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11.08.2008

2006 Handley Cellars "Hein Vineyard" Pinot Blanc, Anderson Valley

handley_alsace_bottle.jpgCalifornia's Anderson Valley remains one of its least known and most under-appreciated wine regions. In particular I believe it to be under-appreciated for its Pinot Noir, in particular, and in some cases, its Alsatian varieties of wine. I offer a slight caveat to the latter because while Anderson Valley is certainly known for producing wines in the style and varieties of those found in Alsace, France, in my experience they are mixed in quality.

But when winemakers manage to get things right, Anderson Valley can produce some stunning examples of wines that might, in the right circumstances be mistaken for their Alsatian forbears.

Such is the case with the newest release from a little outfit known as Handley Cellars. Perhaps the best adjective to describe Handley Cellars might be "quaint." This small, family-run operation is located in the heart of the Anderson Valley, just up the road a piece from downtown Philo, at the 19th century Holmes Ranch.

U.C Davis trained winemaker and owner Milla Handley has been making wine since 1982. Handley got her start as a winemaker in the Seventies working at Chateau St. Jean and then later at Edmeades winery when she moved her family to Anderson Valley.

These days, with the help of her family and "co-winemaker" Kristen Barnhisel, who joined Handley in 2004, Handley now produces a modest 14,000 cases a year with fruit from the Anderson Valley estate as well as other sources throughout the valley and further afield. The portfolio includes both a number of Alsatian style wines, Pinot Noir, Sparkling, and dessert wines.

This is the first vintage that Handley has made a Pinot Blanc, however. The fruit is grown on mature vines (planted in the early 90's) in the Hein Vineyard at the northern end of the Anderson Valley.

After harvesting on a cool morning, the grapes for this wine are pressed directly into tanks where it settles for a few days before fermentation begins. After the primary fermentation to dryness, some of the juice (15%) goes into neutral oak barrels, while the rest goes into stainless tanks for about six months. Only a small portion of the wine goes through a secondary, malolactic fermentation before the wine is bottled.

About 400 cases are made.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Light greenish gold in color, this wine has a nose of cold cream, old paper, and surprisingly, jackfruit. In the mouth, flavors of jackfruit predominate amidst silky textures, nice acidity, and a hint of incense and spiciness on the finish. Utterly lovely.

Food Pairing:
This would be a lovely cheese wine in my opinion, especially with saltier hard cheeses like aged gouda or aged piave.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $20

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (4)

Jason wrote:
11.09.08 at 11:51 AM

I am a big fan of the Anderson Valley as well and agree wholeheartedly on the Pinot and specifically from the Alsace the Gewurztraminer. I have been a member of the wine club at Navarro for as long as I can remember. Every time I get a new shipment it puts a smile on my face. Speaking of which I just got one. Here the new Pinot call my name....

Katie wrote:
11.12.08 at 12:14 PM

I agree that Anderson Valley is a great place to visit with some amazing small wineries. We met Milla Handley last year at the Alsace Varietals Festival, which is a fun festival if you enjoy Alsace varietals.

Renee wrote:
11.13.08 at 11:37 AM

I am a member of Handley and while the past couple of shipments have been a bit disappointing, this last one was stellar. The 2005 Syrah was pretty mindblowing.

Jon Grant wrote:
11.17.08 at 4:02 PM

Another GREAT wine made from this same patch of vines is the 2005 Lazy Creek Vineyard and Winery Hein Vineyard Pinot blanc.

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