Swirl n’ Spit

Swirl n’ Spit

All Along the Wine Road

By Heather Irwin

Several times a year, the Russian River Wine Road folks–the umbrella arm for many of the wineries in the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys–roll out the red carpet for coordinated winetasting weekends. This weekend, Nov. 4­5, nearly 60 wineries throw open their doors and put out the plastic forks, serving up slim pours of their newest releases, along with food pairings that range from cookies (ho hum) to lamb shanks (all right!). For the price of a $60 ticket, you get a glass, winetasting to your heart’s content, a few nibbles along the way and, if you’ve really made a concentrated effort, a nasty headache the next morning.

After years of experience, I’ve learned the following when it comes to tasting weekends and tasting day-trips in general (take notes, you’ll thank me later): plan your route, plan your route, spit once in a while and, oh, plan your damn route! There is absolutely nothing worse than wandering down vomit-inducing country roads with no idea where you’re going, pulling into appointment-only wineries (or worse, someone’s house) and then running out of gas 10 miles from nowhere. Plan to taste at no more than four or five wineries (six tops) in a day; any more and you’ll be hurting. Here are some doable itineraries for this weekend, or any other that you might be touring the Russian River area. Happy drinking.

The Healdsburg Loop: The wineries are catching on–bring the wine, and the people will drink. In quaint Healdsburg, tasting rooms are cropping up faster than you can say “Bottoms up.” A good tour, in this order, is Lake Sonoma, Thumbprint Cellars, Gallo, Rosenblum Cellars, Arista, Holdredge and Sapphire Hill (they share a tasting room), Camelia and the new La Crema tasting room downtown. All are located within walking distance of the downtown square. Grab lunch or dinner at the Oakville Grocery or the Healdsburg Grill.

Windsor Westward: There’s a bit of driving to be done on this loop, but there’s some lovely scenery and great wine along the way. Look for terrific Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. Exit Highway 101 North at Mark West Springs Road, and follow the map (available at www.wineroad.com) to the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. From there, go to Martinelli, La Crema (not usually open to the public), Sunce, Iron Horse and Korbel.

Russian River North: This is one of my favorite drives, with a mixed bag of varietals, from Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc to sparkling wines and Zinfandel. Exit Highway 101 at Old Redwood Highway and travel north. In this order, visit J Winery, Rodney Strong, Acorn Winery, Alderbrook, Pezzi King and Hop Kiln.

Dry Creek: Amazingly beautiful, especially on a sunny day, and best known for Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Exit Highway 101 North at Dry Creek Road. Grab lunch at the Dry Creek General Store, then head to Passalacqua, Lambert Bridge, Michel-Schlumberger (not usually open to the public) and Bella Vineyards. Cross Yoakim Bridge Road and head southward, visiting Papapietro on your way back to the freeway.

Alexander Valley: From the far northern reach of Sonoma County’s wine region, back down south, this area is best known for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Exit Highway 101 North at Canyon Road, hitting Geyser Peak and Pedroncelli. Cross back east to Locals, Mosaic, Stryker Sonoma, Alexander Valley Vineyards and Hanna Winery.

For more details, go to www.wineroad.com.

From the November 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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