Wine Talk with the Ultimate Cognoscentus: Mr. David Russell


We have an exclusive interview with David Russell who is the Senior Wine Advisor at Woodland Hills Wine Company which is tBoW’s home store. A truncated set of questions and answers follow [ed. that means there are others on the shelf]. Suffice it to say David has wasted most of his life chasing a wine dream. Something with which tBoW and readers are familiar. There are worse things to pursue like going into politics. He has worked at prestigious wine shops along the Coastal Premium Wine Shop Trail which runs from Seattle thru Portland then the Bay Area to Santa Barbara, LA and Orange County. In case he looks familiar his personal tracks cover the Bay Area and Santa Barbara, and now Woodland Hills. There are maybe a dozen or so premium wine shops where one can count on great wine for a fair price sold by folks who know their shit. And away we go.

David wears glasses and is often fighting a chill.

1. tBoW: You are from SB and almost the right age. Did you riot in IV? DR: I’m definitely the right age, however I was in Hong Kong dodging the draft serving a Mormon mission (seriously!) when the really heavy shit went down in about 1970. Also I went to UC Berkeley, not UCSB (although most of my friends did go to UCSB and did participate in, uh, acts of civil disobedience.

2. tBoW: Spumante or prosecco? DR: I can tolerate a decent Prosecco. 

3. tBoW: what was the last wine you drank – not tasted – that was higher than 15%? DR: Though it doesn’t taste like it’s 15%, the 2014 Passopisciaro from Etna is labeled as such, and I definitely enjoyed it.

4. tBoW: Compare these wines for relative quality: Rochioli and Williams Selyem (Burt years). DR: I haven’t had nearly the experience with either that many have, but the W-S during the Burt years that I have tasted were not only frighteningly Burgundian, but I’d go even further and say that some were even Jayer-like.

5. tBoW: What Burg region would you recommend TODAY for value? What is your personal fave Burg region? Producers: choose Leroy/DRC vs, Armand Rousseau?

the wine that inspired this post was sold to us by David Russell!

DR: Probably the Côte Chalonnaise. Or Marsannay and/or Fixin. I likely have more favorite producers in the Côte de Nuits than in the Côte de Beaune, simply because the former is so much bigger and has so many more growers. I’d give DRC the nod over Leroy (though we’re splitting hairs here), as I’ve had more older bottles that truly delivered (’62 La Tâche being a case in point). Remember: Domaine Leroy has only been existence since 1988. As much as I adore Rousseau, it’s only their top three wines that really perform at the level they ought to; the Charmes-Chambertin, Mazy-Chambertin, and Clos de la Roche routinely under-deliver. There also other producers among the very elite: Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, Mugneret-Gibourg, Mugnier; Lafon, Raveneau, and Roulot in white.

7. tBoW: How long have you known Marsanne is not south of Beaune? DR: But Marsanne is south of Beaune, unless you mean Marsannay.

8. tBoW: We support the Price/Quality ratio and NOT the 100 point system which is only 13 points. Is Shanken a prick? DR: He strikes me more a buffoon than a prick.

9. tBoW: Port or Sauternes? DR: Sauternes.

10. tBoW: Is Santa Barbara suitable for Pinot Noir? Didn’t Richard Sanford have it right (how to make SB Pinot) from the start? DR: Yes, although I think Santa Maria is undervalued and Sta. Rita Hills overrated. Richard Sanford may indeed have had it right, to a degree at least, but the most compelling SB pinots for me have come from Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat).

11. tBoW: Can Calif produce great wines? Does it? Who are SOME of the GREAT producers? DR: Yes. It does, at least it did…pre-Parker. Ridge Monte Bello is still great. But none of the Big Bucks Cult Cabs are even worthy of mention in the same sentence with ’68-’70 Heitz Martha’s, ’68 or ’70 BV Private Reserve, ’74 Conn Creek, etc.

12. tBoW: What is it about Lodi that makes it the most dependable and best growing region in CA. DR: Who says Lodi is the best growing region in CA? Certainly not I.

13. tBoW: What can u say about Riesling in less than 10 words? DR: Rivals pinot in its ability to express terroir.

Many many thanks to David for sharing some time with tBoW readers. When in Woodland Hills drop into Woodland Hills Wine Company. As you can see, if you love wine then you always end up at some point with Burgundy. Maus will tell you to hunt down white Rhones and KrisB will expound on Riesling values. IGTY will ask is this all you got? tBoW Jr wants to know what we are drinking tonight. We value winemakers like Jim Moore and wine retailers like David Russell. Christ. I’m getting moist eyes.

Here. Try some Ron Burgundy with your wine Burgundy…


  1. Wavatar
    Kris-B says:

    Wow, a lot of controversy here.

    Lodi as the “best” growing region in California? (It is A growing region. Perhaps Bacchus is again exhibiting his difficulties with geography: Marsanne south of Beaune? What?)

    Prosecco as distinct from Spumante?

    Cote Chalonnaise as the best bargains in Burgundy? (someone isn’t buying from Fass.)

    Pre-mixed cocktails in a can getting top billing?

    Only one question about Riesling???

    At least we can all agree on the top quality of WHWC.

  2. Wavatar
    :Mouse says:

    Great stuff.
    1 – Ridge gets a shout out. Thank god.
    2 – Marsanne is almost as bad as Marsannay. Roussanne!
    3 – Stopped buying Fixin years ago, as it’s the pinotage of pinot.
    4 – Comparing Port (fortified) to Sauternes makes zero sense.
    5 – Etna makes great wine.
    6 – Never met Shanken, but would guess he’s a prick.
    7 – I love tolerating prosecco.
    8 – Lodi for zins and petite syrah.
    9 – I wish he mentioned a specific Santa Maria producer or two.
    10 – Viva tBoW !

