Davis Bynum River West Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley
Cost: $24-26
S ometimes it seems I come across several wines from the same region all at the same time. Whether it’s serendipity, marketing campaigns or luck, lately I have tasted many great Russian River Valley wines.
The region in Sonoma County, California, is known for its cool-climate wines such as pinot noir and chardonnay, but there are some warm parts of the valley producing nice syrah and zinfandel.
According to the Russian River growers trade group 42 percent of the grapes harvested in the region are chardonnay, so that’s what we will look at today.
The Davis Bynum River West Chardonnay is a great example of the wine produced in the Russian River Valley. It is full bodied with crisp acidity balancing the rich fruit. It is the kind of wine that is nice to sip by itself, but really comes to life with a good meal.
It is a beautiful pale yellow in the glass with apple, floral and citrus aromas. On the palate it opens with a tasty brioche and baking spices mixed with a creamy mouthfeel. The long, lush finished is balanced by the acidity. Sometimes sipping this wine is almost like biting into a crisp apple or a peach.
Winemaker Gret Morthole uses a hands-off approach in making this wine. His influence is in blending his favorite blocks and six clones from the River West Vineyard to produce a wine that expresses the characteristics of where the grapes were grown.
The wine was fermented with native yeasts and native malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels, 27 percent new. The sparing use of new oak and the sur lie aging and monthly batonnage smooths out the mouthfeel and coats the bright acidity. It is a thoroughly delightful wine with everything in balance.
The Russian River Valley got its name from the first non-native settlers of Sonoma County, the Russians who were there during 1812-1841. At some point they planted grape vines. When the Russians all left in 1841, returning to their colony in Alaska, immigrants from other wine-producing European countries built on the Russians’ early efforts.
The valley is cooled by Pacific Ocean fog blowing through the Petaluma Wind Gap across the coastal hills. Temperatures can drop as much as 35-40 degrees at night from daytime highs. This helps grapes ripen slowly and evenly, developing distinctive flavors.
Winery: Davis Bynum is an iconic figure in Russian River Valley wines. He was one of the early believers in the valley and his winery was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from that area in 1973.
He originally wanted to produce wine in Napa Valley when he bought a 26-acre vineyard in Napa, planning to build a winery. Construction restrictions caused him to look at Sonoma County where he found an 84-acre piece of land in 1973. That became Davis Bynum Winery.
Bynum’s first career was as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. His father bought a vineyard and Davis was a frequent visitor there. He started making wine at home in small batches before creating a winery in a warehouse in Albany, California.
The single vineyard pinot he made in 1973 was from grapes he bought from his neighbor, Rochioli Vineyards. Most of the Rochioli grapes were going into jug wines because no one thought much of Sonoma pinot. But Bynum knew the pinot vines loved the soil and the climate and were producing spectacular grapes.
Gary Farrell became Bynum’s winemaker in 1978. He stayed on even after launching his own winery.
I was introduced to the Davis Bynum wines (and Gary Farrell wines) about 25 years ago by Alex Heck, a friend who works for Wine Direct selling interesting wines. The wines were great and on a trip to California he took me to meet Bynum and Farrell. So I have long had a warm spot in my heart for both wineries.
Davis was known for his innovation, planting vines and seeing what worked and what didn’t. He also was an early adopter of organic farming and protecting the environment. Part of what helped establish his reputation was his relationships with growers all over the valley. He knew where the great grapes were and worked with those growers.
Over the years the rest of the world discovered the great wines of Russian River, so as the valley’s reputation grew, so did Bynum’s. The valley became an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983 and was enlarged in 2005.
He sold the winery in 2007 to his hand-picked successor, Tom Klein of Rodney Strong Wine Estates. The Klein family are fourth-generation California farmers who shared the same values and principles Bynum built his own reputation on. Even in retirement, Bynum continued to be a part of the winery. He died late last year.
Davis Bynum produces several outstanding pinot noirs, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
Micheala and Michael looked like they were having fun during dinner.
Goes with: We had this lush wine with broiled lobster tails, one of the easiest and tastiest meals to make in the summer. The key to this meal is watching to see when grocery stores put lobster tails on sale.
Whenever I see a good sale I buy several and freeze them. They keep nicely and retain their rich taste.
There are several easy ways to cook them, but usually I broil them in the oven. Just split the lobster tail along the hard shell with kitchen shears and pull the meat out, leaving it attached at the end of the tail. Put the meat on top of the shell, sprinkle with lemon juice and paprika, and then broil for several minutes until the meat turns white and the shell bright red.
Small tails will cook in 3-4 minutes, but larger tails might take 8-10 minutes. We serve lobster with small bowls of melted butter. When I cut off a piece I sprinkle more lemon juice on it and dunk it in butter.
It’s a great taste made even better by the powerful and refreshing Davis Bynum chardonnay. Each sip makes you want to take another bite and each bite makes you want to take another sip.
We added baked potatoes and a salad and had a feast.
This wine also would pair well with creamy cheeses, vegetable risotto, grilled halibut, or just about any seafood dish, including those with cream sauces.

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