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November 1-7, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Sbragia Family Vineyards

By Daedalus Howell


The term "sommelier," or "som" as those in the biz like to breezily abbreviate it, loosely translates from the French as "wine dude." It hails from an Old French expression for "an officer in charge of provisions" or "a pack-animal driver." This second definition seems especially apropos, since "sommelier" is a variation of sommier, meaning "beast of burden."

I witnessed the burden firsthand when sommelier pal Christopher Sawyer (recently seen pairing wines and films in Esquire magazine, of all things), called late in the evening last week and invited the Contessa and me to an impromptu 42-bottle tasting at a local bistro. Apparently, an eager-beaver publicist had delivered the cache of wines (some sourced from Monte Rosso vineyards on the Sonoma side of Mount Veeder) with the hope, I suppose, that Sawyer would approve selections for his list.

The bottles covered every square inch of a cocktail table, save for the space reserved for a dump bucket mercifully wedged into the center. Sawyer had recruited a motley coalition of the willing from the bistro staff--among them a competitive "flair bartender," a woman named Christy, a moonlighting ortho-tech and a photographer.

Good wines, bad wines--you know I've had my share. But my philosophy is why chase bad wine with good ink? To wit, I write about the wines that make my puss purr, and living in our bucolic wine country, that means a lot of purring. In The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, under a chapter helmed by the starchy heading "Vinification," Tom Stevenson makes the declaration that "with modern technology, good everyday-drinking wines can be made anywhere that grapes are grown." The scientific determinist in me is inclined to believe this notion, though I'm not as convinced when he later chides, "When not even good everyday-drinking wines are made from fine-wine vineyards, it is usually due to a combination of excessive yields and poor winemaking, and there is no excuse for either."

Winemaker Ed Sbragia, however, doesn't need any excuses. Consider the flavor profile of his soon-to-be-released Sbragia Family Vineyard 2004 Cabernet Monte Rosso, which uncannily recalls raisin bread French toast, patted with powdered sugar and doused in fine maple syrup. Though not a breakfast wine by strictest definition (trust me, there are some), this cab is a "come over for dinner, stay for breakfast" wine. If appropriately applied, this sexy, ambrosial elixir will raise more than merely eyebrows. Ahem. It will raise awareness of Sbragia's fine family winery.

Now, only 41 more wines to go.


Sbragia Family Vineyards can be tasted at Cellar 360, 308-B Center St., Healdsburg. Open daily from 11am to 6pm. 707.433.2822. www.sbragia.com.


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