Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Weekend In Anderson Valley - Part 1

Not that Labor Day weekend is the best time for a camping trip, but my girlfriend and a friend and I decided to visit the red woods and wineries anyway. Leaving San Francisco at seven am, we arrived in Anderson Valley around ten o'clock and, to our amazement, found an available camping site in the first campground we checked out. After staking our claim to a dusty spot beside Indian Creek, we took off for a day of wine tasting.

Anderson Valley is much closer to the coast than Sonoma and Napa Counties and actually shares a lot of characteristics with Oregon's Willamette Valley. Locals and workers at the wineries repeatedly declared Anderson Valley the best place in the world to grow Pinot Noir grapes. Pinot Noir grows quickly and ripens quickly, necessitating a cool and foggy climate in order to keep the grapes on the vine for a longer time. This allows their full flavors to come out. The cool climate also maintains a high level of acidity in all grapes, helping to make Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs especially conducive to aging.


Brutocao Cellars

Beginning our tasting-day (which ended up being an epic day of wine tasting), we pulled into Brutocao Winery. I'd recently drank a nice Primitivo from Brutocao, and was excited to discover that many of their wines were Italian varietals, including Dolcetto, a delicious, acidic-Pinot-Noir-like wine, a Barbera, and a blended wine named Quadriga, made from Sangiovese, Primitivo, Barbera, and Dolcetto grapes. Primitivo grapes have the same DNA as California Zinfandel, and Primitivo, in turn, is the genetic equivallent of the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski. So, if anyone ever asks you where Zinfandel comes from, just say Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Brutocao's tasting was very relaxed and their wines were impressive. It seemed true that most of the wines had higher acidity, but was the Pinot Noir the best ever? While it was complex and delicious, we walked out with the Dolcetto and a selection of whites. Brutocao, interestingly, only filters one of their two Pinot Noirs, leaving the rest of their wines unfiltered.

Navarro Winery

With beautiful grounds for walking around or lunching and a long list of wines to taste, Navarro was one of our favorites. Their list of cooler region whites was particularly lengthy, offering a Muscato, a blended Edelzwicker, a Gewürztraminer, and a White Riesling. White Riesling, aka Johannisberg Riesling, is considered the "true Riesling"; clones with altered DNA, such as Gray Rieslings and Emerald Rieslings, have slightly different characteristics.

It was around this time that I noticed that Anderson Valley Syrahs are quite different than the Syrahs I'm used to. They are much drier, higher in acidity, even floral, but have very few, if any, "jammy" attributes. Syrah is one of the easiest and fastest grape varieties to grow. The Australia name for Syrah, Shiraz, came about because the original planter of the grape in Australia thought it originated in Persia, but, of course, Syrah is a French Rhône variety. In Anderson Valley, I found a new style of Syrah, one that a I greatly prefer to the more fruit forward, Australian style Shiraz.

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