- James Knight
WINTER WHITE Daffodils blooming at Handley Cellars means it's time for winter white wine (Alsace) in Anderson Valley.
The little wine weekend formerly known as the International Alsace Varietals Festival is back from its "gap year." And, if chardonnay's your thing, the rechristened Winter White Wine Festival is better than ever.
Held in February, down a long and twisty drive from the rest of Wine Country and celebrating a bunch of misfit grapes, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hatched this unlikely event as a counterpoint to the growing success of their pinot noir. The varietal stars of this sideshow are gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris—white, aromatic wines traditional to the Alsace region of France. They're a big part of the valley's heritage, but they're being rooted out by the red king of burgundy.
"You can't have a festival with six producers," says Joe Webb, winemaker at Foursight Wines. So, the winegrowers changed the rules to include all white wines—chardonnay, viognier, ribolla gialla.
Now, Foursight can join their neighbors and show off their estate-grown 2018 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($27), which should pique the interest of Loire buffs with its stone-dust and stone-fruit aromas, with a twist of lime.
Up the street, new-kid-in-town Bee Hunter Wine balances their pinot-noir menu with a leesy, grapefruity sauvignon blanc, but also a slightly fizzy 2015 Wiley Vineyards Riesling ($24) that cofounder Ali Nemo says is a particularly big hit among the wine-bar trendsters of San Francisco.
Frizzante or not, most riesling in the valley is dry, not sweet. That's still big news for most visitors, says Natacha Durandet of Phillips Hill Winery. They come in with old "Blue Nun" wine stereotypes from the 1970s, but after tasting the juicy-but-subdued 2018 Anderson Valley Riesling ($26), say, "Wow, this is not sweet; this is nice."
Early birds get the scoop on riesling Saturday morning, when John Winthrop Haeger, author of Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright, and Dry, leads a panel discussion and wine flight on the question, "Why Riesling?"
"Some wine-grape varieties have relatively uncomplicated stories and there is consensus about their attributes," Haeger explains. "For better or worse, this is not true of riesling. Its history and attributes are longer stories. The panelists will be asked how those longer stories affect riesling's image, popularity, marketability and economic viability."
Newfound riesling fiends will be pleased that the Grand Tasting still brings in notable producers from places afar, including Germany, Finger Lakes, Central Coast and Oregon.
Winter White Wine Festival is Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 22–23, at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14400 Hwy. 128, Boonville. 9:15am to 3pm. Tasting, $95; seminar, $50. www.avwines.com.