What’s the secret behind a great Thanksgiving pinot noir?
The fog, of course. Vineyards that are blanketed in it on summer nights create some of the best pinot noirs on the planet.
Our fog-savvy wine-of-the-week winner is the River Road, 2014, Stephanie’s Cuvee, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir at $25.
The Stephanie’s Cuvee is a bright and tangy pinot noir, which makes it a perfect Thanksgiving pick. It has striking red fruit — cherry, raspberry and strawberry jam. It’s also layered with notes of cedar and smoke.
But what makes it a standout at this price point is its pitch perfect balance.
Joe Freeman, 45, has been the winemaker at Sebastopol’s River Road Family Vineyards & Winery since 2003.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota, College of Agricultural Sciences in 1995 with a BS in Science in Agriculture.
The house style Freeman crafts with Stephanie’s Cuvee is a decidedly less dense, more food-friendly pinot noir. He’s targeting lower alcohol levels to avoid a heavy palate weight and unbalanced sweetness.
“Delicate structure, bright acidity and ‘just-ripe’ fruit aromas and flavors are the goal,” Freeman explained. “We focus on even ripening and consistent vigor in the vineyard and strive to pick the grapes once they are expressing juicy cherry and berry flavors with ripe tannins. Subtle savory and sweet barrel highlights complement the flavors from the grapes.”
The Stephanie’s Cuvee benefited greatly from the 2014 vintage.
“Even by Sonoma County standards, 2014 was a great growing season,” Freeman said. “Yields were in balance with the strength of the vineyard, and spring and summer conditions were ideal for development of flavors and tannins. Although we were in the middle of a drought, our Goldridge soils have plenty of deep water reserves, and the vineyard was healthy throughout the growing season. The resulting grapes were concentrated and vibrant.”
But what gave these Green Valley grapes an edge was that they were bathed in fog.
“Green Valley of Russian River Valley is especially well suited to pinot noir winegrowing,” Freeman said. “Pinot noir thrives in cooler climates.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Thanksgiving pinot noirs
River Road, 2014 Stephanie’s Cuvee, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.3%, $25 ★★★★
This is a bright and tangy pinot noir, which makes it a perfect Thanksgiving pick. It has striking red fruit -- cherry, raspberry and strawberry jam. It’s also layered with notes of cedar and smoke. But what makes it a standout at this price point is its pitch perfect balance.
Anaba, 2014 Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $38. ★★★★1/2: This is a complex pinot with gorgeous red fruit — cherry and a hint of red raspberry — coupled with bright acidity. It also has great minerality, and finishes crisp. A knockout Thanksgiving pinot.
Siduri, 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 14.3%, $24. ★★★★: This is a pretty pinot noir that’s also edgy. It has bright raspberry fruit and crisp acid. It also has savory flavors of mushroom and smoke. All of this makes it a smart pick for your feast. Well crafted.
Three Sticks, 2014 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $65. ★★★★: This is a pinot with a racy streak of wild raspberry running through it. What sets it apart is its depth and lush texture. Great with the meal, and equally impressive solo.
Sea Smoke TEN, 2013 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $119. ★★★★1/2: This is a dense and earthy pinot that has red and black fruit. Complex, with a range of flavors — black cherry, blueberry, dried herbs and mushroom. Best to drink solo because it would overwhelm the meal.
Garnet Vineyards, 2014 Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, 14.4%, $36. ★★★1/2: A treat for Thanksgiving because it’s a bright and lively food wine. It trumpets tangy red fruit — cherry and strawberry -— with notes of mineral and white pepper. Lovely.