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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Ravenswood Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: You've got to be making some damn good wine to inspire folks--normally sane, rational folks--to get your winery's logo tattooed on their bodies.

But this is no normal, sane wine; it is the mighty red Zinfandel. And unlike the cute, pink stuff you serve with fried chicken on a hot summer day, this wine has cajones. Ravenswood's motto, after all, is "No wimpy wines."

Vibe: Give yourself over to the Zinfantastic voyage and feel the love. Ravenswood Zinfandels are exemplary for their varietal, and the winery is among the earliest to bring red Zinfandels--historically used for immigrants' homemade jug wines--to a higher palate. The tasting staff is insanely knowledgeable about their wines and want to help newcomers appreciate and learn the flavors and unique characteristics. We even got a quick lesson on proper swirling etiquette and a fascinating discourse on the different acidities of different Zins. After all that, who wouldn't want a tattoo?

Mouth value: Definitely do the Zin thing here. Tastings are $5 (applied toward a purchase), but the pours are generous and you can taste up to six different types of wine--a great opportunity to really get to know the breadth of Zin. There are big flavor differences that go from peppery Lodi Zins to earthier, heartier Belloni Zins from the Russian River Valley. We particularly liked the 2000 Carignane from Sonoma County ($15) that had a tart cherry and cranberry flavor.

Don't miss: The winery is located just outside of Sonoma. With the taste of a dark, fruity Zin still heavy on our tongues, we headed straight to Sonoma Saveurs (487 First St., Sonoma, 707.996.7007) for a foie gras terrine ($14) on the fly. After tasting their pâté at the recent Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco, we were hooked. All the small charcuterie items are available for lunchtime take-away.

Five-second snob: Unlike most other grape varietals grown in California, Zinfandel is arguably the most American grape around. It has no real European equivalent, making it, well, our grape. It's apple pie and Harleys to their tarte tatin and Yugos. It's lusty and unpretentious, spicy and forward, just a little rough around the edges but charmingly endearing. Throw a cowboy hat on it, and its ready to rope those Syrahs into submission.

Spot: Ravenswood Winery, 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. 707.933.2332.

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From the March 31-April 6, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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