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05.06.09

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Phaedra

Cellars of Sonoma

By James Knight

Known locally as the traditional haunt of winos, Santa Rosa's Railroad Square has ceded ground to enthusiasts of the higher shelves. Restaurants have dished up gourmet grub in this the two-block area for quite a while; the addition of pubs, wine and whiskey bars makes—weekend nights—for a more urbane mirror of the all-out Fourth Street boozefest on the other side of the mall. But the departure of Traverso's Deli leaves precious few retail wine outlets downtown. Joining wine bar and off-sale shop Wine Spectrum, newcomer Cellars of Sonoma is a co-op tasting room that serves up product from six small wineries.

The shop is pretty well put together. If the massive dark wood arches of the bar look familiar, that's because it formerly faced opposite in Mixx restaurant, which was next door. Even in its historic urban location, Cellars of Sonoma lacks not for picture window views on the vineyards: the scenery is on an artful bank of flat panel screens ensconced in wine-barrel heads on the wall. The digital pictures segue continuously from vineyard scenes to snapshots of the results of the co-op's February Bicycle Aid for Africa event.

A creaking staircase leads to the loft, with a ceiling of wine barrel staves, where Cellars holds two-hour aroma seminars in which a round of wine is followed by a tuition in scents, by way of sniffing the essence of essential oils wafting from the bowl of wine glasses. It could be helpful for folks who like what they smell but who'd like to pick out more distinct aromas, like toast and mushroom among the vanilla, raspberry and cherry. Luckily, I'm told not to judge that toast on an off-day; it's a little fresher on seminar days.

Standout wines include the DuNah Vineyard 2006 Gewürztraminer ($30) which, unlike more austere dry Gewürz, loads all the spice and tropical fruits of that grape on a fairly dry palate. An unreal aroma of orange zest carries the DuNah 2006 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir ($50), with nutmeg and a mouthful of orange liqueur-filled chocolate, all the way through the finish. The Gann Family 2006 Alexander Valley Zinfandel ($30) is big and juicy, and if it trended toward ripe raisins and prunes, nicely so: a polished, big old portlike Zin. Ty Caton's Sonoma Valley mountain wines are available for sale only, the legal beagle stuff not yet worked out for pouring. I'll bet the Malbec is particularly promising, and I hope to brown-bag a bottle down to the railroad tracks someday soon.

Cellars of Sonoma. 133 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Sunday–Wednesday, 10am–5pm; Thursday–Saturday, 10am–7pm. $10 fee. 707.578.1826.


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