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Small Sips of the Russian River Valley

My personal experience shows that the Russian River Valley provides a very consistent range of Pinot Noirs from a multitude of producers. Over the past couple of months I sampled the fifteen different wines below, most of which were from the 2006 vintage and are current releases. Although the Alcina, Dehlinger and Talisman were my clear favorites, all of the wines can be recommended with one exception.

2006 Holdredge Wren Hop Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $34. · Bright aromas of Bing cherry and dried flowers. Light in weight but a good attack of cherry and cranberry fruit. with overtones of dried herbs. Cleansing acidity on the slightly tart and citrus finish. Decent.

2006 Alcina Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 729 cases, $35. This label is one of the best of the little known producers of California Pinot Noir. The winemaker is Richard Davis (Londer, CalStar, Halleck). · This wine has it all. Lighter reddish-purple in color. Attractive aromas of cherries and baking spice including nutmeg and allspice which pick up intensity in the glass. The flavors follow in step and the wine delivers restrained tannins and a lingering finish. As the French say, “C’est top!” The Alcina wines are sold through a mailing list at

2006 Wes Mar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $35. · Light ruby in color. The nose is reserved but offers pleasant confected cherry aromas. Restrained red cherry fruit and a long cherry-driven finish lasting more than 20 seconds. Fairly delicate with bright acidity. Still young and a bit reticent now, picking up interest and flavor with time in the glass. A quite nice wine that shows off Pinot’s demure side.

2006 Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $40. This label, owned by partners Mark Ketcham and Steve Rigisich and vinified by winemaker Michael Browne (Kosta Browne), is relatively new but has been impressive. · Dark reddish-purple robe. Deep aromas of black cherry liquor with dried herbs, hay, and subtle oak char. Nice black cherry fruit core presented with restraint. Light and soft in the mouth, finishing with gossamer tannins. Very good.

2006 O’Connell O’Connell Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $43. · Showy black cherry and black current aromas with a hint of sherry. A strange wine with stemmy fruit, oak, and medicinal (iodine) flavors. Soft in the mouth with fine tannins. With air, port flavors emerge. Disappointing. ? bad, oxidized bottle.

2006 Brogan Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., $45. · Medium-dark reddish-purple color. Complex and interesting nose which changes in the glass. It begins with black cherry, plum, and a hint of oak spice and adds grilled meat scents over time. Blacker fruits, including black raspberry and some raisin are dominant. Finishes clean with a citrus-laden finish. With time in the glass, more oak peeks out.

2006 Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $45. · A haunting perfume of warm Bing cherry tart. Bright red cherry, cola and a hint of spice including cinnamon. Light in weight, even a bit too shallow, but smooth from start to finish. An easy drinker, but lacks excitement. Tasted twice.

2006 Whetstone Pleasant Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $50. · A nose of some interest featuring red Pinot fruits, toast, farmyard, pickle, and floral scents. Cherry-driven with a bit of cherry candy, spice, vanilla, and char. Soft with slippery tannins. Perfectly decent.

2006 Rochioli Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $70. This wine was discovered on the bottom shelve at a BevMor store (a discount wine retailer in California) - astonishing considering the pedigree. · This wine needs patience currently. The aromas open slowly exhibiting black cherry, strawberry, forest floor, and hickory. Earthy and plumy on the palate with a touch of savory herbs. Elegant and silky with a short finish. Good but not great.

2005 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $39. · The nose is the star here, drawing you in with heavenly Bing cherry, exotic spices and vanilla. The fruit is a bit shallow and watered- down. There is some attractive oak spice and the tannins are fine-grained. The wine finishes with a tart citrus impression.

2005 Dehlinger Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., $65. · Now this is what I’m talking about. Red cherry pie aromas with a friendly oak influence. Delicious redder fruits with a little root beer and rhubarb added for interest. Embraces and surrounds the tongue with flavor. Light and elegant with barely detectable tannins. The balance is dead on. Perfect in every way, reminiscent of Comte de Vogue 1er Chambolle Musigny. Who says you can’t make Burgundy in the USA? You want some of this (sold through mailing list only). The website is and phone is 707-823-2378.

2005 Littorai Mays Canyon Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $65. · Darker fruits from start to finish with prominent notes of herbs and wildflowers on the nose and oak and smoke on the palate. The tannins are reigned in, the wine is light on its feet, but the finish lacks intensity and length..

2003 Rochioli Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc.. · Dark red stone fruits with dried herbs run through from start to finish. Nice finesse, yet a solid tannic structure with brisk acidity on the finish. Very drinkable.

2003 Talisman Ted’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 259 cases. Scott Rich crafts this wine from Ted Klopp’s vineyard. · Lighter crimson color. Complex scents of cherries, old oak, prune and chimney. Yummy and comforting black cherry and cherry cola flavors with a hint of raisin. Smooth and satisfying. This wine rocked the next day from a re-corked open bottle - smooth as silk with plenty of spice including cinnamon - a hallmark of Talisman Pinot Noirs and a sign that this one has several good years of life ahead. The Talisman wines are sold through a mailing list and on the website.

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