One of the aspects of California wine I enjoy the most is the variety of wine produced in the state. You can go from hot and flat AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that produce fruit-forward deep reds to high-elevation spots with a cooler climate for growing austere white wines. For every wine lover out there, there is an AVA and varietal waiting for you. I am particularly partial to Pinot Noir, and while I have tasted some delicious and high quality Pinots from throughout California (namely the “true Sonoma Coast” and the St. Lucia Highlights), I found Anderson Valley’s understated Pinot Noir to be the perfect mix of bright red fruit, healthy acid and a hint of salty earthiness that makes for an easy drinking yet complex wine. Established in 1983, the Anderson Valley AVA is located in Mendocino County, 10 – 15 miles from the coast. One of the coolest regions in California, Anderson Valley has foggy mornings followed by sunny warm afternoons, with large diurnal swings in temperature.
Back in August, Hubby and I made our way from the eclectic village of Mendocino to Anderson Valley. Driving through a redwood forest, we quickly found ourselves passing understated signs for family-owned vineyards and wineries along Highway 128. I was very happy to be able to pop into a winery without a reservation or bumper to bumper traffic as can be the case in Sonoma or Napa.
We were the only visitors at our first stop, Phillips Hill Vineyards. The tasting room is in the bottom on an adorable apple dryer barn, surrounded by lavender plants and apple and pear trees. We were very impressed with each wine offered. One of the most memorable wines we tasted was the one string Bootnling Pinot Noir — a steal at $29 a bottle. It had notes of red berry, smokey chalk, mushroom, and bitter aromatics. Phillips Hill has several vineyards in Anderson Valley, and in other areas of Mendocino County, including Surprise Valley and Mendocino Ridge. They all range is various degrees of coastal access, fog, elevation, with loam soil, sandstone, and fractured shale. The resulting wines reflect a variety of terroir, and in general were a lighter, well-balanced Pinot Noir, void of the overly ripe, heavy-handed treatment that sometimes creep up in Russian River Valley wines.
Our second stop was only five minutes away at Toulouse Vineyards. Twenty acres of Pinot Noir (cover photo) and one acre of Riesling are grown right on the property. We were warmly greeted and began our tasting. We especially loved the two string 2011 Estate Pinot Noir ($50), which was ruby in color with a slight orange tint; notes of dark red berry, vegetable, and the distinct marine layer flavor mixed with a sandy/gravelly note. Delicious! Toulouse wines are refined and round in taste. We were only half way through the tasting when we were already discussing joining the winery. We took a few of the tastings outside to enjoy the relaxed view of the valley from the porch.
The last Pinot we tried was the one string Foursight Zero Oak Pinot ($39). I picked it up at the Anderson Market and Liquor (along with some tasty sandwiches).The “Zero Oak” means that no new oak is used in the maturation of the wine, giving it a unique taste, focused solely on the taste of the grape. I could see on a hot summer day sipping it chilled by the pool, like a rose. The color is pale ruby, with a slight garnet hue, and it has a beautiful bouquet of bright red cherry, strawberry, and watermelon, with a hint of lavender and sweet spice. It has med plus tart acid, mixed with red cherry, lime rind, and a bitter aftertaste.
There are many wineries we left off our tasting list that day, if only to give me a reason to return. When searching for a Pinot Noir, I’ll be looking out for Anderson Valley!