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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

By James Knight

First, there are no vineyards. Second, there is no Gary Farrell. But in this case, the nominal vintner is no historical figure, no humble vineyard toiler called home by his maker a century ago. Rather, after distinguishing himself as one of the new maestros of the Russian River Valley and building his dream winery in 2000, Farrell-the-real was soon called by wine and spirits maker Allied Domecq to trade his name for earthly rewards. Yes, Gary Farrell has left the building to focus on artisan-scale projects, while the winery that bears his name enjoys a merry-go-round of corporate owners. But no matter. It's evident in the way our host sets up our glasses while looking with a thousand-yard-stare over our shoulders for the next tour bus that this out-of-the-way tasting room is as popular as ever. We prefer to look over his shoulder at the excellent view.

He tells us that the overlords don't mess with Farrell's recipe, never picking grapes over 24 degrees brix. The result is refined wines that are uniformly light-bodied and crisp. For some, they're a brilliant answer to overblown wines, but not for everyone. The flight of Chardonnays are remarkably similar—pale gold, lightly buttery; the Pinots varied only within a tight range. On a previous visit, my host had explained that the significant acidity meant these are food wines, meant to be enjoyed with food. With only a basket of water crackers to go on, one has to stretch the imagination here. Perhaps, even run off on a tangent. . . .

There's a trend among wine reviewers to proffer detailed, almost clairvoyant food pairings. I'll do my best to call upon the same great spirit that guides them. The 2005 Russian River Valley Cresta Ridge Chardonnay ($38) showed a saltwater taffy aroma; enjoy it now with crostini and brie. The 2005 RRV Westside Farms Chardonnay's ($38) creamy butter and medium toast calls for linguine with clams. Tart cherries and green stems inform the 2005 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir ($42). Open now for a spring salad with chèvre, or cellar until winter, for winter greens.

The 2005 Carneros Ramal Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) differs, offering hints of toffee, raspberry perfume and light plum; decant for sage-rubbed venison. The 2005 RRV Starr Ridge Pinot Noir ($50) offers a cinnamon twist to the smooth, efficient finish; cellar for one year minimum before serving with pan-roasted, fresh-caught salmon and wild rice (if local salmon still unavailable, cellar another year). Serve the bright blackberry jelly and black pepper 2005 RRV Collins Zinfandel ($40) cool with roasted wild boar au jus, baked plums and a side of Peruvian purple potatoes au gratin. Sizzling with sweet citrus, chill the 2006 Sonoma County Redwood Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($25), add a Cointreau float and have a happy Cinco de Mayo!

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, 10701 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Tasting fee, $5-$15. Open daily, 11am to 4pm. 707.473.2900.

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