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Some Current Russian River Valley Appellation Offerings

Appellation bottlings often take a back seat to the more expensive and often over-hyped vineyard designate wines. Some wineries produce appellation blends as almost an afterthought, throwing in all the inferior leftover juice after the best barrels are chosen for the single vineyard program. Others, take the opposite approach, blending the appellation wine initially before barrels are chosen for single vineyard designation.

Most vintners follow the tact of Adam Lee at Siduri Wines. After each of the barrels in the cellar age for at least six months, tasting ensues to determine the several different desired blends. The favorite blend becomes the single-vineyard Pinot Noir. The final number of barrels chosen for the final blend can vary considerably. The barrels that don’t fit in to the single-vineyard blend are assigned to the appellation wines. These wines are blended with wine from other vineyards in the same appellation. The common assumption is that the barrels that do not make the single-vineyard blend cut are inferior and a blend of these barrels from different vineyards would also be inferior. This is not necessarily the case. Certain barrels may not be strictly reflective of a vineyard’s terroir, but that does not mean that the wine isn’t desirable. Some consumers will prefer the final appellation wine.

Legally, at least 85% of the grapes in an appellation-designated wine must come from that appellation. 95% of the grapes from a single vineyard wine must originate in the designated vineyard wine.

Appellation-designated Pinot Noir can be a great value, invariably priced less than the more prestigious single-vineyard wines. Siduri Wines is a perfect example. All the 2008 Siduri Wines appellation blends (Chehalem Mountains, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Sta. Rita Hills) are priced at $30, while the vineyard-designated wines are priced at $48 and above. I preferred the 2008 Siduri Wines Sta. Rita Hills appellation Pinot Noir over some of the Siduri Wines vineyard designates. Sadly, several of the appellation wines reviewed below do not offer the quality that one would expect at the offered price levels.

2009 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 739 cases, $44. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Ripe and slightly confected dark stone fruit and berry aromas with a slight oak-driven spice and smoke accent. Modestly weighted deep red cherry and berry flavors that are slightly cooked, exhibiting silky tannins, finishing a tad dilute and short. Not as enjoyable as the bottle reviewed over two months ago. Decent.

2009 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., $50. · Darkly colored in the glass. Aromas and flavors veer to the very ripe side with notes of black plums, black currants, dried blueberry, prune, raisin and oak. A somewhat unpleasant tarry bent is evident. A full-throttle, big and burly wine finishing with hipitched acidity. Decent.

2008 Conspire Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $40. Crafted by Napa Valley winemaker Amy Aiken. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red cherries, strawberries, subtle spice, “automobile garage,” and smoky oak. Medium-weighted flavors of cherries, black raspberries and strawberries with an underlying smoky, tarry note. Fresh and clean with soft tannins and lively acidity. I am not a fan of smoky Pinot, but there are consumers who seem to enjoy it and they may welcome this wine. For me, the smoky, burnt flavors simply tarnish the pretty fruit in this wine, although they tend to diminish over time in the glass. Tasted twice a few months apart. Unsatisfactory.

2009 DuMOL Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 3,900 cases, $64. Sourced from seven cool vineyards located on the western edge of the Russian River Valley. Clones are Old Beringer, Dijon 114, 115, 667, 777, Calera, Swan and Pommard. Vine age 5 to 24 years. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · This wine was a revelation. Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely, demure aromas of dark red cherries and berries and brioche. Sinfully delicious with intense, sweet flavors of black cherries, spice and Hoison sauce. Polished and classy, seductively silky on the palate, with suede tannins and perfect integration of oak, ending with a juicy finish that lures you back to the glass. Impeccable balance. I gave my wife a taste and she grinned from ear to ear. Everything you could ask for in a Russian River Valley appellation Pinot Noir and worth every penny. Look for this wine on my 2011 All- American list.

The DuMOL Russian River Valley appellation blend is composed of 21 separate fermentation lots of free run wine only. All lots are harvested, fermented and barreled individually. Average Brix at harvest 24.6. A selection is made in July and racking and blending from barrel is done immediately pre-harvest in early September to holding tanks. The final blend settles naturally in the tanks for 3 months before bottling in December. During these 3 months, Andy says the wine harmonizes and achieves microbial stability.

The finished wine contains the more fruit-driven and concentrated lots while the more backward and structured lots go into the DuMOL vineyard-designate wines. The wine spends 11 months in barrel, 3 months in tank, and 6 months in bottle before release.

Approximately 70% of the appellation wine goes to the winery's mailing list and the balance to the market, primarily restaurants.

The concentration of the fruit in the DuMOL Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is striking and I asked Andy about this. He replied, “Our reputation for making 'over sized' wines is an old misconception based on the 2003 and 2004 vintage wines that were the result of tough, hot years. I don't know anyone in the Russian River Valley that picks earlier than us except maybe Kistler since 2009. It is just that we do much more vineyard work so the grapes are naturally more concentrated....something for which I will not apologize for!”

2008 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $60. · Moderate ruby color in the glass. Reduced aroma initially with prominent oak char opening up slowly in the glass to reveal pleasing scents of Bing cherries and spice. Full-bodied core of black cherries, black raspberries, brown spice and cola. More darkly fruited than many Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs. A Cabernet drinker’s Pinot with sturdy tannins, modest acidity, and dense, very ripe fruit. The wine had roasted fruit aromas and marked black currant and porto flavors the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Not my cup of tea. Decent.

2009 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $28. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. A mix of red and black stone fruits and berries on the nose and palate with an underpinning of earth, anise and leaf, reflecting nicely this unique terroir and clonal combination. Soft in the mouth, finishing with a dry, mildly tannic finish. More enticing over time in the glass. Good (+).

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