By James Knight
Yes, the enigmatic name sounds vaguely like an ancient Egyptian god or an enlightened entity from esoteric Buddhism—like a jackal-headed bodhisattva smiling upon a tantric underworld. Hey, that would be cool—but Anaba is named for the Anabatic wind, a cool breeze that flows from the San Pablo Bay and gets hotter as it rises with the Sonoma hills. Anaba is the evocative replacement for Castle Vineyards & Winery, which was acquired by the Sweazey family in 2006.
It's a mystery why they packed up and left that hot location just off the Sonoma Plaza. The new joint is also a high-traffic location, but at the busy intersection of highways 116 and 121, where thousands of motorists daily pit what wits they can muster against the ultimate challenge: a four-way stop. A run-down old farm house has been renovated into a nice, modestly decorated tasting room, although the back of the bar is mirrored and my preference is for a more pleasing view than myself and other winetasters.
Anaba Wines advertise themselves as Rhône specialists, which is somewhat exciting, but current releases do not include the Grenache and Syrah of Castle days, which lessens the thrill; Anaba also squishes those Burgundian grapes known as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The 2007 Coriol Sonoma Valley White ($28) opens with a Viognier-like bouquet of flowers and a hail of white raisins, but the body is all Marsanne-Roussanne, heavy and languid, thick with apricot nectar and raisins; while slightly syrupy in body, it's not actually sweet.
Hinting at raspberries and white pepper, the 2006 Coriol Sonoma Valley Red ($28) is more winning for its warming, soft palate than for big fruit besides ephemeral hickory-smoked dried apples and raspberries. The complex, warm earthiness makes sense: the Rhône varietal grapes come from a hot pocket in southern Sonoma Valley and a cool stretch at the north. Precious few cases of the 2008 Sonoma Rosé ($18) were made, but a taste of fresh watermelon, raspberry and Greek yogurt can be arranged if one asks extra nicelike.
With the wind in my heart and the wine in my head, I retraced my steps to the gravel parking lot out back, and stopped short. There it was, the fine southern Sonoma view of verdant vineyards climbing the skirts of blond-domed hills, framed by palm trees swaying in the anabatic wind. And it was good.
Bargain bottle alert: Currently there's an absolute fire sale on the remaining Castle wines. For information go to www.castlevineyards.com.
Anaba Wines, 60 Bonneau Road (at Arnold Drive), Sonoma. Open daily, 10:30am to 5pm. Tasting fee $10. 707.996.4188.
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