot!) and Freeman. Both are by appointment only.

            1 Reply
            1. re: whiner

              I agree with whiner, Merry Edwards has wonderful pinot noirs. Another small winery to try for a tasting is Littorai, make an appointment.

            2. Look into Anthill Farms. They make a well balanced, not over the top fruit bomb style of pinot noir. No tasting room, but I believe they take appointments.

              Here is a recent article about them in the SF Chronicle: http://tinyurl.com/ovlmcu

              1 Reply
              1. re: mrs bacon

                Yes, Anthill Farms is very good...tried them over Barrel tasting weekend....by appointment only..it's worth it!

              2. Thanks for all the input I am going to try to get to some of these places. Is Swan a mailing list only type place, or can you purchase some "new found Gems" on site?

                The 14% alcohol thing is a conundrum. Generally that was a clue that the Pinot in question would probably not be in the style I prefer. I think those days may be past as it is almost impossible to find a CA Pinot that is not 14% or more. When I pull some older wines out of the cellar most are under 13% and they were big age worthy Pinots. A dinner guest ordered a Santa Rita Hills Pinot off a rest. wine list and it was 15.9%! It tasted like a unsweetend port and did not go with anyones food so we ordered something else. I can still find plenty of Burgundies and Oregon Pinots with lower alc levels. One of best PR's I have tasted lately was from British Columbia, go figure? I may have to change with the climate. Thanks again!

                2 Replies
                1. re: scfinson

                  This thread is veering away from a SF Food topic a bit, but 14-15% alc pinots can be fine IF they are made well (adjustments may have needed to be made during vinification) and use "good" fruit. As long as the other main elements are proportional/balanced with each other, the resulting wine can be enjoyable and even aged for a period of time. Alcohol level is just one of the elements of the wine during vinification but seems to be the only popular scapegoat.
                  Personally I prefer a lighter, elegant style Pinot (notice: not necessarily low alcohol, or unripe fruit).

                  1. re: scfinson

                    You can buy Joseph Swan wines at the winery/tasting room. As for 14% being a watershed, you might devote a 1/2 day to visit Mount Eden as they have never made an Estate Pinot Noir with that much alcohol, and Pinot Noir has been made at Mount Eden for more than 60 years. If your benchmark is Burgundy, you will like Mount Eden. Of course, it is not in the Russian River Valley, but you could make a great historic tour day by visiting Mount Eden and Ridge. Plus, if you call Rhys, you might get lucky and could tour their vineyards.

                  2. An article on Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from last Sunday's SF Chronicle Food & Wine section.

                    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...