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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Ferrari-Carano

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: If you've ever been to Reno, it's not real hard to understand why Don and Rhonda Carano needed to find themselves a little wine country retreat. While a weekend of gambling, smoking and drinking in the Biggest Little City in the World is fun, making razzle-dazzle a full-time job tends to take its toll. So the Caranos, who own a quaint little place called the El Dorado Hotel and Casino, found themselves some 30 acres up Dry Creek way and started a winery. Begun just for fun, really, and to make some nice wine for their restaurants, this gambit seems to have worked. Through the years, Ferrari-Carano wines have found their place among some of the most highly respected wines in Sonoma... and California. Not bad for a couple from Nevada.

The Villa reflects the Carano's Italian heritage and desire for peace and tranquility. Located some nine miles outside Healdsburg. It's among the farthest flung in Dry Creek. Grand gardens and lush vegetation surround the majestic hospitality center/tasting room. Just watch out for the drooling pig.

Mouth value: Whites take center stage at Ferrari-Carano, but there are gobs of reds that range from passable to downright lip-smacking to choose from as well. Though a $10 tasting fee (for the reserve wines) may seem a bit steep, it's your best bet to savor some really lovely wines. Don't cheap out. You'll recoup it on your bottle purchase--and you'll likely be walking about with at least one. Among my favorites is the 2003 Fumé Blanc ($15), an oakier cousin to Sauvignon Blanc with more than a passing resemblance in its fruity, floral ways. The 2002 Alexander Chardonnay ($26) has plenty of fresh, bright flavor, but the drop-to-your-knees-and-genuflect wine is the 2002 Reserve Chardonnay ($36) that eclipses everything else on the menu. With a bigger, smoky taste than the Alexander Chard, it has a perfect mix of butter and toffee with lots of tasty and toasty flavor.

Of the reds, the 1999 TreMonte Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) and 2001 Sonoma Cab ($28) impressed most with promises (and delivery) of jammy, fruity, saucy little bodies. The 2001 Siena ($24) is a nice super Tuscan with a mix of Sangiovese and Cabernet, but lacked some presence. For a sweet aperitif, the 2003 Villa Fiore "Fior di Moscato" ($16) is a peach of a wine--mincingly sweet and delicate. The 2001 Eldorado Noir ($25) is 100 percent black Muscat--lushly dark and mysterious--while the 2001 Eldorado Gold ($29) puzzles with a funky smell (sweat? rubber?) but ends up tasting of dried fruit and fig. Blame it on the Noble Rot.

Don't miss: Sneak into the gated gardens or down the back stairs of the tasting room to the cellar. Both are open to the public, but offer a quiet respite from the hubbub of all the swirling and sloshing going on around you.

Five second snob: Villa Fiore means House of Flowers. In the spring months, thousands of tulips and daffodils adorn the estate.

Spot: Ferrari-Caruno Vineyards and Winery, 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Tasting room open 10am to 5pm. 707.433.6700.

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From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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