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Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Summers

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: I'm not naturally a real romantic type of person. Public displays of affection, bouquets of roses, sunset dinners over candlelight--that sort of stuff gives me the hives. So you can imagine the sort of enthusiasm I muster over a holiday like Valentine's Day. Bleech. And stumbling into Summers Winery for its very special, very romantic Valentine's tasting was enough to cause me to break out into a serious sweat. But I'm a professional, and nothing will stand in the way of me and my wine glass. Not even cute little cupids and, ugh, hearts and stuff.

You have to love Summers for trying such a thing. Amidst other wineries in the Napa Valley who would rather eat their own arms than do something cute, Summers stands out as just a couple of folks (the Summers, that is) who happen to own a winery. A pretty small, not-quite-finished-with-our-tasting-room winery staffed by the type of folks who pour you a glass of wine and ask if you want your picture taken (free, of course!) to take home. But like so many mom-and-pop wineries, what seemed at one point like just a fun idea turned into something a lot more serious. Summers is among Calistoga's most celebrated wineries, noted for both its Merlot and for a most unusual wine--the Charbono.

Mouth value: The 2002 Villa Andrea Charbono ($26) is the sort of wine that's worth a trip itself just to taste. The Summers have 10 acres of this rare varietal, giving them a full 10 percent of the world's acreage of this grape (according to their tasting staff). It's a lovely, friendly, meaty sort of wine with Italian roots. Due to its late harvest, the Villa Andrea has a riper, less tannic taste than fuller-bodied wines, making it a super match for pasta. Also great is the 2002 Andriana's Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) with a terrific nose, lots of anise flavoring and a rich, deep body that begs to be held tight.

Though I'm not always a fan of wineries who do a lot, Summers seems to have a handle on almost all of its wines, including the '02 Russian River Zinfandel ($14), which for the price was a pleasant surprise, and the '02 Petite Sirah ($38), which was a powerhouse of oaks and tannins with an incredible inky color. The only wine that left me a little less than thrilled was the '02 Merlot ($34), which, while having a nice complexity, just felt a little wane in the glass. But go try it and decide for yourself. Maybe cupid had used up all his arrows elsewhere.

Five-second snob: Prepare to start seeing more Charbono. Word on the street is that this artisanal grape--usually ripped out to make way for more grower-friendly, recognizable varieties--is becoming one of the hottest varietals around. With a taste described as a cross between Syrah and Sangiovese, it's primed to be the next Zin.

Spot: 1171 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. Open daily 10am to 4:30pm. 707.942.5508.

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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