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August 23-29, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Landmark Vineyards

By Daedalus Howell

Invented in a Danish laboratory in the late 1800s, "junket" is a loose pudding made from rennet-riddled dairy, which is served as a dessert. The American press junket, by extension, is a ritual in which journalists are spoon-fed marketing pabulum with the hope that the easily digested message is later excreted intact on the pages of newspapers and magazines. This can leave a bitter taste in one's mouth unless, of course, said junket occurs in the gorgeous Sonoma County wine country, where wine turns into ink like some prank miracle performed by Christ.

My most recent occasion of professional debauchery was a sneak peek at the forthcoming 10th anniversary edition of the Sonoma Valley Film Festival (aka "Cinema Epicuria," which sounds more and more like a secret password to me). The day comprised innumerable winery tours, luncheons, meet-and-greets and, finally (at least for me), a pit stop at Kenwood's Landmark Vineyards.

Now, it's no secret that I'm a sucker for being wined and dined, or for that matter, wound and downed like a toy top happy to spin. But I do have my highfalutin'-sounding name to protect, so I reserve my bon mots solely for the bon vin. Wonderfully, Landmark has the goods. They also have a horse-drawn wagon that will ride you through the vineyards, which even wowed colleague Spitzy, a veteran reporter for the kind of slicks stacked proudly on coffee tables and shamefully under beds--but that's another story.

Wines that awakened my gladly wearied palate included the 2004 Overlook Chardonnay, which has hues of nectarine and a bracing minerality that recalls the pleasant aroma of a used paperback--probably something by Hesse. Sourced from over 22 individual vineyards spanning Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, this Chard sounds like a multiple personality disorder in a bottle, but is rather a grape-grown gestalt of California fruit at its finest. Paired with a Gruy»re de Comte, as it was on the junket, life momentarily takes on greater depth ($26; cheese sold separately). A sibling Chardonnay, the 2004 Damaris Reserve ($36) is like a wedge of sour green apple dipped in honey, upon which a rose petal has fallen--and you eat it anyway. A bit precious, but why not?

During the tasting someone asked, "What's the benchmark for Chardonnay?" to which someone else replied "Who needs a benchmark when you have Landmark?" Tee-hees all around.

Landmark Vineyards, 101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood. Open daily, 10am to 4:30pm. $5 tasting fee, waived with purchase. 707.833.0053.

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