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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Passalacqua Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: There's something to be said for a tasting room that seems cheery and warm, even on a miserable, cold, gray winter day. Like so many of the Dry Creek Valley wineries, Passalacqua is charming and quaint with a local, family-run-winery-thing going on, yet it is very serious about making some really nice wines.

Absent of self-aggrandizing or Disneyland tactics, Passalacqua is just folks. A lot of folks, it turns out. The local clan is impressively large (everyone, it seems, knows one of the Passalacquas), and the winery continues the legacy of the family's winemaking Aunt Edith, who had a Healdsburg winery in the 1930s.

Mouth value: Passalacqua focuses on red wines but has a surprisingly good Chardonnay. After feeling a bit let down by the 2002 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which seemed flat and far too delicate for the palate, it was tempting to move on to the reds. I was dissuaded, thankfully. The 2002 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($23) shies away from being overly oaky and lets the fruit speak. Apple and pear chatter away, but a smattering of vanilla and smooth, rich depth and buttery goodness keep the wine well away from Boone's Farm territory. The winery makes two Zinfandels, with the 2002 Dry Creek Valley "Old Vine" ($29) the better choice; while the 2002 Sonoma County ($24) still feels a bit tight, the Old Vine speaks with an old soul. There's a rich jammy quality that lingers on . . . and on. Also worth a mention is the 2001 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), with a deep, dark color and plenty of coffee and cocoa on the nose with plum as a payoff. (Casting off all snob-speak, I can say with confidence that it tastes yummy.)

Don't miss: Two reasons to spend a few extra minutes at Passalacqua. First off, sidle up to the hearth, which usually has a toasty fire going on rainy winter days. Nearby, you can check out a nifty little wine aroma kit that helps novice (and experienced) wine sniffers identify the aromatic differences between common smells associated with wine, such as, for instance, lychee nut and quince. Who knew? Also, step outside onto the large deck overlooking a garden and vineyard. Pretend for a moment this is all yours. Ahhh . . .

Five-second snob: What's so great about old vines? In the case of some grape vines, age improves them--pretty significantly. Here in California, some of the oldest vines can be 80 to 100 years old. The deal is that, kind of like us, the vines slow down a bit after middle age (about six years or so) and produce less though more concentrated grapes. Concentrated equals more flavor. And more flavor equals better wine, right?

Spot: Passalacqua Winery, 3805 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am-5pm. 707.433.5575.

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From the November 17-23, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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