Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Anderson Valley: Home of Fine Pinot Noir

The Anderson Valley of Mendocino County may be one of the most beautiful spots in the world. As you drive down Route 128 from Cloverdale to the Pacific Coast, you pass through a rural area dotted with vineyards that gradually narrows until you are surrounded by massive redwoods, shielding you from the sunlight until you suddenly reach the narrow coast road and the sound of the North Pacific beating against the rocky coast.

It's only a few miles away from the popular Napa and Sonoma wine regions and it's relatively undiscovered. You can drive in and taste wine here, usually without a fee or a tour, as you could in the old days in other areas. I recognized only a few of the names, but the wines were very good--particularly the Pinot Noirs and Alsace varietals such Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

Our friends, Dave and Nancy Randle, who live in the area and visit the valley regularly believe that Anderson Valley Pinot is the best in California and better even than Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm becoming a believer, although the prices are at least as high and probably a bit higher than red Burgundy from France for comparable quality.

The Randles introduced us to Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir several years ago at our house. It was very good. We had a bottle of the 2008 Goldeneye at their home on this visit, and it was even more impressive: concentrated black and red raspberry aromas and flavors with a haunting, spicy after taste. It's clearly a special wine, but it sells for $55 at the winery and $57 at D&W in Kalamazoo. (My mouth waters at the thought of what I could buy for that price from Burgundy!)

Goldeneye is a branch of Duckhorn, known mostly for its excellent (and also expensive) Merlots. For its regular Pinot, Goldeneye carefully selects a number of vineyards and clones to produce a distinctive style. For $35, you can buy Migration Pinot Noir, also from the Anderson Valley but from lesser sites. But if you want to hold the price down to the $20s (still steep for me), you'll have to go with Decoy and grapes sourced from Sonoma. Duckhorn is a fine winery, and their people clearly know the value of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.

Other wineries along the Anderson Valley route include Yorkville Cellars (100% organic and available at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo), Handley, Husch, Navarro, Londer, Black Kite, Breggo, Toulouse and Bink. These are hardly household names, but they are likely to be better known in the future. We tasted at Yorkville, Toulouse and Bink and found many intriguing wines.

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