Wine time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Last week I briefly mentioned a term called an AVA aka an American Viticultural Area. Much like the rest of the wine world, the USA has a legally defined system of wine appellations and these are called AVAs.

Examples of well-known AVAs would be Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mount St. Helen, Columbia Valley, Five Finger Lakes, Paso Robles and even large general areas such as California or Washington State. Some AVAs are located inside larger regions like Carneros inside the Napa region or Russian River Valley which is found inside the Sonoma County AVA.

My wine journey this week brought me to a region known as the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. The Russian River Valley is actually a part of several larger regions including Sonoma Country AVA, North Coast AVA and California AVA. The entire area is centered on the Russian River which runs from North Western California is a Southern direction.

The Russian River Valley was granted AVA status in 1983 and makes up over one sixth of all planted grapes in Sonoma. The planted area went from just over 400 acres in the 1990’s to well over 12,000 acres by 2003. Despite huge expansion, vineyards have come and gone and while there were up to 200 wineries around the 1900’s, that number has shrunk down to about 70 high-quality producers in current times. The region is well-known for producing excellent examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and producers like Kendall Jackson have spent a significant amount of energy and funds to build the area up while establishing their own brands and market presence (Kendall Jackson produces the delicious La Crema brand and other wines under their main label).

While discussing this AVA, it must also be mentioned that the terroir has an immense influence on the flavors and balance of the wine. Since this AVA is located in California, there is a huge amount of heat from the sun which would usually have the effect of ripening grapes quickly; however, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the grapes are cooled heavily from winds blown into the vineyards.

The effects of hot days, cool nights and cooling influences from the ocean create wines that are fruity and full but also balanced by appropriate levels of acidity. This is perfectly demonstrated in both Pinot Noirs this week as they are fruit-forward with hints of sweetness and balanced by medium-plus acidity. I enjoyed both wines but the Rodney Strong is the winner since it has a higher concentration of flavor thus more intensity and the spice/herbal notes stuck out much more on the palate and finish.

If you’re looking to explore Californian wines then the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County or the North Coast AVAs are all excellent places to begin the search. Even though I preferred the Rodney Strong, the MacMurray Ranch should still be checked out since it has not only great flavor but the price point delivers a huge amount of value. Here are my wine picks of the week!

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2018: (Russian River Valley, California). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. The nose full of medium-intense fruit like dark cherry, dark berry, raspberry, vanilla, herbal balsamic and hints of feta cheese. On the palate, cherry, boysenberry and dark fruit impact first followed by mellow spice (nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper). Medium-plus acidity gives the wine some zip while the wine feels satisfying at medium-plus body. Oaky, medium tannins come in on the finish but the grip is creamy and smooth providing just a hint of pepper spice at the edge of the tongue. Fruit dissipates quickly on the finish but the oak/toast flavors linger. Medium concentration drops the intensity slightly but the wine is a great value for its price point! Pair this Pinot with appetizers. Very good! $25, 14.3% ABV

Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2016: (Russian River Valley, California). Dry to off-dry red, medium ruby color with slight fading at edge. Medium-intense notes of nutmeg, cooked cherry, sweet underbrush, BBQ char and animal (goat cheese) open up on the nose. Ripe cherry juice, red fruit and gentle spice (nutmeg, pepper) intermingle with herbal sage and a silky medium-plus body. The fruity mid-palate smoothly transitions into a finish of sweet cinnamon and nutmeg with black pepper and savory biscuit/toast. The concentration of the wine is high which leads to bold, satisfying flavors. This Pinot is balanced well with medium-plus acidity and a chewy mouthfeel is provided by medium-plus sweet tannins. Fruity, spicy and delicious! Can be chilled slightly and paired with many kinds of foods. Drink now. Very good! $32, 14.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!