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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anderson Valley Wineries

Spending time in the Anderson Valley area of Mendocino County in California is cool.  Anderson Valley has some of the coolest temperatures and is one of the least known wine grape growing areas in the state.  The cool weather means it's great for sparkling wines, Chardonnay, Pinot and even things like Gewurztraminer and Riesling.   It's also cool because it's not crowded or expensive.

I only sampled a fraction of the wineries open for tasting -- must go back!


I've listed the wineries from my favorites to least.

Navarro Vineyards

I haven't been here in a long time but always held them as a standard for Anderson Valley wines. I've told people that if other American wineries could make Gewurztraminer as good as Narvarro more Americans would drink Gewurz. I hoped they would still be as good as I remembered and they were.

The dry Gewurztraminer and Riesling were good with the Gewurz definitely my favorite of the two. Followed by four Pinots from 2006 and 2007--all good. My favorites were the 2006s -- the unfiltered regular bottling and the Deep End bottling. These seemed to have more flavors and better body. The Syrah has a nice peppery spice to it. The Late Harvest Gewurztraminer wasn't too syrupy or too acidic--it was just right!

Roederer Estate

A sparkling wine house owned by a French Champagne maker. These wines were all very good to exceptional. The basic NV Brut is found in retail outlets everywhere and is a good deal for about $20. I tasted others including a Rosé that was more of a pale straw color than pink and a couple vintage-dated sparklers. These guys do it right.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

The Semillon was good, the Pinot wasn't, the Zinfandel from Scherrer Vineyard in Alexander Valley was very good as was the late harvest Riesling.  Semillon is a grape you don't see very often. It's similar to Sauvignon Blanc but maybe a little softer (lower acid) and thicker bodied.  It seems to do best in blends with Sauv Blanc.

These folks have a tie-in with Frank Lloyd Wright so it's a good stop if you're an architectural buff.

Scharffenberger Cellars

Yes, they were related to the Scharffenberger Chocolate guy, but no more though they were selling the chocolates.  In sparkling wines there was a Blanc de Blanc, Brut, Rosé, Extra Dry and a Cremant (sort of a semi-sparkling wine).  These wines were okay but nothing to get really excited about. The Rosé was my favorite.  Also sampled a Pinot Noir that was off--maybe the bottle had been opened too long.

Brutocao Cellars

The wines were average but nothing really stood out as exceptional.  They make lots of different wines so you'll probably find something to your liking. There's everything from a late harvest Zinfandel and  Tawny Port-style wine to a couple Italian-style blends.

Husch Vineyards

The Pinot had nice spices but a bit thin with a short finish. The T-bud Gewurztraminer was too dry; the other at 0.6% sugar was okay.  The Zinfandel and Cabernets from the warmer Ukiah area of Mendocino County were too dry and tannic.   Not particularly good wines.

Standish Wine Co.

The owners are directly descended from Mile Standish of Mayflower and Plymouth Colony fame.  Too bad the wines didn't quite live up to the name.  The Merlot was okay--dense, dark, and fairly complex and not quite ready yet.  The others were not very good including the $70 Pinots.  Many wines had an off smell.

Summing Up

If you don't like crowds and high prices it's worth the trip. The drive is about two-and-a-half hours from San Francisco.  The valley is only about a 20 minute drive across -- assuming you didn't stop anywhere along the way.

Many of the wineries make Cab, Zin, etc. using grapes from from warmer parts of Mendocino County.  For the most part I didn't think most of these were as good as the same wines from Sonoma or Napa though they may be a bit cheaper.  But you come to Anderson Valley for the bubblies, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir anyway. 

In late spring of 2008 there were major forest fires in the area that blanketed the skies with smoke for a month.  Many of the '08s will have smoke flavors in the wines.   It doesn't mean all the '08s are bad--it means be careful in knowing what you purchase.

Anderson Valley Brewery is also here and worth a stop to rehydrate from all that wine.