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Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Wine Tasting on the Russian River

We are excited about adding central heating into our home this week. With winter coming and the freakish threat of snow today, the idea of having to start a fire to keep warm is no where near as comforting as the idea of turning a thermostat instead.

So, begins our journey in Jenner this weekend, with the ethereal sounds of French composer, Olivier Messiaen's "Vocalize" scoring the flight of the hawks and turkey vultures that soar our valley. Messiaen was an ornothologist and the flow of his compositions take you on a musical journey to the skies, climbing and descending, riding the charts of the stars.

Today is a bit overcast and a fall storm looms over Cazadero, our hillside neighbor to the east of Jenner. We make a quick dart for Shell Beach for a morning hike, one of our favorite Sonoma Coast paths that leads to a cove by the ocean. It is brisk this early December morning and a slight drizzle begins to fall as we make our way to the beach cove. We search for whales along the bluff, but the rough rise of the seas sends whitecaps spouting in all directions, making it difficult for viewing the great grey beasts.

We circle the cove, the waves breaking close to shore hammering the rocks that sends a spray of white foam exploding thirty feet into the air. Quite impressive for this time of year. We beat the heavier rain, as we reach our car and set off to Bodega Bay to visit Sammy, our favorite fisherman who has caught and cleaned two Dunganess
crabs for our dinner this evening. They are smaller then usual this year, for this season is low in abundance and we are in year two, of a seven year recovery cycle.

A crab dinner would not be complete without a fine bottle of wine, so we decide to explore a couple of newer wineries near Sebastopol and Guerneville. We drove along River Road, the grapevines bare from this years harvest and the change of the seaons. Their knotted roots lie exposed in a tangle of branches and rustic colored leaves, soon to be shed like tears to the earth, as we settle into winter.

Our first stop is Woodenhead, a small boutique winery that defines the term, "cult" wine. Their tasting menu consisted mainly of reds, a wonderful list of Zinfandel's, Pinot Noir's and a fine and delicious Carignagne. The fruit was well balanced, without the harsh tannins that often accompany wines of this varietal. The style is in the manner of the French, very earthy and full bodied with a lingering and mellow aftertaste that captures the essence of the fruit and soil combination.

Their tasting room overlooks a beautiful valley and their vineyards, where consequently, they sell their fruit to other wineries in the area. The reason we find out, is that the winemaker prefers to use grapes from cooler climates to produce the reds he has crafted and imports them from a number of areas, including Mendocino County, a great Pinot region along the north coast. We were taken by the Carignagne, and with our limited budget for wine these days, couldn't pass up the $22price. A great blend, earthy and organic with lot's of complex fruit and sensuous aftertaste. This wine is a winner.

We drove northeast towards Windsorand came across Eastside Road where we discovered the winery, "Copain". Originally formed in Santa Rosa, the owners developed and completed this wonderful piece of property and tasting room in 2008. Tucked into the Windsor hills, their tasting room was spacious, with a rustic/modern sensibility that lent itself to the special wines they were crafting. We were greeted by our server, Chris who took us down the menu to one of my favorite wines of the day, a Syrah that had the impact of a full bodied Malbec. It had a great finish that would be the perfect compliment to steak and or, lamb. The price was a little steep at $45 a bottle, but for those who are flush, I highly recommend it for a special occasion celebration. This wine rocks, as well as their Pinot's, crafted in the French style like Woodenhead, that seems to be purveying the Russian River valley these days.

With our crab beckoning our arrival home, we thought a nice Rose would be a good candidate to serve for dinner. Luckily, we found out that Copain offered a limited production Rose that turned out to be superb for the price of $15 a bottle. Needless to say, we were pleased with the fruit pallete and the dryness of the blend and it took our imaginations back to the small cafe's along the Seine, where we enjoyed a glass of Rose with our lunch each day while visiting Paris. Who says Rose is only good for hot summer days, we found this wine to be the perfect compliment for a fall afternoon tasting!

That in itself, was worth the price of admission and the start of a wonderful winter season.

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