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September 27-October 3, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

By Daedalus Howell

Like Donald Trump, St. Francis of Assisi has managed to get his name on a fair amount of real estate, ranging from hotels, hospitals and colleges to whole cities (he left his name, if not his heart, in San Francisco). Though his posthumous branding campaign stalled before the advent of launch boxes and T-shirt logos, he did manage to get his namesake pasted on at least one local winery: the St. Francis Winery and Vineyards just this side of Kenwood in Santa Rosa.

Forgoing the Catholic hard sell, the winery's website explains that its proprietors chose the name "in recognition of the Saint's role as a protector of the natural world and as acknowledgement of the Franciscan order, believed to have been the first to bring European grape cultivation to the new world." Emphasis: they brought the wine, not the smallpox. The site also features a photo of the winery's mission-style premises accompanied by the sound of church bells, but no mention of St. Francis coming down with the first "documented" case of stigmata, which also briefly made him the world peek-a-boo champion.

Though it won't put holes in your hands and feet, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards' wine also won't put a hole in your pocketbook. Several moderately priced and immensely quaffable wines are available including the 2004 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($22), which brims with blueberry matched with the vaguely acrid notes of fine espresso.

The 2002 Sonoma County claret ($22) (which, remember, is not a varietal but a blend of several different varietals--in this case Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel) is a bit of a case study for me. The house tasting notes suggest a variety of berry characteristics met with chocolate and clove; however, my palate, perhaps smote for poking fun at saints, instead found pleasing notes of leather and tar. Am I right? Are they wrong? Yes and no, respectively. Suffice it to say, if Rorschach used wine instead of inkblots, guys like Robert Parker would be out of business. Remember, the middle word in "subjective" is "je," which is French for "I," whose palate you should trust most.

If you trust mine, try the 2004 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($13)--it's like a shard of peanut brittle in a glass. A wonderfully sumptuous wine, it has a notably lush mouth-feel that makes it a joy to sip as much for the taste as the feeling.

St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, 100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Tastings are $10, half of which is waived upon purchase; food and wine pairings are $20. 800.543.7713, ext. 242.

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