Gary Farrell, Master of Balance

Wow! We were perusing the wine list at a local wine bar when we saw, “Alysian by Gary Farrell.”

What?? What’s this new name from a winemaker we’ve been following for years?

If you’re a Pinot Noir lover, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 10 years, you’ve seen Gary Farrell’s name on some of the top-rated and best-selling Pinot’s coming out of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The winery he used to own, perched high on a wooded hillside overlooking the river, produced some absolutely classic Pinot Noir that helped define the style for this Northern California appellation.

But we knew that he sold his name-sake winery in 2004, and hadn’t been heard from since…until the non-compete clause was satisfied. So that’s why I ran into “Alysian by Gary Farrell.”gary

And I was I glad I did. I haven’t enjoyed such classic Pinot in a long time.

This wine, the 2008 Alysian Russian River Selections Pinot Noir, is part of Gary’s new project. But it’s not exactly new — over the past three decades, Gary has forged links with all the finest grape growers in the valley, and established a reputation that puts him at the top of his class. So when he wanted to go back to his roots, making small-lot, super-premium wines fromĀ  the best vineyards, he just needed to pick up the phone…

In the Russian River Selection, he uses fruit from five great Russian River vineyards, including the Richioli and Allen vineyards. And the style is as classic as the vineyards.

The nose set the tone with delicate aromas of black cherry pie filling and baked caramel. Now I know that sounds pretty rich, but you have to understand the style — you get all these rich “goodies” wrapped up in a restrained, balanced package.

The palate revealed more. My first sip gave me a burst of bright black cherry fruit, and the acid kicked in right behind it. There was no “tooty-fruity, jammy” character — the stellar balance kept all the elements working in harmony.

More flavors jumped up and waved hello as the wine sat in my glass. I got some baking spice, some vanilla, some mocha — but all controlled by that nice, laser-beam acid balance. To me, this is as good as wine gets: intensity without weight.

It’s great to drink a bottle of wine that doesn’t exhaust your palate with too much fruit and alcohol. Now don’t get me wrong — I’m as much of a hedonist as the next guy, and can enjoy a glass or two of a big fruit bomb. But only a glass or two. Gary Farrell’s Pinot could be savored all night long.

Which is what I did. At least until the bottle gave out. Find this bottle, if you can, and enjoy it for yourself. Cheers!


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