I have to confess that my favorite “wine country” in California is not Napa or Sonoma, not even Santa Barbara, but Mendocino County and more specifically, the Anderson Valley. I don’t get up there very often these days as it is a bit of a trek, more than three hours away, but I am often telling visitors that this is the place to go for its scenery, food and wine.
After making your way through the redwoods, a good 20 minutes of winding roads (Warning: Either make sure you're behind the wheel or take Dramamine, but not both) you will be minutes away from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, where a pint of the Boont Amber — or if you like, Oatmeal Stout — is mandatory.
Have one beer, and when you are OK to drive, head up to the town of Mendocino, a small nucleus on the ocean that is about 15 minutes away. Here you need to check out Café Beaujolais, one of my all-time favorite restaurants, which has an excellent selection of local wines. By the way, there are several charming bed and breakfasts in town as well as luxurious places to stay such as the Stevenswood and Albion Inn just minutes away.
Now that I have convinced y’all that in spite of the spectacular, albeit challenging, drive for those of us who suffer from travel sickness, Mendocino is the place for a weekend getaway. Now let’s talk about the wine.
I’m going to focus on the Anderson Valley, but there are other areas in Mendocino County that make wine as well. Unlike most other valleys, which usually trap heat, the ocean fog rolls over Mendocino and descends into the valley, creating a unique, cool microclimate that is suitable for pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, gewürztraminer and sparkling wine. While it is best known for pinot noir, I’m going to suggest three white wines today.
Handley Gewürztraminer, 2006
Milla Handley realized this more than a quarter century ago when she made her first Handley wine, and she has become an icon for others who have since made wine in the Anderson Valley. This gewürztraminer is textbook new world gewürz made incredibly well with tangerine, orange fruit, apricots, spice and a hint of lychee nut.
Suggested retail: $17
Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, 2006
In addition to having a very serious amateur baseball team, Greenwood Ridge is one of the most established wineries in Mendocino, having been founded in 1980. Made with 20 percent semillon and aged in French oak barrels, their semillon is one of the Anderson Valley’s most unique white wines. Grassy, with a hint of semillon’s waxiness, vanilla and tinges of honey and citrus, this is a very enjoyable wine to drink.
Suggested retail: $18
Scharffenberger Cellars Brut, NV
This winery has had quite a history. Founded in 1981 by John Scharffenberger, who went on to chocolate fame, it was sold to Veuve Clicquot, who changed the name to Pacific Echo and then sold again to Maison Marques & Domaines, who changed the name back to Scharffenberger. Nonetheless, the wine has remained tried and true and for the money — you cannot ask for a better sparkling wine made in California. Delicate and a little bit yeasty with vanilla, almond cream and briochelike flavors, keep this in mind for holiday celebrations. Suggested retail: $21
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.