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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Viansa Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: We lost our group somewhere between the olive oil and parmesan dip. Suddenly, what had been a winetasting tour turned into fistfuls of mini-pretzels waving in the air as we hollered across the room, "Hey! Try the chocolate sauce over here!" Our wine glasses stood patiently until after our stomachs had been filled.

No matter what your intentions, the massive Italian marketplace/winery that is Viansa ends up only being partially about drinking wine. It's easy--perhaps too easy--to get distracted by all the stuff that takes up nearly three-quarters of the tasting room; oils, dips, sauces, books, sweatshirts and a full Italian deli either complement or compete with actually tasting any wine, depending on your ability to focus.

The massive villa-style winery and tasting room sits outside Sonoma in the lush Carneros appellation and includes a wetlands preservation area, a large patio overlooking the reserve and groves of olive trees, in addition to all the food. Sitting outside on the patio munching on antipasti in the glow of the afternoon sun, it's hard not to feel just a little transported to the Italian countryside--minus the charmingly forward men and the pigeons, of course.

Mouth value: The Viansa wines are Italian-style blends of mostly Italian varieties of grapes, making for a unique experience in the region. Less formal than other types of wines, many of the reds and whites are wonderful table wines that are made to pair well with foods. The Athena Dolcetto ($19.50) is an amusing blend of Muscat and Sangiovese that has lots of ripe berry. The 2003 Sauvignon Blanc ($14) is crisp and light and perfect for opening outside with lunch. The 2003 "Vittoria" Pinot Grigio ($19.50) has some funky tropical fruit flavors that can be charming with the right food pairing. The "Frescolina" Tocai Friulano ($30) is a nice dessert wine that leaves the essence of fruit and honey lingering on the palate.

Don't miss: The property also hosts a Sonoma County wine information center that is a great resource for other local wineries, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and up-to-the-minute event information. The surrounding wetlands have been tirelessly restored by Sam Sebastiani and are open to the public for a limited number of annual tours. And, for my money, the smoked mozzarella dip ($9) is a jar to head for.

Five second snob: Sam and Vicki Sebastiani broke from the dynastic Sebastiani Vineyards in a rift fairly characteristic of the oft-squabbling Sonoma family. Then again, being fired by your mom and replaced by your brother can sometimes cause slight feelings of contention. The couple turned over operations to their now-grown children this year.

Spot: Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace, 25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.935.4700

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From the September 15-21, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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