    • Wavatar
      Kris-B says:

      Fixin as the pinotage of pinot!!! Love it!

      Great point on Port vs Sauternes.

      Bacchus may be enjoying the liberal CA cannabis laws a big too much…

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        Bacchus says:

        Loosen your suspenders when you visit the Best of Wines! Two of the premium longest revered wines are Port and Sauternes. Should we restrict our wine impressions by geography? Or alcohol? Or fortification? Can we agree at 20% we are no longer talking about wine and below that threshold is fair game.

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      LeLarge says:

      LeLarge must ponder the provocative and intriguing statements of Mouse! Bravo! He has a refined nose for liquid intrigue–but has he been too removed rom the Golden State for too long to make sense of this shaky ground? Is he aware of our inevitable separation from the North American continent? Rousanne indeed! Sauternes indeed–even if it’s better for finishing barrel for a 12-year single highland malt… from Tain. Aunt Etna delivers the pumped pumice plummness–austere, wicked, and deep flavor. I’ve rediscovered an almost sacred regard for… yes… 3 parts premium Proseco, a dash fizzy water, ice, and 2 parts Aperol–now there’s a divine summer spritz on a warm evening…

      Lodi Zins, Mouse, hmmmm? Suspect but not impossible. Been there done that a few years back–a few suprises n the mix, but global warming is scorching gold country, if not deforesting it entirely–and/or misguided optimism and balancing necessity puts much of it in the 15+ abv range–Ridge is inching a little higher on abv with each passing havest too. Is it a conspiracy, a trend? Could we convince the 1% their precious cab is about to become sherry? But hey, when the planet is sizzling, why not get sloshed faster? Burn baby burn. Sonoma zins–Dry Creek — Limerick, Nalle, Ridge… Pagani Ranch still a treat with higher abv. and worth spending $40 if you really want big fruit with your pork belyl or rib-eye. Tell me a great Lodi label, and I’ll have a taste.

      Never found a Petite Syrah I was immediately enchanted by–but there’s a first time for everything. Washington Columbia Vallay Syrah, courtesy of Owen Rowe–dope fucking value, (Ex Umbris label) is a go-to alternative to Zin, and cheaper–competing with the higher end Aussie classics… Where’s my Grange? 2013, $750 now, oh shit! Better buy and hold that for 15 years — it will outperform the Dow Jones for shit-sure; Anyone want to go in on some Grange bonds with me? Pinot’s best values–look up and down the Sonoma Coast for consistent value… Anderson Valley too… most everything in Lompoc now is over-priced–Babcock rules, but only if you want to throw down $60+. Always a few obscure bargains small producers in the Willamette are worth trying… (Ghost Hill) Might as well fork out $50 for a low budget Burg… Rumor has it TboW will be making a visit to The Court of The Crimson King in early September. A hyperdose of arcane, menacing, virtuoso, prog-rock may alter his palate beyond a point of no return– At least so far I’ve seen no mention of Ouzo here…

      • Wavatar
        Bacchus says:

        Response to Large-nez, Maus and KrisB and any others who wish to weigh in (see O-Ren Ishii vid posted earlier this year). Jim Moore via his Uvaggio is the master of Lodi. I might say he put it on the map. Much of his juice comes from there. He likes it because the grower do it “his way.”

        Chris points out increasing temps correspond with increasing fires and in NoCal that is not good. I recall how the 2008 vintage in Mendo was roundly ruined. I bought some just to see how badly. Fuggedaboudid.

        Expecting a report from Field Maus post travel to Jurnacon. As for his reasoning about Loire wines…I refer all to the trade made by tBoW at local wine emporium where Mr. Russell can be found. Inspired by Maus dxn. Now I am sitting aging wines soon to be busted out!

  3. Wavatar
    Bacchus says:

    OK. Now I must respond. I am thrilled to read POVs from two of my loyal and most favored readers. The wall of pre-mixed cocktails is wry commentary on the state of wine under the Reign of Blowhards. Asking Mr Russ-El to choose between two plonk wines is tBoW’s idea of humor in vinous vein. tBoW has confused Marsanne with Marsannay for obvious reasons (not those noted by the Field Maus). DR is sensitive to set me right without noting my confusion. If someone like KrisB would like to write about Riesling that would be thrilling.

    Etna does make great wine which is why it was included. I have no problem plugging Fass although I will recount his invoicing is beyond me.

    Keepem coming! Another post from KrisB and Maus are always welcome. And Large for that matter.

    Geez. I feel like Woody Allen accepting his Miss Montana bouquet.

  4. Wavatar
    mouse says:

    OK, I’ll bite…If I’m going to pop a bottle tonight with nice Pyrenees sheep cheese, I’ll take any number of fine Sauternes. They are all good. Frankly, I cannot easily distinguish between the goods and greats.
    Howevah, for something truly complex and night changing, no dessert wine compares with an aged vintage Port. My son was born in 1994 – great excuse!

    Going to be near Pau next summer…

    “The first written trace of wine trading dates back to the year 988. In 1552, Henry II d’Albret owned a vine in Jurançon, but it is only a year later, at the birth of his grandchild, the future King of France Henry IV, that Jurançon wine enters History.”

    Another great French dessert wine that not enough people know about. The best, however, come from Loire, but I’ve been having this discussion with Bacchus since Reagan was president.

    And yes, Good Henry, Paris is worth a mass.

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