Wine of the week: River Road Stephanie's Cuvee Pinot Noir

This bright and tangy pinot noir has striking red fruit, layered with notes of cedar and smoke.|

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. In some retail shops you can find this bottling for $18.

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.”

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