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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Rosenblum Cellars

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Rosenblum ain't about the hype. Though the winery is housed in some of the highest-rent property in the already high-rent town of Healdsburg, the snob factor just doesn't register here. The Sonoma County tasting room (the winery is actually located in Alameda) is part funky, native art gallery and part, well, tasting room. Tucked under a heavy ivy awning, it's a cool respite from the droning Jags, Mercedes and ladies who lunch clogging the streets outside.

Like so many other big Zin producers, Rosenblum likes things a little offbeat. T-shirted staff, scruffy beards and an easy manner reign behind the bar. But with nearly 20 labels in the Zin stable alone, this winery is one of the undisputed champs in the category. Without gushing too much, I can honestly say that almost all of these Zins rock--as in death metal, punk rock, foot-in-your-eye, get-out-the-lighter. Rosenblum has been awarded again and again for its Zinfandels, which thankfully have yet to get too big for their Axl Rose-worthy britches.

Mouth value: As you might guess, whites are amusing but not all that amazing. The 2002 Viognier, Kathy's Cuvée ($14), was bright and fruity but lacked the charm of others I've tried in the same price range. The two reds I tried, 2001 Holbrook Mitchell Trio ($36) and 2002 Abba Syrah ($18) were fine--nice little reds, but again, not bone-rattling. The 2001 Alegria ($24) is where things start getting interesting. A less expensive Zin, the Alegria has the ripe, velvety style of Rosenblum's higher-end wines with lots of jammy complexity and richness and that Russian River beauty.

The 2001 Annette's Reserve Zinfandel ($28) had a bright and spicier flavor, but lacked the lushness of the Alegria. The 2002 Planchon, from the San Francisco Bay ($20), had more depth, but again, didn't compare to the Alegria. The 2002 Monte Rosso ($38), however, had me to my knees--my palate screaming for ever-lovin' mercy. This is an amazing powerhouse of a wine with incredible complexity and flavor ranging from blackberry to vanilla with a sweeter, friendlier finish than more forceful Zins in the same class.

Don't miss: El Farolito (128 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707.433.2807) kicks out the area's best fish tacos. Served up mucho fresco in this local hole in the wall, the tacos are piled with cabbage, ranchero sauce, tomatoes and grilled whitefish. Plus it's a killer deal at $3.50 for a small order and $6.50 for large.

Five-second snob: Founder Kent Rosenblum was and remains an East Bay veterinarian with a passion for wine. Despite his success in the businesses, he continues to work with four-legged patients. The winery's second, less expensive label, Chateau La Paws, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to his critter friends.

Spot: Rosenblum Cellars Wine Country Tasting Room, 250 Center St., Healdsburg. Open from 10am to 5pm daily. No tasting fee. 707.431.1169.

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From the September 8-14, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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