Sunday, March 06, 2005

Russian River Barrel-Tasting Sunday—A Sweet Finish to the 2005 Event


CAVEAT: I have a YES/NO response to most wines, with a palate decidedly on the sweet side of the gauge. I buy ports and late harvest wines for me to drink, and an occasional bottle of red wine to take along to a family dinner. I love to taste good wines, though, for their own sake, so I'm very lucky to live in Sonoma County, California, where wine-tasting can be a regular pastime.
BEST VIEW Our second day of barrel-tasting along the Russian River started with a relatively new winery, Marimar Estate Winery on Graton Road. Marimar Torres, the owner, is also a cookbook writer, with The Catalan Country Kitchen cookbook on sale in the tasting room. The nibbles table had a very tasty paté with sun-dried tomatoes that came from her cookbook.

To get to their cellars, you walk along a path carved in the side of the hill. Vineyards stretch below in a 270-degree sun-drenched view toward the laguna and river. From the barrel, we tasted a slightly oaky Chardonnay and a nicely rounded Pinot Noir that will bear watching.

BEST FINISHED WINE: At Marimar, we overheard a taster giving directions to the Lynmar Winery in downtown Graton. "Don't blink, or you'll miss it!" This reminded my spouse that we did not have a glass from Lynmar yet, so we went by on our way back north. We sampled the 2003 Pinot Noir, which was perfect, with its tannins on the back of the tongue, not clinging to the teeth. The tasting table included a mushroom soup with tiny lamb meatballs (which I did not try), but we were directed to ask the owner Lynn Fritz for a taste of their 2003 Vin Gris. This is an "immoral blush" wine, a rosé made by blending Pinot Noir and a white grape (Pinot Gris?). It was so nice and crisply fruity that we bought a bottle to take to dinner tonight.

OLD NEW GRAPES: Barrel tasting at Porter Creek Vineyards included not only the Pinots and Chardonnay they are known for, but also an Old Vine Carignane that was very interesting. Porter Creek also had the largest number of different barrel tastes for Sunday's selection, rivaling Suncé yesterday. They had a slight embarrassment of riches today; too few parking spaces for the crowd that came to try their wines. Only Bella Winery had a longer trek to get from parking to the tasting room.

BEST MATCH BETWEEN MUSIC AND FOOD: At the Belvedere Winery, after serving us a taste of a rich, jewel-red 2004 Pinot Noir, Tim at the barrel directed us into the deliciously cool cellars, where a lighted path guided us to the upper level for some Cajun bonhomie. They were serving Cajun Gumbo to guests enjoying a Zydeco band.

BEST LATE HARVEST: At Bella Winery, not only did they now have a wine glass for the collection, they had the most exquisite 2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel. I enjoyed the flavor so much, I sent my spouse (who was our designated driver) and our new tasting buddy, C.S. Miner, back to snaffle another taste in my glass for me. We had purchased a lovely late harvest zin here several years ago, and I predict this year's release (sometime in August or September) will be quickly sold out.

Bella was also notable in their costuming; all the event staff were in farm-clothing with straw hats and bandannas. The barrel-tasting was held in their artificial wine caves.

BEST FOOD: The Sunday winner was Amphora Winery, a smaller winery off the beaten track. Their buffet included a layered pesto, cream cheese and sun-dried tomato spread with different crackers, a second spread made of cream cheese and dill, salami, brie and cheddar with bread for snack-sandwich making, and chocolate.

My spouse nabbed a small cup full of the chocolate pieces, and remarked that there must be a port around somewhere. There was—the owner Rich and the cellar master Rick were pouring a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon and a very raw 2004 Gold Vineyard Zinfandel along with some middling Merlot and Syrah. But at an adjacent table, they were pouring samples of port. I admit that after tasting the Zin, I was not eager to try the port, although it seemed very popular.

The food at Preston Winery was very simple—bread with olive oil—but matched wonderfully with the Barbera wine we sampled there. We bought a loaf of the great crusty bread to take with us to dinner.

FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE: At Amphora Winery, we met Collie Dean and her friend Mimi from Los Gatos. It was Collie's first barrel tasting, and she was very excited at having made her first futures purchase, the Amphora Port. Her background is in cosmetics (perfume), and she had the sense that this consciousness of aroma would help her to quickly develop a discerning palate. Mimi is an old hand at Sonoma County wine-tasting, and we share a taste for strong wine vinegar. Talk ranged from wine flavors and great places to try new wines to Chandler Burr's book The Emperor of Scent, altogether a most agreeable conversation.

I cannot think of another place where, for the price of the gas to drive around, one can eat well, sip fabulous wines, and talk about what makes a good life. I may be unemployed and hunting for a job right now, but as my late mother-in-law used to gloat, here in Sonoma County "we suffer on a higher plane."

Amphora Winery
3901 Wine Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 94558

Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves
9711 W. Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
707-473-9171 - 866-572-3552

Belvedere Winery & Vineyards
4035 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Lynmar Winery
9060 Graton Rd
Graton, CA 95444

Marimar Torres Estate
11400 Graton Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Porter Creek Vineyards
8735 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Preston Vineyards
9282 W. Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
707-433-3372 - 800-305-9707


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