Monthly Archives: May 2021

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Tasting Through the Russian River Valley with Gary Farrell Wines

Most wine lovers are familiar with the notion of appellations; designated wine regions identified by geography and legal protection. In the United States, appellations are known as American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs. Within an appellation or AVA, there can be sub-regions that, though perhaps not legally identified, can present climate and growing conditions which contribute to a unique terroir. One notable and well known AVA in Northern California is the Russian River Valley AVA. We recently learned that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) has defined six smaller sub-regions which they call Neighborhoods. How did we come by this newfound knowledge? Well, we were invited to a virtual tasting of single-vineyard wines from Gary Farrell Winery, exploring each of the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The event featured Gary Farrell Winery winemaker Theresa Heredia, who led us through history, geography lessons, and of course, tasting seven wines from the Gary Farrell Winery portfolio; three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. As Theresa explained, although the wines are from the same respective grapes, grown in the same AVA, each neighborhood produces decidedly different wines with unique characteristics. 

Gary Farrell started in the wine business in the late 1970’s, originally working with local wineries. In 1982, he produced the first wine under his eponymous wine label. Since then, Gary Farrell Winery has grown in reputation and prestige and is now one of the most notable small-lot producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Though Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004, the current owners are maintaining his legacy and standard of excellence. 

Theresa Heredia started with Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. At that time, she brought with her a decade (now nearly two decades) of experience in cool-climate, small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. Early in her career, she worked at Domaine de Montille, in Burgundy, France, where she gained an appreciation for the Burdunidan style of winemaking. Friendly and inviting, Theresa was an amazing host for our tasting. 

In keeping with the Burgundian style, Theresa said that each of the wines in the tasting are terroir-driven, and aged in light-toast French oak barrels. The use of light toast oak is deliberate, since heavier toasts can mask the nuances of the wine itself. Theresa also mentioned, to our surprise, that the Russian River Valley AVA has more soil types than are found in all of France!  

During a brief history lesson, Theresa shared her screen, and showed us the six Russian River Valley Neighborhoods on the RRVW website. This is an interactive site that allows you to explore each of the neighborhoods and see which characteristics define each one. Theresa mentioned that only one neighborhood, Green Valley, is a designated Sub-AVA within the Russian River Valley AVA. There are currently no plans to apply for AVA status for any of the other neighborhoods. 

Image credit: Russian River Valley Winegrowers website

The seven wines we tasted, and the respective neighborhoods from which they hail, were, in order of tasting:

  • 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains
  • 2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge
  • 2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley
  • 2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills
  • 2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains
Ready to taste!
(Behind the scenes at Appetite for Wine: yes, those are yoga blocks!)
That’s a lot of corks for 11 am!
Why are those glasses empty?

The virtual tasting was packed with information; much more than can comfortably fit into a blog post anyone would actually read. Though it exceeded the allotted hour, it went much too fast. Since the tasting was at 11 a.m. Pacific, we sipped and spit, and re-corked the bottles, and then enjoyed them for the rest of the week! Here are our impressions of each wine:

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay

Light and crisp, yet still exhibiting light buttery, toasty notes. Golden color. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus. On the palate, apples, pear, pineapple, and floral notes. Medium body with bright acidity – more than most Cali Chards – nicely balanced. Full, lush, mildly creamy mouthfeel leading to a crisp finish of citrus and some light toast.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 

A classic but restrained California Chardonnay. Golden color with fresh pineapple the first aromas on the nose, followed by citrus and butter notes. On the palate, green apple, pear, pineapple and tropical notes, as well as citrus. Soft, creamy mouthfeel balanced with medium acidity. The finish has tropical fruit and just a hint of butter. 

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 

A more classic California Chardonnay, though in Gary Farrell style, subtle and elegant. On the nose, pineapple, pear, and citrus, with a whiff of butter. Surprisingly crisp acidity on the palate, with pear, apple, lemon curd, and butter, with a light toast note in the finish.

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Exquisite and our favorite of the tasting. The nose opens with cherry, raspberry, and cedar, with earthy notes. On the palate, the cherry leads the charge with raspberry, violet, cedar, and mushroom supporting. Medium body and acidity, with a long finish of red fruit and black tea.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Beautiful Pinot Noir. The nose opens with black cherry and blueberry, with some earthy notes. On the palate, lush cherry, raspberry, and blueberry fruit mingles with mushroom, earthy notes, and a general funk that I’ve come to appreciate in a well structured PN. Medium body and acidity lead to a pleasing finish of red fruit, black tea, and smoke. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir

Quite interesting with herbal and vegetal notes up front, including bay leaf and eucalyptus, with red fruit following. On the palate, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry with the bay leaf enhancing the fruit. Medium body with bright, lively acidity. Long fresh finish. 

