Russian River Valley: Passport to Pinot

Spend Memorial Day Weekend getting to know some complex-cool wines.

THE SIPS OF SUMMER: If you were to look at the mega charts of beverage sales -- and they are wide-reaching sales, in both retail stores and restaurants -- you'd likely notice certain libations moving off the shelves with a crisper clip at certain times of the year. Warm apple cider may not rock people's worlds come June, but the third week in October? The toasty concoction's making a stronger showing. Frozen margaritas? Not a huge thing around New Year's Day, but Labor Day? Yeah. The 'rita is robust. So where does pinot stand among sips and how they fare on the yearly calendar? It's no trick question, though outdated arguments involving red wine being more of a winter thing and white belonging to summer can still reign in most minds. Pinot, however, is that great chameleon of the wine rack, moving in and out of meals that are both heavy and light. It's a red thats frequently light and deeply unponderous, meaning it can flow in the summertime as spritely as any Chablis. And it gets its Russian River Valley due, over Memorial Day Weekend, at the Pinot Classic.

PASSPORT TO PINOT: Picture over 30 wineries of the region -- Balletto Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Lauterbach Cellars, and Russian Hill Estate Winery among them -- serving up "pre-release wines, barrel, library and limited edition winery-only wines" to pinot buffs, fans who've also come for the weekend's other convivialities, which will include artist demos and eats. Know the Russian River Valley wines well? The American Viticultural Area enjoys "seasonal fog and tempering effects of the Pacific Ocean," a one-two combo that delivers a long growing season and "ideal conditions" for grapes that will one day magically -- through the hard work of many -- become Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If one or both of these are your summer wines, and they both can own the warm-weather table, then head up from May 24-26 for a full roster of Pinot-style exploratory goodness.

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