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08.26.09

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Phaedra

Taste at Oxbow

By James Knight

Taste occupies prime real estate across from the Oxbow Public Market, in a corner storefront that's all windows. The floor space is generous and holds a long table for groups, tables for two, and islands of wine country paraphernalia with plenty of room left to mill about. Dance, even. The long bar is inlaid with festively colored nuggets of glass, and furnished with stools so that patrons can relax and while away some time with a glass of wine and, well, bland wafers. Taste would seem to promise the world, while delivering only a taste—except that when considering the name, I can't say that they ever promised anything more.

It's a co-op tasting room that pours the product of two local wineries, and does offer a little charcuterie and mixed nuts on weekends. Wines are also available by the glass for a reasonable price, making it a reportedly busy spot in the evenings when tourists drop by between winery-hopping and dinner for a refreshing quaff like Mahoney Vineyard's 2007 "Las Brisas" Albariņo ($18). The Iberian varietal wine had a rich palate of honey, apricot and white raisins.

Where did we last see Mahoney Vineyards? Somewhere by the sea (May 13, 2009), a wine that rhymes with Albariņo . . . Have the 2008 Las Brisas Vineyard Vermentino ($13)? I asked the bartender. Sure did, and produced a bottle from under the counter. This light, white varietal that winegrower Francis Mahoney discovered in southern Italy again proved fresh like sea-spray and focused like a laser, with a lean palate of grapefruit-lime. Crab cakes, please!

Invited to compare the 2005 Mahoney Ranch Pinot Noir ($28) against the 2006 Las Brisas Vineyard Pinot Noir ($28), I accepted. Though similar, Las Brisas differentiated itself with Carneros weeds laden with berry fruit, textbook cranberry, forest-berry fruit, clove spice and a dry, nicely tart finish, while the Mahoney Ranch showed a little warm earthiness and hint of classic barnyard—clean and tidy barnyard, like maybe a petting zoo. Although the giddy decor of Taste doesn't tell the story, the Mahoneys are no newcomers here. Producing for 30 years under the Carneros Creek label, Mahoney planted dozens of Pinot Noir clones, partnering with UC Davis to lead the way in early Carneros clonal research. Even now, experimentation continues with Iberian, Italian and Sardinian varietals. As for Waterstone, I never really got to that side of the menu; check out their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, if you've got a taste for it.

Taste at Oxbow, 708 First St., Napa. Open Sunday–Thursday, 11am–7pm; Friday–Saturday, 11am–9pm. Tasting fee $10. 707.265.9600.


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