By James Knight
This week's tasting is below the radar, off the map, not in the guidebooks. It's only once a week, for those in the know, and it's almost guaranteed to attract no tourists. Yes, this week's story takes place in the Windsor Raley's supermarket. Friday evenings, the supermarket's coffee shop, a corral of tables adjacent to the deli, transforms into wine-bar-for-a-night. There's a fee for tasting that's refundable with purchase of any $10 wine. The best part, especially in light of the nonexistence of mere thin wafers at $20 fee "luxury" wineries? A huge platter of cheese, bread and fruit. Nosh on. It's winetasting for the short on time, the masses with no inclination for the wine road near at hand; a pleasant interlude to break up an after-work shopping trip. After all, it's Friday.
The wines offered are often usual suspects, well-known brands like Turning Leaf and Kenwood, but sometimes they're the unexpected, as with Cleavage Creek.
I know what it sounds like: a guy's sophomoric brainstorm dreamt up well past halfway through the bottle. I cannot confirm that; it may have been, until Budge Brown bought the label in 2006. The businessman and grape grower lost his wife to breast cancer the previous year, and he was on a mission. Brown transformed the label into an emblem of activism. Fully 10 percent of gross sales are donated to care and research programs that Brown thinks are on a particularly promising track in battling that scourge that is all too close to many of us.
If there's a flaw in this scheme, it's combining serious medical issues with a logo only slightly more highbrow than Hooters, a possibly unnerving combination for a product intended for lighthearted consumption. But I wouldn't know it from the confident smiles of the women on the label who beam with life and vitality. Each vintage of each varietal features a different survivor modeling a tasteful V-neck against a bright color backdrop. And there they were at Raley's! Miss Merlot Shiraz explained that women who would like to model on future vintages can contact the winery through the website.
Naturally, if the wine weren't any fun, I'd be better off checking the donation box on my California tax return (which I did). But the 2006 Chardonnay ($22) entices with an offbeat peanut character, a floral aroma and viscous mouth feel. It's good and interesting; more like a Roussanne. The intense, grapey and tannic 2005 Petite Sirah ($45) was the showboat of the reds, while the 2005 Merlot Shiraz ($25) was easy drinking, soft and fruity.
A winery is in development, complete with many sustainable and "green" features. Until then, Cleavage Creek can be found at Raley's, where any number of dinner ingredients can be conveniently found for, oh come on, the perfect pairing.
Raley's, 8852 Lakewood Drive, Windsor. Winetasting Fridays 5:30–7:15pm. $3 fee. 707.838.6604. Cleavage Creek, www.cleavagecreek.com. 888.295.1280.
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