What We Say 2005 Russian Cuvée
1000th MISSION ALERT:
Join us, today, in celebrating One Thousand Wine Spies missions! Read below for full details.
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Mission Codename: The 1K
Operatives: Agent Red and Agent White
Objective: To celebrate The Wine Spies’ 1000th wine mission, send founding senior Operatives, Agent Red and Agent White to visit with Iron Horse Vineyards. While there procure their newest Russian Cuvée, an Operative favorite bubbly.
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Iron Horse Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2005 Russian Cuvée
Winemaker: David Munksgard
Backgrounder: Originally designed for the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings that ending the Cold War, today’s wine bubbly from our friends at Iron Horse is a true delight – and our very favorite sparkling wine from Iron Horse to date! Grown on their gorgeous estate, this wine is a sweetly distinctive treat that Mom will love. Just make sure to get a bottle for yourself, as well!
Iron Horse Vineyards, so say named for the train stop in Sonoma’s Green Valley, is famous for adhering to the strict methode champenoise on its classic and delicious sparking gems. Sonoma County Green Valley AVA is located on the western edge of the Russian River Valley and is separately designated. Its cooler climate and distinct sandy soil is ideal for sparkling wine as is exemplified in today’s selection.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Pale golden straw hues, with some of the smallest bubbles that we have ever seen! Bubbles cascade from the bottom of the glass, but also from thinner columns that emerge from the edges of the glass. This is a lovely and unique effect
Smell – A soft but focused nose, this wine leads with soft green apple that yields to gentle creamy white flowers, yeasty almond pastry, subtle vanilla, subtle citrus and a hint of green pear
Feel – With a light and creamy texture, this wine shows a soft yet quiet exuberance on the palate. On the finish, a citrus-mineral feel makes an appearance, adding a soft dryness
Taste – Lead by warm but restrained apple cobbler, this delicious bubbly reveals flavors gradually. The wine starts off sweet and light with apple. Then, the creaminess settles in, and flavors of pear, subtle lemon, yeast and a touch of minerality appear
Finish – After the creamy softness subsides, additional flavors emerge and then tail off slowly. The overall effect is dynamic yet harmonious and balanced.
Conclusion – Those of you who have read our reviews know that we are quite smitten with sparkling wines from Iron Horse. The Russian Cuvée, is a particular favorite and this years release is especially good. Softer and more elegant than previous vintages of this wine, the 2005 Russian Cuvée is, in our opinion, a more approachable sparkler. This is a delicious treat that we enjoyed on its own – and with Agent Stingray’s Chocolate-Chocolate cookies!
ONE THOUSAND MISSIONS – AND COUNTING!
We could not think of a better bubbly with which to celebrate our 1000th mission, and we offer our heartfelt appreciation to Iron Horse Vineyards, owner Joy Sterling, winemaker David Munksgard. We also thank all of our wineries and, maybe most of all, you, our loyal Operatives! Cheers to you all, and may be embark on thousands more missions together!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER_
SUBJECT: David Munksgard
WINE EDUCATION: Graduated 1980 from C.S.U.-Fresno, BS Enology, Viticulture
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Right out of college I was hired as assistant winemaker for Chateau St Jean sparkling wine, in Graton. From there I went to the Finger Lakes (NY) in 1989. Worked around there until Iron Horse asked me to come back to California where I took over winemaking in 1996.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: My left foot is in the old world, my right foot in California.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “For those of us who are fortunate enough to have found ourselves in winemaking, it is not that we should be winemakers, we simply MUST BE winemakers. Nothing else will satisfy that need to craft; to imprint onto and into our wines what we feel and see when we walk the vineyard and dream of what it might be." -David Munksgard
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: With Chateau St Jean Sparkling wines in 1983.
AGENT RED: Greetings David. We are thrilled to be showing your 2005 Russian Cuvée today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives.
WINEMAKER: The pleasure is all mine.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
WINEMAKER: You bet. My wife and I visited Napa in 1974 for the Holidays. My father-in-law had this huge party at his home in Napa where he was a grower. All the important wine people from Napa were there. I was invited to their wineries for ultra-private tours. I was hooked. Later, in 1977 my wife decided I NEEDED to be a winemaker; she enrolled me at Fresno, at put our house up for sale. Within a few months we were on our way to California.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
WINEMAKER: Several actually. First was Nathan Fay of the Napa Valley, a Cabernet grower famous for his excellent home-made Cabs. Then Jack Davies of Schramsberg. Then my mentor at St Jean Sparkling wines, Pete Downs.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
WINEMAKER: My instinctive response would be that I wake wines that I like to drink. What made my joining Iron Horse make so much sense is that our tastes are the same. Neither of us need to compromise on our dreams.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
WINEMAKER: The 2005 Russian Cuvée is the most current vintage of this wine. The original version of this wine was used for the Reagan-Gorbachev summits in 1987. This is a 75% Pinot Noir 25% Chardonnay blend from one of the coolest, foggiest vintages I’ve seen. This wine is perfect as an aperitif, it is rich enough to stand on its own, but has plenty acidity to go with a range of food.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
WINEMAKER: Chinese food jumps to mind first, and curry dishes. Then maybe a rich butter sautéed sole or butter poached halibut—yum, yum!
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Green Valley so special?
