This is an excerpt from Restaurant Wine issues #172-174 (March-August 2017).

Focus on Russian River Valley

Two Defining Aspects of Russian River Valley Wines

The first is taste. Wines from the Russian River tend to have aromatic freshness and intensity, and leaner structure than the same varieties grown in warmer districts. Often, this translates into very positive flavor quality and varietal elegance, as well as higher perceived acidity. At their best, they RRV wines can be extremely refined in character, especially Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

The second is vintage-to-vintage consistency. In terms of quality, wines from the Russian River are surprisingly consistent from year to year—more so than possibly any other top district specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (together they account for 2/3 of the total vineyard acreage). Of course, there are definite variations from one year to the next, but those differences are usually less qualitative than stylistic when compared to quality wines from the same two grape varieties from other regions, over consecutive vintages.

The Russian River Valley AVA

The region became an approved viticultural area (AVA) in 1983, but the AVA’s boundary was extended in 2005 to add sections within the district’s fog zone that had previously been excluded (notably the Sebastopol Hills). It was amended again in 2011.

The first wine to carry the Russian River geographical designation was a Pinot Noir produced from the 1973 vintage, by Davis Bynum winery. Today, there are more than 90 wineries in the Russian River Valley, and more than 350 producers/companies in California who bottle a Russian River Valley-designated wine.

In terms of acreage, the most widely cultivated varieties in the RRV are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—and by a huge margin: the two account for 69% of all RRV vineyards, which is not surprising, given the superb quality of the wines—both sparkling and still—made from them.

This is an excerpt from Restaurant Wine issues #172-174 (March-August 2017)

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