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08.06.08

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Phaedra

Wine Tasting Room of the Week

La Crema Winery

By James Knight


The Curse of the Elbow Curtain returns at this styling downtown Healdsburg salon. I've got an incredible knack for sauntering in just when every last place at the bar is planted with winetasters, glorying in their experience with exaggerated zeal. So we do a walk-around and find a kiosk where we can explore La Crema with glamorous winemaker Melissa Stackhouse—or her interactive video doppelganger—with no appointment. The uncannily enchanting computer-animated Stackhouse taps her fingers and rolls her eyes while we demur on what kind of wine to try first, when a voice hails us from over the bar: "Hey, you guys want to taste today?" All-right, outstanding. The buzz is palpable at this bar made of metal, wood, light and cachet, and staffed with wise guys threaded in black and gray. It's Wine Spectator crossed with Details. "We've got questions . . ." a twenty-something seeker ventures. "I've got answers," the server immediately responds. Ba-da-bing.

According to its marketing materials, La Crema is "everything that the name implies." It's a division of Jackson Family Wines that K-J gobbled up in a 1990s buying spree. Today, La Crema is an "artisan" machine. Raw coastal grapes go in one end, get the royal oak treatment in the middle, and a nationwide spigot fills diners' glasses at the other. It's a top-selling restaurant darling, and the eager young crowd in this tasting room is testament to its enviable level of brand recognition.

La Crema's popular Sonoma Coast series account for something like 99 percent of production, we're told. Here, only limited production wines are offered—la crème de La Crema. All-right, outstanding. We start with the 2007 Sonoma County Viognier ($20): jasmine blossom and citrus, razor sharp. The Pinots are everything that the appellations imply. The 2006 Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($34): lean and tart, a cherry inside of a cherry pit. The 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34): cranberry-cola, red and green forest berries. The 2005 Sonoma County Syrah ($20): scraps of smoked meat, cedar chest and violet with flavors of fruit leather, plum skin and olallieberry. A fist pump to L.C. for a nice showing of this underappreciated varietal (note the anomaly: though at the end of the list, it's cheaper).

But when all seems done, what's this? Our host has revealed a reserve Pinot, a country cousin to the  refined Sonoma Coast. A faint bouquet of animal husbandry, sautéed vegetables and firm cranberries nestled in the blanched brush of a winter thicket? Ahhh . . . The drawback to the "9 Barrel" RRV Pinot Noir ($75)? Just nine barrels.


La Crema Winery, 235 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am to 5:30pm. 707.431.9400.


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