Some of us at weirdcombos were lucky to have a glorious weekend in the Russian River Valley over Mother’s Day. We spent the night at the funky cabin-in-a-redwood-forest of our great friends, Jocelyn and Devin, and did some wine tasting; we followed the Russian River to its delta on the Pacific near the town of Jenner; and we even bought mood rings. Good to know that my dark blue color means that I tend to be “Very Happy:” full of “Love, Passion, Romance.” Though I didn’t need a ring to tell me that since I live it most days… ha, ha, ha
The ostensible purpose of our Sonoma County weekend fun was the spring Williams Selyem wine pick-up and tasting event. I’ve written about Wms Selyem before. The spring event is the party surrounding the release of the blended pinot noirs, some whites and this year a single vineyard zinfandel. The wines on display were essentially the same as last year at this time.
Prince of Pinot devoted the latest PinoFile edition exclusively to Williams Selyem, original winemaker and co-founder, Burt Williams. It is an incredible read. Naturally the focus is pinot noir so don’t look here for much about the chardonnay, zindanfels or port. What an amazing story of a rise to fame and fortune. Really it is the “American Dream” come to life, if you can believe it.
What caught my attention and is the point of the story today, though, is the section of the article where the Prince discussed Williams attempts to locate single vineyard pinots. Those are the most famous and it sounds like Burt Williams put the idea of single vineyard designations on the California wine making map. But what does that mean about the blended wines? Here’s what the article says:
However, not every vineyard met Williams’ high standards and only the best were deemed able to stand on their own as a vineyard designate. Grapes from growers that did not fit into the Williams Selyem vineyard designate program were blended and bottled as Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley.
Well, that sure puts a fly in the ointment.
Sounds like the blends are “lesser,” no? But their cost: $37 for 2009 Sonoma County, $46 for 2009 Russian River Valley, and $69 for 2009 Westside Road Neighbors; and their availability—these are all sold out, suggest a different story altogether.
So I come away from this tasting weekend confused. Are these wines good? We thought so. I always adore the Westside Road Neighbors and we all thought that we could quaff the Russian River Valley in quantity. Or, are these inferior wines designed to prop up the winery and make money on what are essentially leftovers, similar to the secondary wines from famous Bordeaux châteaux?
2009 Sonoma County Pinot Noir: This is a translucent black cherry red with detectable oak and spices on a medium body with raspberry and some bitter earth notes.
2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: A rich translucent red, it smelled a bit like Twizzler candy or perhaps Robitussin cough syrup and cola. We all found it very drinkable. This is juicer and more fruit forward than the Sonoma County, or “Kind of what I want in a pinot.” This had a long finish that opened up spectacularly in the mouth to reveal lots of rich earth notes.
2009 Westside Road Neighbors: Chris thought this looked like a “murky translucent strawberry starburst” color. The nose was bursting with spice box, chocolate, cherry, and earth. Full of red fruit and metal notes which led to a powerful finish that was bold, mineral-rich and complex. This was my favorite.
2009 Bacigalupi zinfandel: This single vineyard zin looked like Knotts Berry Farm boysenberry syrup. On the nose we thought there was licorice and some forest floor. This thrilling wine has a lot going on. Among the many flavors on this full bodied crowd-pleaser, we detected sour cherry, raspberry, cola, earthy notes and more. Good stuff!
2009 Unoaked Chardonnay: This was an extremely pale translucent chard with floral mineral and fruity notes that tasted of Granny Smith apple with brisk acidity.
2009 Limestone Ridge at Vista Verde Chenin Blanc: This was so transparent and ultra pale that it almost appeared clear in the sunlight. It had good acid, minerality, some tingling pepper notes and a hint of crisp apple.
2010 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir: This was transparent pale pink, sort of cotton candy pink really. Full of hibiscus, raspberry and Red Zinger tea on a medium body with some fruit and mineral notes, it seemed a bit tight and less complex than we expected.
2010 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir from barrel: As I stood in the short line to sample this wine (going on Mother’s Day for the event really reduced the crowds!) I happened to overhear another customer talking with the man offering the samples. He said something like, “You guys haven’t produced an Olivet Lane pinot in a while. I think the last was in 1998.” The Wms Selyem staff member replied, “Good memory.” I’ve no idea whether or not this is true but it is wild! People are real devotees of this winery. Maybe that explains the sold out status of all the blended wines?
This was bright magenta with root beer, cured smoked meat and dried herbs on the nose. Very round, we detected cherry, raspberry with an interesting complexity. We’re excited!