WINEMAKER: Green Valley of Russian River Valley is one of the coolest-foggiest regions in California. Combine that with our Goldridge sandy-loam soil and you have an ideal environment for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Temperatures just warm enough to mature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The soil is almost void of nutrients and has lousy water holding capacity – perfect for grapes; you don’t end up with huge vines.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
WINEMAKER: Well, I’m still playing with some blends of both still & sparkling. Also, we are working on dosage trials for bubblies to be released later this year, such as a 1996 Brut Rose in 1.5L bottles. That’s a wine with over 13 years yeast age.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
WINEMAKER: Remember that I’ve got one foot in the old world, so my wines will have a degree more acidity, will benefit from bottle age. What really sets our wines apart is that they are meant for the table. Remember the term table wine? Well it means use with food. Wines from cool regions have more acidity. Wines with more acidity need more age to come into their own, and are best if presented with food.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
WINEMAKER: Yes! Worry less about exacting food-wine pairing. Think more about the moment, your friends & enjoying their company. I see so many people stressing out about the right sauce with that chicken dish. We’ve made wine and food pairing almost too complex; too big of a deal. My god; open it and enjoy it!
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
WINEMAKER: You bet. Anytime, anywhere. I’ll bring the bottle, you bring the glasses.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Green Valley in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
Iron Horse Vineyards
Awards & Accolades:
90 Points – Wine & Spirits
About This Wine:
Russian Cuvée commemorates the style of sparklings we made for the historic Reagan – Gorbachev summit meetings, which ended the Cold War. Although “sweeter” than the Classic vintage Brut, the higher dosage doesn’t come across as sweet, but does make the wine richer.
Tasting Notes & Food Pairings: By nose: Filbert, warm milk and baked apple. By mouth: Baked apple, a rich creamy mouth-feel followed by a touch of lemon curd on the finish. A perfect aperitif by itself and a great cocktail, simply add a few pomegranate seeds to the flute. Pair with rich foods such a foie gras, as well as sweet and sour sauces and anything prepared with exotic spices, including curries and chilies. Also great with a BLT.
Artisanal Winemaking: Hand harvested in the chilly fog of early morning, our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are gently pressed as whole clusters yielding base wines of great delicacy. The juice ferments slowly at 62° to 65° f retaining vibrant fruit esters. In blending this wine we chose Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lots that were a bit shy by nose but have lean and angular elements by mouth. What was once shy now exhibits wonderful complexity and creaminess that comes from three plus years of aging on the yeast. The dosage for this wine is 18 ml of Brut LEX, (75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay).
Precision Winegrowing: At Iron Horse “Estate Bottled” means that the winemaking begins in the vineyard. Our location in Green Valley represents the very best soil, climate and aspects for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Our goal is to grow the best winegrapes we should be growing through what we call “precision winegrowing.” All pruning, canopy management, irrigation and cover crop decisions are determined on a block-by-block (and sometimes even vine-byvine) basis, considering both the vintage at hand and the long-term needs of the land.
For Sparkling and Still Wine, Precision Harvesting is Key: Our only rule is to make the best wines we can. We wait until harvest to decide sparkling or still, as the only difference is the brix level (or the amount of sugar in the grapes, less for sparklings, more for still). Then winemaker David Munksgard considers berry size (bigger is better for sparklings, smaller for still), the health of the canopy, clone selection, even small details such as the relative dampness of the cover crop can make a difference. If necessary, parts of the same block may be picked on different days.
About The Winery:
Iron Horse is one of Sonoma County’s most prestigious, small, independent, estate, family owned wineries. The founding partners, Audrey and Barry Sterling first saw it in the pouring rain in February 1976. Driving down Ross Station Road, they were sure they were lost until they crested the knoll and the view opened up to 300 acres of gentle rolling hills and a wall of trees behind that looked like Camelot to them. Incurable romantics, and having extraordinary vision, they bought the property in just two weeks.
In those days, Iron Horse was the most westerly vineyard in Sonoma County. Even the agricultural extension agents from US Davis recommended they look further east as this vineyard was prone to frost as late as June 1st, well after bud-break in the spring and jeopardizing the crop. But having lived in France, the Sterlings knew the cool, foggy climate was exactly what they were looking for to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And, as a native San Franciscan, Audrey Sterling had spent part of her summers on the Russian River and was familiar with the area.
There were 110 acres in vine at the time, originally planted by Forrest Tancer when he was working for Rodney Strong. Forrest and the Sterlings became partners, upgraded the vineyard, engineered an elaborate frost protection system, built the winery and produced their first vintage of Estate Chardonnay in 1978. The winery officially opened in 1979 with the first vintage of Estate Pinot Noir on Barry Sterling’s 50th birthday. The first vintage for the Sparkling Wines was 1980.
The name Iron Horse came from a train that stopped at Ross Station at the turn of the 20th Century. The logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane, came from an actual weathervane that was unearthed when they were leveling the ground to build the winery.
Appellation: Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Blend: 75% Pinot Noir 25% Chardonnay
Alcohol: 13.5% v/v
Acidity: .90 g/100ml
Residual Sugar: 1.4 g/100ml
Malolactic Fermentation: None
Harvest Dates: August 18 – September 17, 2005
Date Bottled: May 2006
Release Date: 1st disgorging, November 2009
Total Production: 1,400 Cases