The Reign of Whites in Anderson Valley By: Laura Ness
What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you see or hear “Anderson Valley?” Your answer could reveal a lot about how long you’ve been familiar with the region. If you said “Alsatian whites,” chances are, you’re an old timer, relatively speaking. Say “Pinot Noir,” and it’s a dead giveaway you’re a relative newbie. Pinot Noir wasn’t much planted here until the 90s, with the vast majority of it post “Sideways.”
Among the first plantings in the valley was Gewürztraminer at Husch, in 1971. Navarro began planting in 1974, and in 1980, Allan Green planted Riesling at Greenwood Ridge. Thankfully, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Pinot Blanc also found a welcome home here in this bucolic vineyard reverie. In 2005, it was time to celebrate the Valley’s Alsatian roots.
Now in its 11th year, The Alsace Festival is a great excuse to stick your nose into glass after glass of sheer aromatic joy. From Anderson Valley to New Zealand, from Santa Barbara to Long Island, we tasted some zesty, floral and exciting Alsatians, and thanked the winegrowers who refused to abandon ship on these aromatic ancestors when the tide turned to Chardonnay.
Best Discoveries of Alsace Festival, 2016
2014 Barra Muscat Blanc, Mendocino – Just a hint of sweetness in this brazenly floral beauty offsets the equally brazen acidity, making this beverage one you can enjoy as an aperitif or a grande finale on a summer evening with candied ginger or almond biscotti.
2014 Bink Pinot Gris, Filigreen Vineyard – Winemaker Deb hasn’t made Pinot Gris in 5 years, but this biodynamic vineyard did her proud. Intensely juicy and mouthwatering, this is pure peachiness.
2014 Cartograph Riesling, Greenwood Ridge Vineyard – Beautiful aromatics with violets and petrol, lead to lime-zesty zippy acidity and a fragrance you can taste.
2011 Elke Vineyard Pinot Gris – Elegant as Catherine Deneuve in a white gown and sparkling diamond chandelier earrings, this is classy and classic. Mary Elke has a few cases left. Don’t wait!
2014 Girasole Pinot Blanc by Barra – Knock me over with a feather, this $15 lovely is worth every penny for its generously textured white peach core, dripping with fresh nectarine and lime zest. Succulent! The Barra’s are planting more.
2014 Handley Pinot Blanc and 2014 Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley – It’s almost impossible to choose between these two, so the best plan is to get one of each. The Blanc is slightly softer and creamier with a hint of tropical, while the Gris is zesty and spicy, packed with mouthwatering white nectarines and grapefruit.
2014 Maidenstoen Coast View Riesling – Mike Callahan is a rising star of Riesling who respects the varietal enough to leave it alone and not mash the bejeezus out of it. He is careful not to press the thick-skinned fruit too hard: he wants to avoid excess tannins. But he does allow some lees contact, and leaves about 2% RS to balance out the kiteflying lime-o-licious acidity of this particular vineyard. Just a stunning wine, as is his Zabala Vineyard effort. He, like Ryan Stirm of Stirm Wines, makes Riesling alone. God bless them!
2014 Lula Cellars Gewurztraminer – From Redwood Valley, this is highly perfumey, exuding decadent roses and alluring lily of the valley, with a hint of ginger. On the palate, it’s exotic with hints of coriander, nutmeg and lemongrass. A perfect spicy food companion.
2012 Panthea Gewurztraminer, Helluva Vineyard – Heady and very complex, this wine intrigues with notes of jasmine, white peach, pear and a finish of crème brulee. Divinely textured and extremely long of finish and impression.
2015 Philips Hill Riesling – Although winemaker/owner Toby Hill, took the time to decorate the bottle of the tank sample he pulled, this brazen newbie wine speaks for itself, precisely hitting all the notes in the upper register.
2014 Toulouse Pinot Gris – Another lipsmackingly juicy and delicately delightful effort from this ebullient local producer with the loose goose on the label. The fruit comes from Valley Foothills Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Their Gewurztraminer is also gorgeous, with grapefruit and orange zest on the finish.
2014 Wolffer Estate “Grapes of Roth” Dry Riesling, Long Island, NY — Benevolently bright with apricot and citrus and a most exciting cymbal-clang of acidity throughout, this wine surprises with alacrity from start to finish, despite its 8g/l of RS. (11.5%, 3.01pH)
2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris, Alsace – Lovely fluid texture of peach and nectarine embues this svelte charmer with the most lively and assertive finish. From the largest vineyard in Alsace.
2012 Lois SIPPS Riesling, Alsace – From an estate that has been making wine for four generations, this beauty makes a statement about balance, balance, balance. Not a foot put wrong on this tightrope walk of pleasing fruit and acidity.
2014 Lazy Creek Gewurztraminer — Lots of pretty floral notes here.
2014 Philo Ridge Gewurztraminer — A spicy, well-textured effort from the Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
2014 REIN Pinot Blanc and Riesling (Greenwood Ridge) – Lees contact and neutral oak make these native yeast fermented wines a paragon of textural interest. Both convey a distinctive vein of marzipan.
1991 Greenwood Ridge White Riesling – Poured at the winemaker’s gathering on Friday evening, this was positively the hit of the night, golden as the last rays of a summer evening and filled with rich flavors of honey-apple galette and ginger biscuits. Thanks to winemaker Allan Green for hanging onto a few bottles of this grand dame. Snag a few bottles of the 2014 and stash them.
1997 Thomas Fogarty Gewurztraminer – Baked peach cobbler with apricot marmalade and crème brulee on the finish. The current release, 2014, will probably get there.
NOTE: Lovers of Riesling should check out John Winthrop Haeger’s “Riesling Rediscovered,” available on Amazon. He was in attendance, discovering new adventures, bold, bright and dry.
Mark your calendars for next year’s event and get on the Anderson Valley Winegrower’s mailing list now, so you don’t miss the Pinot Festival coming up. Visit avwines.com
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.