Wine Regions

The Hidden Gems of Russian River Valley – Sonoma County

Zinfandel - Russian River Valley Wine Region - The Good Gourmet

When asked about my favorite wine region, I immediately thought about Russian River Valley.

As a budding Sommelier and passionate wine student, I have tasted many wines from many regions, but Russian River Valley will always have a special place in my heart and on my palate. I love the diversity of varietals grown there and how expressive the wines are of the microclimates.

Russian River Valley is located in the heart of Sonoma County, in Northern California about 55 miles north of San Francisco. The Russian River itself is why the region has such a unique climate. It is warm, dry and sunny during the day, but overnight the region is cooled by the ocean breeze and coastal fog that is pulled inland by the river.

The area was explored by Russians in the 1700-1800s, and gained its AVA status in 1983. It now has more than 70 established vineyards, many of which are run by families who have owned and farmed the land for generations. The wineries range from large distributors to micro-wineries owned by husband and wife teams.

The wines crafted in Russian River Valley showcase individual winemakers and the vineyards they came from. Winemakers there are cutting edge, and you can taste the creativity expressed in the wines. From single varietal classics to unique blends to untraditional sparkling wines, there is a little bit of everything in Russian River Valley.

These wines show versatility and the ability to age, and the variation from vintage to vintage is incredible. Between the fog, the rain, the droughts and the fires, Russian River Valley wines are reflective of the fluctuation of the
weather patterns in Sonoma County.

There is a range of different varietals grown in Russian River Valley. While the region has built a spectacular reputation for growing and producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, many other varietals thrive there. Gewürztraminer, for example, grows very well in the climate Russian River Valley provides. It is a rare gem to find, but a few producers still make small batches in a range of styles from sparkling, to off-dry, to dessert-style. I love how Gewürztraminer is refreshing to the palate with a touch of spice. It is perfect to sip in the garden on a warm spring afternoon or to serve with fresh sashimi. Rich foods also pair very nicely with this wine.

Syrah and Petite Sirah from this region have a rare delicacy to them, while bringing complex structure, tannins and deep blue and black fruit, spice and a touch of acidity to the table. This is the wine to snuggle up with by the fire. What I love most about both these wines is how they engage the entire palate from start to finish. I crave Syrah and Petite Sirah when the weather cools down; they are my favorite winter wines. Duck, lamb and roasted root vegetables are some of my favorites to enjoy alongside a big glass.

Sauvignon Blanc grown there has just the right amount of brightness, acidity and crisp, refreshing green and yellow fruit with hints of fresh herbal notes. It reminds me of being on a freshly cut lawn on a hot summer day. The bright citrus on Sauvignon Blanc is what I seek when the weather is consistently warm and dry. It pairs wonderfully with ceviche, watermelon feta salad and shrimp kabobs off the grill.

Zinfandel shows its elegant side with the perfect balance of pepper, berry and spice. It often needs some time to age, but is very versatile with food pairings because of their lean, juicy profile. Pepper is prominent on the palate of these cool-climate Zinfandels. It is the wine I remember my mother drinking as I grew up. No wonder I love it so much. A big piece of marbled ribeye, classic barbecue or an extravagant cheese and charcuterie board are excellent companions to these wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon is expressive from start to finish, with a wonderful highlight of the terroir and gentle tannins. It is a more delicate style of Cabernet than those made in hotter climates. I find it more enjoyable because it does not overpower the senses while expressing the full essence of Cabernet Sauvignon. Meaty stews and hearty roasts are my favorite style dishes to enjoy with Russian River Valley Cabernet.

Russian River Valley is full of hidden gems, with winemakers who are trying new things as well as perfecting classic styles. The wines are complex, reflecting the climate of the region, and have a wonderful ability to age while retaining their character. I highly recommend this area for anyone’s wine travel itinerary.

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