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Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

V. Sattui Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Think of Sattui as the Southwest Airlines of Napa wineries. There's no first class, boarding feels a bit like a cattle call and you'll probably end up next to some fat salesman from Iowa. But hey, it's cheap and it gets you where you want to go. The difference? The food is better at Sattui. V. Sattui has long been the people's winery. A family-run operation that dates from the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is), Sattui is a simple, homegrown sort of winery that churns out some pretty nice wines. More than anything else, Sattui is a beacon of Old World hospitality and charm in the sometimes exclusionary world of winetasting. Here you'll get a healthy five to seven tastes, rather than the skimpy two or three we've been finding lately. Just don't be surprised by the massive crowds. Like Southwest, people know a good deal when they see it.

Mouth value: Although Sattui has recently won accolades for some pretty stellar wines, historically its wines have been a simpler, more everyday sort that you might serve with Monday night dinner, rather than a Saturday night dinner party. And while the quality has improved, the wines remain very approachable for the most part. The '02 Carneros Chardonnay ($26) has a nice light oak and bright fruit flavor. Even better is the off-dry Johannesburg Riesling ($16). We're becoming big fans of Rieslings, which in this case lacked the sometimes sticky sweetness often identified with them and had a soft, wonderful, exotic quality that's a perfect introduction for beginning wine drinkers and a nice departure for drinkers of big, hearty Cabs.

The Cabs, however, tend to be nice as well--big without beating you up. A favorite is the Carneros Cabernet, herbaceous with lots of dried fruit but without as many heavy tannins. A fun way to finish the tasting is with a sip of Sattui Madeira, a big fortified brandy-infused drink that's thick with caramel flavors. Damn!

Don't miss: Go hungry. Sattui is known for its deli, where you can purchase a large selection of meats, cheeses and other savories for your picnic lunch. For the cheaper among us, you can almost make a meal on the free mustards and samples strategically placed around the large tasting area. One heads up: there's only one obvious ladies' room, and it's typically lined up out the door, so plan accordingly.

Spot: V. Sattui Winery, 1111 White Lane, St. Helena. 707.963.7774. Open 9am to 5pm, seven days a week. No tasting fee.

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From the March 9-15, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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