What the best bears drink
Discoveries from Russian Rivers
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
California used to hold such mystery for me.
Then I lived there for a while.
I thought about California, especially Los Angeles, when the police, wildlife protection, news copters and fire trucks converged on my neighborhood. Terrorists? Criminals? No, a bear. Yes, a bear had wandered into the neighborhood and the media frenzy treed it until it could be tranquilized. Then it was taken to a more remote area, one with only two cell phone bars, so it could live free and do bear stuff without having people chase it with a camera.
On my one quick trip through wine country many years ago, I never saw a bear. I didn’t drink wine either (back then I was a Scotch drinker) but I do remember seeing people tubing on the Russian River. And about the time the bear came to town, I was enjoying a pinot noir from Russian River.
Russian River is an AVA (American Viticultural Area) and sub region in the wine-rich Sonoma County region. It’s cooler and there’s more chalky soil from the river erosion and they grow great pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. If the wine says “Russian River” on the label it means at least 80 percent of the grapes come from Russian River. There are quite a few well-known wineries in the Russian River appellation — DeLoach, Hartford, Frei Bros., Iron Horse, La Crema, MacMurray Ranch (which still has a connection to its famous actor, father, winemaker, founder Fred MacMurray) and Taft Street. And while the soil may be close to what they have in Burgundy, they have something Burgundy doesn’t. Redwood trees and bears. I think there are no bears in Burgundy, but I need to read up on it. Theoretically, one could come down out of the Alps and make it to Dijon, possible on one of those super-fast trains or even on foot. But I do know that many bears live in the wilds of Sonoma County and in the parks and preserves along the Russian River, which was named Russian River because of the Russian trading post that flourished there in 1825.
For wine lovers Russian River means decent wine that’s not too expensive and a little more defined growing area. Wines with Sonoma County on the label have a much larger area, including Russian River, to choose their grapes from than the smaller sub districts. Great sub appellations of Sonoma are Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley Dry Creek Valley and part of the Carneros.
I had a 2005 Russian Hill Pinot Noir ($23.99) and it was good enough to restore my faith in Californian Pinots. Lately, I’ve been tasting flabby, fruity, sometimes bitter and syrupy pinots. But the Russian Hill was structured and finessed, but still had that slightly ammonia smell (the “barnyard” smell) and it had a bit too much acid that will in a few years settle down and become even more structure. The fruity was good, with grape and sour cherry notes, and the color was dark and clear, not opaque like a young cabernet. I’ll be trying more Russian River appellation wines and it’s becoming a favorite of mine like Cote Rotie, Pauillac, Margaret River, Riverland and Stellenbosch.
In honor of spring we got out the summer whites and one’s from Russian River:
2004 Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay ($16.49). A bit green and feisty when open but the second night it was more mellowed and golden, although it still had a bite of sulfur to it. I was a little let down by this one, as I expected a touch of minerals and green herbs and what I got was somewhat chemical tasting.
2005 ZD Chardonnay ($26.49). Very natural tasting but oppressively tannic with green quinine hints and whispers of fruit where there should be clear notes. Sourced from Santa Barbara, Monterey and Napa County grapes. This was not inexpensive so if you’re in for the penny go in for the pound and get the ZD Napa Valley Reserve ($39.99), which seemed fresh and livelier with lemon zest sparkles and hints of green apple juice.
Are drinking preferences regional? Do people in Chicago drink more white wine than people in Texas? An interesting question which I don’t know the answer to. Easier to determine are the cultural differences between Maine and New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has a great Web site that lists the bestselling products. Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay consistently outsells all other wine. For distilled spirits it’s usually a close race between Capt. Morgan Spice Rum and Zhenka Vodka. I did this research because it was recently announced that the number-one-selling distilled beverage in Maine was Coffee Brandy. This was a bit puzzling to me until I got a pint and made some cocktails.
The hit of the night was:
The Mocha Mint
1 shot Coffee Brandy
1 shot white crème de menthe liqueur
1 shot espresso
Pour over ice in a Highball glass and fill with milk or half & half.
An adult version of those cookies the Girl Scouts sell..