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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Mumm Cuvée Napa

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Winetasting can be excruciatingly hard work, what with all that sniffing, swirling and swallowing, not to mention elbowing all the pompous poseurs trying to horn in on your tasting-room turf! My goodness, a break is necessary after such an intense workout, and Mumm Cuvée is just the place to rest your aching taste buds. Pull up a table outside and survey the vast vineyards before you. You're royalty for a day, ordering up a flight of bubbly to sip and judge as you oversee the vast grape fields growing so diligently below.

Mouth value: The value-priced Mumm Taster ($8) offers three half-flutes of Mumm's standard bruts: Blanc de Blancs, Brut Prestige and Blanc de Noirs. Bruts are the driest of the champagnes, with little hint of sweetness. The Blanc de Blancs has a bright yellow color, with lots of crisp acid and an almost vegetabley taste--little fruit here and lots of toast. The lighter Brut Prestige has a bit more depth, but the favorite of the three was the Blanc de Noirs, which is almost pink in color and fruitier, with the flavor of the Pinot Noir grapes lending punch and zing.

After chatting with the staff, we couldn't resist trying two champagnes off the reserve menu, the 1998 DVX and the much sweeter Cuvée M. The DVX ($45) is amazingly complex with a strong almond flavor, crisp fruits and vanilla. We were tempted to snatch a bottle and run into the vineyards for a lazy, hedonistic day commiserating with the grapes. The Cuvée M ($20) is ripe and naughty, sweet and sassy--a wine perfect for spicy foods and summer picnics.

Don't miss: Before leaving, make sure to stroll through the winery's art gallery. Somewhat hidden, the gallery boasts a wealth of incredible photography, showing the work of 17 American landscape photographers through Oct. 10, and including 25 separate Ansel Adams prints. After slurping through the bubbly, stop into the original Oakville Grocery (7856 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, 707.944.8802) to fill your tummy with obscenely decadent cheeses and sandwiches. This is tailgating deluxe. Though the retro grocery looks a bit bedraggled on the outside (they've been around since 1881), inside it's all $5 lattes and exotic cheeses.

Five-second snob: Size really does matter--and bigger may be better after all. Most of the wine bottles you buy in a store are 750 ml, but there are many other lesser-known sizes, including a "split" (375 ml) and the larger magnum (1,400 ml, or two bottles), all the way up to the behemoth Nebuchadnezzar, which equals 20 bottles. Magnums of champagne are aged much longer than their smaller siblings at Mumm Cuvée. A 750 may only sit 18 months, while the magnum ages up to 60 months. The longer wait makes for a much different taste and texture, with smaller bubbles and a slightly more complex, yeasty (or toasty) flavor.

Spot: Mumm Cuvée Napa, 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford. Open daily, 10am-5pm. $5-$12 tasting fee. 707.967.7700.

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From the June 16-22, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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