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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Simi Winery

By Heather Irwin

Note to self: Never go winetasting on a Friday. Or a Saturday, for that matter. Sneak out at lunchtime on a Tuesday, because on a recent TGIF visit to Simi Winery, the crowds were standing two deep and I had to elbow my way to the bar just to be ignored by the overworked tasting staff for another five minutes. Not that it's their fault. To be fair, Simi is one of the most popular destination wineries in Dry Creek. Though as the crowds start to thin after the lunchtime crush, I'm still left swirling the last drops of my pour for several minutes as others get served. In fact, an over-zealous neighboring taster takes advantage of a bottle left unattended on the bar and helps himself--and me--to a generous pour of Merlot. Though I'm feeling a little guilty, it's vindicating.

Lowdown: The tasting room is pretty much your standard fare. It's not the facility, however, but what's in your glass that brings folks far and wide to this gem of a winery just outside Healdsburg. Simi is renowned for its Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which are pretty darned tasty--and worth the seemingly endless wait.

Mouth value: Start out with the '02 Sauvignon Blanc ($14) to get your taste buds firing. This limited release has all the usual characteristics of Sauvignon Blancs--peachy, floral, tropical. But unlike many others, it doesn't yearn to be a smarmy imitation of a piña colada. The tropics stay subdued and end with a crisp, nicely acidic finish. The '02 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($16) again typifies the understated charm of Simi's wines. The butter and oak in the '02 accessorize rather than define the wine. Think if it as the Harry Winston sparkle to your black Ralph Lauren gown. Or maybe the chili on your chili cheese fries.

The Sonoma County Merlot ($22) is a softer style Merlot, with only 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon mixed in. The lack of strong tannins lets flavors like cocoa and cinnamon come out. The lack of Cab muscle doesn't make this wine wimpy, however. The grapes stand up with plenty of body and fruit even without brute force. The '02 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is the best of the bunch with lots of depth and lush fruit. Though this Cab has plenty of power, it's a gentle giant with a delicate touch on the palate.

Don't miss: Not many people know this, but if we can keep this between us, I'll tell you: Sake'O (505 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707.433.2669) has the best sushi chef in the North Bay. Exaggeration? Not likely. Witness the magic. One bite of tuna belly and you're hooked, quite possibly, for life.

Five second snob: Simi led the way in female-friendly winemaking. In 1973, Simi hired Mary Ann Graf, the first woman winemaker with collegiate training. Paired with Andre Tchelistcheff, they went on to win many awards. In 1979 pioneering enologist Zelma Long took over the winemaking duties. Long, who is one of the most celebrated winemakers in California, was CEO of Simi until her recent retirement. Steve Reeder is the current winemaker at Simi.

The spot: Simi Winery, 16275 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. The tasting room is open from 10am to 5pm daily. $5 tasting fee. 707.473.3213.

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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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