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Swirl n' Spit

Mayo Family Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Here's the honest truth, from me to you: There are only so many glasses of wine you can taste in a day before they all start tasting pretty much the same. I remember hearing some wine snob announce loudly as he walked up to a tasting bar, "My palate is just shot, darling"--true enough, after three, four wineries, if you're really trying to discern differences.

That's where food comes in. Because, honestly, unless you're downing a bottle of Boones Farm on a rooftop (and I'm not saying that I have, often), the point of wine is to pair it with food. Fabulously.

And Mayo gets that. They've just opened a reserve tasting room in the Sonoma Valley where chef Billy Oliver mans the tasting bar and a small kitchen. The idea is to have a leisurely sit-down with a tasting of things like goat cheese and summer squash roulade with your Sauvignon Blanc. Not just gulp it down at the bar and take off.

The whole thing takes about a half-hour, and the bites are small. This isn't lunch. The experience will cost you $20, but for seven tiny courses and some of the valley's best reserve wines, that's a pretty reasonable asking price.

Mouth value: Mayo Family is dedicated to single-vineyard wines. That means not simply mixing many batches of grapes into a big hopper and seeing what turns out. It's about the much ballyhooed term "terroir," which refers to the essence of a place, whether or not it has lots of minerals, or is on a sunny slope, or gets the unique coastal fog that its neighbors don't. Among Mayo's wines and pairings are a crisp, unwooded 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley ($20) that is the essence of summer, paired with the earthiness of goat cheese; a sunny, round 2003 Viognier from Russian River Valley ($30) paired with lavender-pistachio-crusted prosciutto and Crenshaw melon; and a 2003 Merlot paired with a coffee-marinated lamb chop, which brings out the subtle nature of this delicate Merlot.

Don't miss: Check out the original Mayo tasting room, just down the road toward Sonoma where you can get some of the nonreserve wines. While tasty, you'll appreciate your reserve experience even more.

Spot: Mayo Family Winery Reserve Tasting Room, 9200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. 707.833.5504.

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From the June 1-7, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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