Russian River Valley
The Russian River Valley, in western Sonoma, named for the eponymous river that glides its way through the appellation, is one of California's most famous wine districts. 15,000 acres of vines are planted her, ranging from Gewurztraminer and Syrah to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is these two latter varieties that are the source for the signature wines of the district. While the eastern reaches of the valley near Santa Rosa is slightly warm (and this better for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) much of the zone, from Sebastopol in the south to Windsor in the north, to Guerneville in the west, is a cool climate. Fog from the Pacific Ocean permeates most of the region and the river itself moderates temperatures.

Because of these cool temperatures (Russian River Valley has some of the coldest sites in Sonoma for grape growing), the wines are intensely flavored; indeed the Pinot Noirs have very deep colors for this variety. Both wines receive small oak aging (many are barrel fermented), which adds texture and delicate spice. Chardonnays run the flavor gamut from tropical fruit (mango and pineapple) to lime and pear, many with an attractive creaminess. Pinot Noirs are quite spicy, with flavors ranging from cola to black cherry, raspberry and strawberry, often with notes of nutmeg on the nose. These wines are delicious upon release, but have the structure to age for five to seven years, longer for the Pinot Noirs.

Zinfandel is another important variety in Russian River; the wines have good acidity, with beautiful notes of blackberry and even boysenberry in certain years. Pinot Gris is becoming important, while Gewurztraminer, made in both dry and sweet styles is also a Russian River specialty. (Wine/Appellations)