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July 12-18, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Castle Vineyards & Winery

By Daedalus Howell

With a tasting room menu that features no fewer than a dozen wines, Sonoma's Castle Vineyards and Winery ensures that one's glass will runneth over (at least in aggregate). And though it's not like "you taste one, you taste them all," it is like "you taste them all, and they begin to taste the same." It's unclear whether Castle's intention is to baptize or drown one's palate, so instead of attempting a complete survey of the wines offered (which would double the word count allotted this humble space and agitate the old writer's cramp), consider this a survey course in Castle's current offerings, with an emphasis on the more interesting offerings.

The heady 2002 Estate Pinot Noir, Los Carneros, is forest leaves underfoot and black tea in the kettle. Hints of wild berry ripple through this complex wine that starts with sass but fades into a cozy melancholy. The 2001 Sonoma Valley Merlot, also from the "demilitarized zone" of Carneros (refresher: it's the only appellation shared by Sonoma and Napa counties), has a fine fruitiness balanced by a wisp of citronella candle and the burnt match that lit it. Notes of sarsaparilla also effervesce to the fore.

The 2003 Grenache Noir, Sonoma Valley (I could find no reference to this mystery varietal in the copy of Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia I keep under my pillow), is rife with raspberry and loose twine, mildly grippy, with the musty creak of leather and ropes (which is meant to evoke an old-timey sailing vessel, not S&M). Likewise, the 2002 Syrah, Sonoma Valley, begins as cherry Chap Stick (finally in a socially acceptable edible incarnation!) and finishes with a hint of honey-cured bacon.

The 2004 Estate Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, is a blonde bombshell of a wine with vivid citrus notes of grapefruit and pineapple with a creamy finish achieved through its sur lie style of fermentation. The term translates from the French literally as "on lees" (lees being the yeasty dregs left in the cask following fermentation). The wine is bottled directly from the residue without further filtration, which lends a note of creaminess to the wine, but none of the buttery aspects often associated with Chardonnay.

Castle's tasting room features outdoor seating on a popular stretch of downtown real estate, which is perfect for mild imbibing and people watching--or, as the case may be, being seen oneself, glass in hand, bellowing haughtily like one of the beautiful people.

Castle Vineyards and Winery, 122 W. Spain St., Sonoma. Open 10am to 5pm daily. Tastings are $5 (fee waived with bottle purchase). 707.996.1966.

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