Wine tasting in the Russian River (again)

Last year, Mike and I took a short trip to the wine country and went wine tasting in the Russian River Valley, in addition to other areas. This year, we decided to repeat ourselves, though vary our locations a little bit. Still, our third day had us traveling from Freestone, where we’d had an enzyme bath, to Windsor, where we were staying for the night. The easiest (or at least, most fun) way to do it is by driving through the Russian River wine country, and then we (I) might as well wine taste. Of course, this time I chose wineries I hadn’t visited on my previous visits to the region, and only visited three of them.


martin ray wineryI started by going to Martin Ray winery, a medium-size winery (they produce about 250,000 cases a year) with a modest tasting room (indeed, you’d expect more for their size). The servers were very friendly, however, and we had a good time. I found their wines to be nice and smooth, but not very challenging. In general, they needed more character.

I liked the 2005 Pinot Gris ($20), which was neither sweet nor dry and had a medium body, and appreciated the oak in the 2006 Chardonnay ($20), which was also balanced and fruity. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) tasted young as did the 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, their 1 liter Jug table wine ($15), made of 8 different grapes, was very drinkable and smooth, and would go well with pasta.

I tend to not go to wineries with tasting fees of over $5 – while I understand the need for the wineries to control their costs, I’m not willing to pay a fourth of what a very nice bottle wine would cost, for small tastes of a few wines that may not even be very good. But I made an exception for J. I’d seen their wine before and I was curious as to how they were. In all, I did like the two sparkling wines I tasted but was less fond of the still wines.

j.jpgJ charges a tasting fee of $10 for a flight of 4 pre-set wines. They also offer pairings with cheeses and foods starting at $35. The pours were pretty generous, about 1/4th of a glass. The glasses, however, had a very narrow opening and the rim hit your nose when you were trying to drink from them. Not good glass engineering.
We started with the J Cuvee 20 ($32), which I liked a lot. It was very bubbly, smooth and well balanced, perhaps slightly sweet for a brut, without being too acidic. I thought the 1999 J Vintage Brut ($50) was unusual, with a brioche-like finish, definitely a wine that spoke of food. It was heavier than the preceding one, more substantial. Mike liked it, he thought it developed as you drank it.
The still wines were less successful (they needed some bubbles!). The 2006 J Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley ($40) presented you with a bouquet of flowers, which faded into oak and then into nothingness. The 2005 Pinot Noir ($65) was well balanced, smooth and even oaky, but it was too weak for my preference. I thought it’d be overwhelmed by food.
The winery itself is pretty nice. The tasting room is located in a modernistic building, with an outside patio (where you can do the wine/cheese tasting) overlooking a marshy pond.
foppiano wineryFinally, we went to Foppiano, which was the worst winery we visited in Sonoma County. Indeed, was it not for the low quality of the Lake Country wineries, it would have been the worst winery of our trip. And indeed, it seems that Foppiano has a reputation for bad wines (or at least bad tastings), as when we mentioned it to one of the people we met at another winery, he said he’d had corked after corked wine there. That was not our issue. We just found the wines to be weak and unimpressive, young and cheap-tasting. At least the tastings are complimentary.
The winery itself is very modest, the tasting room is located in what looks like a house. The two servers were very nice, and they knew quite a bit about the winery but less about wine. The winery is said to be the oldest family run winery in Sonoma, having been established in 1896. The wine is carried by all major distributors and is available everywhere, though you have to wonder why.
We started with the 2007 Pinot Grigio ($12), which was very light and gave me no reason to drink it. The 2006 FV Pinot Noir ($28) was also light, though drinkable – very overpriced for what it was. The FV lot 96 ($12), a non-vintage blend of 7 grapes had no complexity, no tanins, acid or oak. It was very drinkable, but I wasn’t sure why you’d bother. The 2004 Cabernet ($17.50) was also very weak, as was the 2005 FV Petite Syrah ($25). They were both non-offensive, however.
That was it for our Russian River Valley tastings. We then headed to Healdsburg for lunch, and tasting at just one other winery – and then we went to our b&b in Windsor for some r&r. But trip after trip (this was my fourth trip to the Russian River Valley – I didn’t blog about my 2nd), I think I’ll end up visiting all the wineries in the valley.
Russian River Valley Wine Tasting I
Russian River Valley Wine Tasting III

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