May 17, 2007


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Got milk?

What the best bears drink
Discoveries from Russian Rivers
By Tim Protzman

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..

5/10/2007It's OK to be pink

5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
10 Wines To Get Lucky With

Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce