One of our favorite annual events was upon us once again. The Taste of Route 116 represented a great reason to drive up to the Russian River Valley and we couldn’t wait to check in with our “home” winery, Balletto Vineyards.
The annual Taste of Route 116 has a simple and seductive theme: if you are a wine club member of ANY participating winery, you receive club member benefits at ALL participating winery for the weekend. What a great way to explore new wineries and new wine releases! The previous year’s event had been canceled because of the lockdowns of Covid-19. The restrictions were starting to loosen in Northern California and our vaccinations were now fully effective. It was time to re-enter the winetasting world and experience some Russian River wineries after being away for far too long!
We had a relatively painless drive up US 101 to Santa Rosa, and drove down the scenic Occidental Road to Balletto Vineyards. This was our first “out of town” winetasting event, and our excitement was palpable. Because of the Covid protocols, we had previously made a reservation for the event, with a specific arrival time. We were a bit early, but the Balletto team was flexible and welcoming, as usual. We were led to the back patio, which is usually used for harvest and crush activities, although we had been to this area several times before for wine club parties. We were very comfortable with the Balletto safety protocols, which included masked staff, well-spaced, private tasting tables, and scrupulous attention to cleanliness. The three of us were led to “our table” and discovered that it was definitely ours. It had our name written on the single-use paper table covering. Another strategy for keeping everyone safe!
The Balletto staff quickly brought each of us three wine glasses pre-filled with wine and single-use bottles of water, along with a tasting menu which described each wine in turn. Our first glass held their newly released 2019 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc. A refreshing wine, with complex and quickly changing notes of white cherry and cotton candy (but without the sweetness). The mouth feel was silky and caramel smooth. It quickly became a favorite white wine of Judi’s, so we made a note to buy several bottles of this young wine for the coming summer sipping season. Our tasting was certainly starting on a positive footing! With all the wine glasses already in front of us, there was no delay in moving to the next taste.
We next tasted their 2018 Russian River Pinot Noir. We were happily surprised to discover that this Pinot got an immediate “thumbs up” from Judi, who is a very discerning judge of Pinot Noir, and very few Pinots pass her testing. Happily, we knew that this wine was already in the backlog of club releases (totalling18 bottles, but don’t judge) that we were going to be collecting upon our departure. We all loved the smoky nose and the mature plum and cherry layers, leading to a resilient finish with gentle tannins, absent the “funk” that can sometimes inhabit Pinots. This was a wine that had such a wonderful aroma that it was almost a waste to drink it and lose that wonderful smell.
Our final taste was their 2018 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir. This is one of our favorite Balletto vineyard designations, so we had very high expectations about this new (to us) vintage. Sharper and more assertive than the Russian River Pinot that we had just tasted, we enjoyed the bright cherry, elderberry, and nutmeg flavors, with a finish of gripping tannins. We each started imagining the perfect food pairing for this amazing, drinkable wine. Our suggested pairings ranged widely, from roasted pork chops to Costco oatmeal cookies. That is a VERY flexible food-friendly wine!
We were on a bit of a time crush, so we collected our case and a half of backlogged wine and set off for our next stop on our Taste of Route 116 winery tour.
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?