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Nice, fruit driven Pinot. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. On the palate, these red fruit flavors continue, joined by blueberry, cedar, and bay leaf. Soft and velvety, with bright acidity and a long finish of red fruit and rose petal. 

We heartily recommend any and all of these wines, and we look forward to venturing out to the Russian River Valley to explore the neighborhoods in person. 

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We close on a somber note. We were sad to learn this week, as we prepared this post, that earlier this month, Gary Farrell Winery oenologist, Mark Osbourne, was killed after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Even more tragically, the motorist is accused of driving under the influence. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Gary Farrell Winery family. 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Review: Robert Hall Paso Red 2018

As many people already know, Paso Robles is trending in the wine world. Many consider it the next up-and-coming wine region; an underrated hidden gem. Despite all this, we regrettably have not explored the wines of Paso Robles much, and have never been wine tasting there. There are many good wineries in Paso Robles, and our friends who have been have given us dozens of recommendations. As happens every so often…so often it can seem a little creepy…we had been discussing Paso Robles with some friends not long ago, and the very next day we received an email offering us a sample of Robert Hall Paso Red 2018, from Paso Robles. After tasting the wine, our resolve to get to Paso, and soon, was dramatically intensified.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Robert Hall was a successful businessman in St. Paul, Minnesota. After developing a taste for wine, he made his way west and founded his namesake winery in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. From the beginning, winemaker Don Brady has been leading production of a portfolio that now includes more than a dozen wines. 

The Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 is a multi-award winning blend of grapes from all 11 sub-AVAs in the Paso Robles region. It is a wine that truly captures the essence of Paso Robles. Petite Sirah (43%), Syrah (21%),and Zinfandel (19%) drive the blend, supported by Petit Verdot (10%), and splashes of Grenache and Mourvedre filling it out. Sounds pretty good to us!

A rich, big, bold red blend. Vibrant deep purple color. The nose is filled with ripe black fruit: blackberry, boysenberry, and Marionberry, with smoky notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco, baking spice, and black pepper. Full bodied, with fine, smooth tannins and ample acidity. The finish is long with black fruit and spice. Excellent with baby back ribs.

Truth be told, we’ve found a lot of California Red Blends to be on the jammy side. When we tasted the Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 with our ribs, we thought it would be a bit jammy without food. Yet this wine is so well structured it holds up after dinner as a very nice sipper. Beware: this big wine sports an ABV of 15.5%! But why would you drink a big, bold red like this without food anyway? The food enhances the wine, and the wine enhances the food. Yin. Yang. 

Did we mention the value quotient? Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 retails for just $20! You really need this wine in your life. It’s available at select retailers, or online at the Robert Hall Winery website. Try this, or any of the wines, and let us know what you think.

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Chateau Haut-Rian Bordeaux Blanc 2019

In the world of wine, few words hold such mystique and reverence as Bordeaux. Classy, elegant, and refined are some of the terms we think of when imagining Bordeaux. Known for its bold, often pricy red blends based on Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, Bordeaux is one of the most recognized names in wine. 

Yet not everything in Bordeaux is pricy, nor is everything red. Our wine of the week is a light, crisp, tasty white blend: Chateau Haut-Rian Bordeaux Blanc 2019. This wine is a blend of 60% Sémillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and is juicy and refreshing. It’s also affordably priced at just $10.99 at wine.com.

Chateau Haut-Rian is a family-owned winery with 85 hectares of vineyards, located along the Garonne River. Their white grapes are grown in the Entre-Deux-Mers region, about 12 miles inland from the river. The clay-limestone soil in the area is ideal for growing Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Chateau Haut-Rian is committed to sustainable farming practices, and has earned the distinction of being Terra Vitis, Haute Valeur Environnementale, and Bee Friendly Certified.

So how’s the wine? We opened this to enjoy with a light meal of baked Sea Bass and green salad. We were duly impressed and look forward to trying some of Chateau Haut-Rian’s other wines.

Medium golden color. Aromas of citrus, pear, and apple. On the palate, flavors of lemon lime, grapefruit, pear, green apple, and minerals. Light body with bracing acidity that dances on the tongue. Zesty finish. Paired with sea bass, a perfect match.

What was your wine of the week?

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred:  Robyn Raphael-Reynolds