By James Knight
Winetasting . . . on Cleveland Avenue? For months, this unlikely spot was like a phantom, hardly visible when motoring by on this busy frontage road. Tucked behind a bridal shop and a tobacconist, in a little retail center with views of the freeway and a cement plant out back, D'Argenzio turns out to be much like the family-run, backstreet bodegas of the old country that its decor invokes. In a courtyard bordered with a rustic glass-bottle version of wattle and daub walls, it's the first tenant in what's slated to become a little winetasting, brewing and cheese-purveying haven.
Hailing from somewhere near the laces in the boot of Italy, these "people of silver" are more recently of the cabinetry trade, real estate and winemaking. Decorative art and assorted antiques cue to this heritage in the spacious tasting room, while the bar wraps around into an adjacent production area. Father-and-daughter team Ray and Breanna D'Argenzio entreat visitors to squeeze through a passageway that's truly Old World narrow for a quick tour of the cellar and maybe even a glass of wildly fruity, still-fermenting moscato directly from the bin.
Unlike other grapes, Muscat really has no significant corollary in the fruit world, be it mango, pear or whatnot. Sweetly floral and fruity, Muscat has an aroma all its own. The 2009 Napa Valley Moscato di Fresco ($20) shares such a sweet aroma, but it's a surprise dry wine, with a buoyant finish. The 2008 Amador County Sant'Angelo Sangiovese ($30), "by Breanna," is the younger vintner's debut. This essential Italian varietal was seen as California's up-and-comer in the 1990s; as disappointment ever since. This one hits the spot, with bright cherry fruit animating a dense and silky body. I pitched in for a bottle of 2005 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), although I thought the style a little ripe and rustic, with fig jam and honeyed raisins. But after cellaring a fresh bottle for, well, a few hours, and then sharing over a holiday horror movie later on, the Cab was drinking delish, with chocolate-powder tannin sweeping up after the black-cherry party.
Headbangers, please take note: This is the place to rock your limited-release 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($53) dedicated to late guitarist Randy Rhoads. Roadies, check out Levi Leipheimer's limited-edition 2007 King Ridge GranFondo Pinot Noir ($40). Palate warriors, just wander next door to Sheldon Wines, the Rhône specialist duo late of the Sebastopol caboose (Swirl, Jan. 9, 2008) who share their spanking-new sippy room with two other micro wineries (open on weekends). Holiday hosts, take note: looks like the most up-to-date wine country backroads tour now includes the wine country's frontage roads.
D'Argenzio Winery, 1301 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. Open daily 11am to 5pm. $10 tasting fee. 707.280.4658.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.