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ON WINE

Taste of the West : Sampling the Best of a Russian River Valley Winery

November 29, 1987|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

THE MARK WEST Vineyards & Winery, founded in 1976, is an exceptionally fine newer winery. Bob Ellis was a world-roaming Pan American pilot, and his wife, Joan, visualized a home port in rural California as a tranquil retreat for them both. They converted an old dairy into a premium Russian River Valley wine estate. For the vineyard, 60 acres of the 116-acre ranch were ideal for white-wine varieties, especially Johannisberg Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. Another parcel provided a slope, cooled by Mark West Creek, for Pinot Noir. For the first few vintages, Joan Ellis was the wine maker, sort of an artist in residence for these handcrafted wines. But it rather quickly became apparent that a full-time wine maker was needed, and after a diligent search, they found Norman Yost, 29, who had been working at Monticello.

Space precludes anything but the briefest descriptions, but you may take this inventory to your local wine emporium and store up memorable moments for months or years to come.

1984 Blanc de Noir--Methode Champenoise ($16.50). Almost three years en tirage , it is rich, supple, dry and handsomely packaged.

1985 Russian River Valley Gewurztraminer--Estate Grown ($7.50). A bouquet of exotic grapefruitiness and full litchi perfume, not to be missed. A slight, very slight edge of sweetness.

1985 Russian River Valley Chardonnay--Estate Grown ($10). From an exceptional vintage, with mature, ripe grapes, the wine was 65% barrel-fermented, then aged for seven months in French oak.

1985 Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay--Le Beau Vineyards Estate Grown ($16). The grapes had 24 hours of skin contact, given 100% barrel fermentation in new French oak, (no malolactic) giving crisp, fresh finesse.

1986 Russian River Valley Gewurztraminer--Late Harvest ($10). With 6.5% residual sugar, this wine with delicate botrytis hints is definitively Gewurztraminer.

1984 Gewurztraminer "Reserve" Late Harvest--375 milliliters ($10). Almost amber gold in color, winner of a double gold medal at the San Francisco Expo, residual sugar at 9.7%, a fabulous dessert wine.

1983 Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest--375 milliliters ($10). Fully botrytis-affected, the true "noble rot" produces an elixir of the grape, almost apricot gold, 10.1% residual sugar.

1984 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir--Estate Grown ($12). Regal, translucent wine, with hints of cherries, but little smoke, suggested for almost anyone who enjoys fine red wines. Lovely wine.

1984 Sonoma County Zinfandel ($12). From the Robert Rue Vineyard, planted in 1906, dry farmed, yielding only one ton per acre. Intense character, to improve for years to come.

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