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August 16-22, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Roche Carneros Estate Winery

By Daedalus Howell


Roche. It's not French, it's Irish, so don't pronounce it like "Rochambeau," but like "roach," as in Kafka. The Roche family is one of dozens of wine dynasties of Irish descent thriving essentially everywhere except, well, Ireland. Mara Roche, elder sibling of the latest generation of Roches, explains the phenomenon so: When James II was defeated trying to regain the Irish throne in the late 1600s, the Irish soldiers who had been loyal to him followed him to France, where he spent the rest of his days.

This initial flight and subsequent return trips back and forth led earned them the nickname "wild geese." After setting in the Bordeaux region and acclimating to prevailing agricultural trends, they were upgraded to "wine geese." A later diaspora led some wine geese to the States, and it's from this line that the Roche family hails.

At least, that's how I think it goes. A tasting-room patron who, having announced to the room at large that she was a speech pathologist, rudely asked Mara, "Do you always talk like that?" and interrupted my note-taking. Mara's vocal prowess could have the decibel power of a Valkyrie if she so chose, but on this occasion it had a bit of fine-grit sandpaper in it, due to allergens not pathogens, she assured the woman. The speech pathologist recommended not eating dairy. Then she explained that she had been eating oysters, and as a result her fingers were "a bit fragrant."

Mara kindly produced a small bottle of antibacterial hand soap from her purse ("It gets rid of all the nasties") and suggested that she also rub her hands in the aromatic rosemary bush outside. This last suggestion proved a clever and diplomatic means of removing the lady from the tasting room.

Unfettered by fish-fingered busybodies, Mara poured an alluring 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95), which is, in a word, Bubblicious. The fruity wine, done up in hues of summer pear, has a distinctly Bazooka Joe note that recalls one's first junior high kiss and awakens the palate as wonderful late-summer refreshment. Another favorite is the award-winning 2003 estate Chardonnay ($24.95)--the San Francisco Chronicle gave it the gold--a lean, crisp wine that swaggers from yellow apple to a creamy finish, with vanilla patting its ass the whole way.

The 2003 Carneros Pinot Noir ($25.95) is an earthy mouthful of prime Sonoma real estate topped with a sinewy smokiness courtesy of brettanomyces, a residual yeast better known as "brett," as in The Sun Also Rises. Brett is either a blessing or bane to winemakers, but here it adds a welcomed layer of complexity and a pinch of cinnamon, which is a fine reason to get goosed.


Roche Carneros Estate Winery, 28700 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Tastings are free. 707.935.7115.


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