The sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
Of all the wine producing regions in California, Sonoma County is one of the most highly regarded, having had a long and fruitful history which has helped shape the American wine industry. Within Sonoma County, we find the AVA of Russian River Valley, a beautiful viticultural area centred around the Russian river, and responsible for around one sixth of Sonoma’s high quality wine production. The vineyards of the region were first planted some two hundred years ago by immigrant communities coming over to California. At first, the vines planted here were generally for private consumption - a reminder of home gardens in Spain and Italy - but by the beginning of the twentieth century, business was booming with a couple of hundred wineries in operation, thanks to the unique nature of the terroir and the effectiveness with which the grapes were growing.
The Russian River Valley is renowned worldwide for the character and quality of its wines, which are the result of the region’s perfect, cool climate, which is affected by the Pacific fog which rolls in over the valley. This coolness tempers the strong sunshine of the area, and allows for a longer, slower ripening season - thus adding character and expression to the grape varietals which grow there. The main vines grown in Russian River Valley are cool climate grapes - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - which make up for over forty percent of the grapes grown there. The hillier parts of Russian River Valley have had great success with Syrah and Zinfandel, and other parts of the region are experimenting successful with Bordeaux grapes, too.
Of all the New World wine countries, perhaps the one which has demonstrated the most flair for producing high quality wines - using a combination of traditional and forward-thinking contemporary methods - has been the United States of America. For the past couple of centuries, the United States has set about transforming much of its suitable land into vast vineyards, capable of supporting a wide variety of world-class grape varietals which thrive on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coastlines. Of course, we immediately think of sun-drenched California in regards to American wines, with its enormous vineyards responsible for the New World's finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines, but many other states have taken to viticulture in a big way, with impressive results. Oregon, Washington State and New York have all developed sophisticated and technologically advanced wine cultures of their own, and the output of U.S wineries is increasing each year as more and more people are converted to their produce.