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09.26.07

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Wine so good and so serious that our reviewer actually wished it were a little gnarlier.

By James Knight


Macheezmo Mouse was a concept restaurant chain that operated in Portland, Ore., in the 1990s. The fare was fresh salads and burritos, and the tagline was "Healthy Mexican Food." Employees were instructed to tell curious customers that the name was: "A paradox!" The healthy effect was achieved mainly by stuffing burritos with shredded carrots and such. I hope that these days, they have got some decent taquerias up there. Such an effort to make Mexican food appealing to health conscious gringos seems strained, and mystifying here in California, not to mention a little insulting. The cognitive dissonance was further enhanced by the decor. Acute angles of industrial steel plating, front ends of hot rod cars jutted out of the wall—all with classical music lilting in the background.

For some reason, a visit to Longboard's tasting room reminded me, in afterthought, of the long-gone Mouse. But I want to emphasize that the cognitive dissonance is much more pleasant at Longboard. For one thing, they serve wine. Longboard was started up by a winemaker who, can you guess, wanted to combine his two passions, surfing and wine. They're serving a few Longboard wines over at the Toad in the Hole Pub in Santa Rosa, and I decided to drop by and see what else was up at the tasting room. It's on Fitch Street, just a few blocks out of the way of the Healdsburg hubbub. I kind of expected a driftwood tasting shack with sand on the floor, our wine dude to greet us with a hang loose sign, and an ice-cold Corona on offer as a closer.

Well, no. Inside, it's a dimly lit lounge, with leather-upholstered seating and artwork on the walls. Surf art, to be sure. And floor to ceiling with vintage surfboards, no doubt. And yes, an endless surf documentary plays on a big plasma TV with a Dick Dale soundtrack. Other than that, it's rather sedate. Our host was a veteran sommelier—and surfer—who poured Merlot while muttering comparisons to impeccably pronounced Bordeaux counterparts and tossing off causal asides about suitcase clones.

But if the setup seems so genteel, consider this: If serious surfers are said to anticipate an approaching wave with focused contemplation, then it only follows that they'd pursue winemaking with corresponding studiousness.

I'd like to see some more fun in the lineup (a wine cooler-ready rosť?), but the wines are seriously good enough. The 2004 Russian River Valley Syrah ($24) is deep in pen ink and dark blueberry fruit, with tannins that are big, though not as gnarly as the 2003s. An unusual blend of 90 percent Syrah and a handful of other cultivars field-blended in one crush, the 2004 Dakine Vineyard Syrah ($45) is much softer, with Zin-like acidity and baked berry aromas, with a full, long finish. Available soon and sparingly offered for tasting, the 2006 RRV Pinot Noir ($28) has regional character of candied cherry fruit, spicy greens, clove and cola notes. The pours are sufficient to get a good bearing on the flavors, and if you're really enjoying one in particular, you can buy a glass for $5 and kick back, a hella good deal. The Cabernets were unfortunately not available, so until the 2004s roll in, we'll just have to hang on, look westward and wait.

Longboard Vineyards, 5 Fitch St., Healdsburg. Tasting room open Thursday-Saturday, 11am to 7pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm. 707.433.3473.

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