From Russia with love?

5 mins read

By Celia Strong

One of the more interesting questions when we’re talking about wines with someone is about Russian River wines. In speaking about wines, many people start to use abbreviations for some of the longer names and phrases. The Russian River Valley, which is located in Sonoma County, is a great source for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. For brevity’s sake, we just say, “It’s a Russian River Chard.” And, then, the question comes: “It’s from Russia?” The next five minutes or so are spent explaining wine lingo, because, no, the wine is not from Russia. With love or anything else.

So, now, we can learn about our new wine for this week. A Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. The history of this area explains its name. Russians were the first non-native residents here. From 1812 to 1841, the Russian-American Company used Fort Ross as a trading post, as rest stop for settlers going further and as a safety spot for Russian settlers in the valley. These Russian settlers were among the first to plant vineyards in Sonoma. The Gold Rush, in 1849, brought lots more people to Sonoma. But, the Russians abandoned their base in the Russian River area about 1841. The Russian River AVA was established in 1983. It is known for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. There are over 200 wineries in the AVA now. About 42% of the wines produced are Chardonnays and about 29% are Pinot Noirs. From not quite 1,000 acres of vineyards.

The AVA does not cover the entire river. Only a small segment of the valley, from near Healdsburg south to the Santa Rosa plains and Sebastopol. Chalk Hill AVA and Sonoma Green Valley AVA are both located within the Russian River AVA. The soil in the Russian River AVA was formed millions of years ago. Collisions between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, volcanic vent eruptions and eroded bedrock from huge amounts of flowing water all played their part. This soil is part sand, part limestone, part clay, part alluvial. All soil types we’ve heard of before that are good for wine grape growing. The climate in the Russian River AVA has cool mornings, with ocean breezes that help clear out the morning fogs. Nighttime temperatures can be 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit lower at night. The cool-warm-cool-warm cycle helps develop more complex flavors in the growing grapes. A longer growing season, too. Harvest in the AVA is usually later than in neighboring areas. Pinot Noirs thrive in the cooler parts of the Valley; Chardonnays in the slightly warmer.

Which gets us to our grape for this week. Finally. The title, “Queen of White Wines” can be easily understood with wines from the Russian River. These Chardonnays are a cross between the Old World style of white Burgundies like Chablis and the Côtes d’Or, lean, crisp, tight, and the New World style of California that is fuller, richer and riper. Russian River Chards have full ripe flavors, apples, pears, melons, peaches and nectarines, with a clean, bright acidity that balances out the fullness and lets the wines finish with more balance. Experts have called these Chards the best of “both worlds!”

At last, we come to our specific Russian River Chardonnay. Laguna. This wine is known for its balance between ripe fruit flavors and crisp acidity. The epitome of its source! It starts with apple, pear, quince and tangerine flavors, spreads out in your mouth with sweet Asian spices and finishes with a refreshing crispness. Most of the grapes for this wine come from the Laguna Ranch Vineyard in the Russian River AVA. A good thing, which is obvious when you taste this wine. (The truth is, if you’ve drunk several other Russian River Chardonnays, chances are you’ve tasted some Laguna Ranch Chardonnay.) Not a good thing, unfortunately, when you know there are only so many grapes from this specific vineyard. This really is not the only Russian River Chardonnay that uses these grapes. So, availability is limited. All of which means you know what. A great Chard from the Russian River, with love. For $25.97. Enjoy.

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