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Tasting Room of the Week

The Smart Drinkers' Tour of Winter Wineland

By Heather Irwin

There are two things you need to know about Russian River tasting weekends. Take a map and don't lose your glass. OK--three things: bring a sharp pencil as well. Because when push comes to shove--and believe me, it does during Russian River tasting weekends--a little poke is sometimes necessary to move along friendly tourists from Sheboygan. Not that we don't love tourists and all, but we're on a mission, people.

After all, $30 is no small sum to lay out for a long weekend of winding your way through the hundred or so wineries of the Russian River, Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. So, to get your money's worth, cut the chit-chat and get to sippin'. Always held the third weekend in January, this year's Winter Wineland is scheduled for Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 15-16.

Amateurs foray into the vineyards willy-nilly, stopping at whatever balloon bouquet beckons them along the winding roads. You're too smart for that. Pick a single appellation (or region) each day and hit a handful. Keep it to five or six wineries. Concentrate first on smaller wineries that are not usually open to the public--or are usually open by appointment only--like Acorn, Chateau Felice or Michel-Schlumberger. Off the beaten path, you'll find friendly staff and spectacular wine. Secondly, try to map a route that won't have you doubling to hell and back, wasting more of your time driving that actually tasting wine. You can find detailed maps at www.wineroad.com.

Though big tasting weekends can be a great opportunity to taste some brand-new wines, they're also often a way to unload a lot of less-than-stellar wines stacking up in the cellars. Don't waste your time tasting a crummy Reisling from a winery that's known for its Pinot Noir. At the same time, be open to adventure--sometimes a new varietal can be the start of something wonderful.

Russian River Valley Favorites
Acorn:
Wonderful Old World field blends (Sangiovese) that win huge awards.
Chateau Felice: Imaginative wines from a young winemaker. Killer Merlot.
J Wine: Sparkling wines that tickle and tease. Plus, the Bubble Room.
Gary Farrell: Exceptional Pinot Noirs and a really great debut Sauvignon Blanc with views that will have you pondering the meaning of life.
Suncé: A fun, family-owned winery with lovely Pinots.

Alexander Valley Favorites
Locals: A fun way to try a variety of small, local wines.
Chateau Souverain: Pull up to the manor, Jeeves. Pretend you live in this amazing French chateau and toast to your newfound greatness.

Dry Creek/Healdsburg Favorites
Preston: Kitties, bread, bocce and jugs of wine on Sunday.
Bella Vineyards: Once you enter the caves, you may not want to leave. Great reds.
Michel-Schlumberger: A beautiful Mission-style space with refined French-style wines.

Winter Wineland is scheduled for Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 15-16, from 11am to 4pm at some 100 wineries along the Russian River Wine Road. Tickets are $10-$35 and are good for the whole weekend. Call the winery where you would like to begin your day to purchase tickets. 707.433.4335. www.wineroad.com.

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From the January 12-18, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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