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11.14.07

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Arista Winery

By James Knight


Unable to answer their calling in their homeland, the pilgrims voyaged west for a better life. On the coast of the New World, they learned from friendly natives how to plant the local crops. After a few seasons of hard work, their harvests were bountiful, and they throve.

I'm still, of course, talking about Texans.

Lately you can't swing a dead grape without hitting some Texan in the wine business. An invasion? Nope. They have come to adopt the indigenous way of life and pay tribute to the local god, Dionysus. They are escaping the tyranny of "dry" counties, and less-than-ideal climatic conditions for vinifera, too. (If there are outstanding examples that demonstrate otherwise, please send me samples care of this paper.) Yes, there's wine in Texas, but California is—to borrow from Lone Star son Dan Rather—the big enchilada. They must be as happy as gophers in soft dirt, and I can't think of a Texas transplant who isn't a producer of primo vino. You wouldn't say, for example, that Susie Selby is all hat and no Cabernet—and her Chardonnay is excellent, too. Siduri's manic Adam Lee makes more small lots of Pinot than Austin turns out bands, and Mac McDonald is clearly realizing his Burgundian vision.

Joining them to build his vineyard on a hill is retired orthodontist Al McWilliams and family. For now, their tasting room on Westside Road is a stand-alone (Arista shares winery space at Moshin). The scene doesn't scream Texas. The baby vines of the future estate vineyard are spaced a petite one meter apart and a Japanese architect designed the unique building and naturalistic landscaping and picnic area, set on a picturesque rocky knoll overlooking the Russian River Valley.

Nothing big about the wine list: three style-driven, focused wines. The dry, Alsatian-style 2006 Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer ($24) is light on the spice, with floral and pineapple aromas. Like a sexed-up Sauvignon Blanc, its crisp acidity is rounded out with a hint of cream. Vanilla, cocoa and spice enhance the classic, cranberry astringency of the 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40), while candied cherry with vanilla and clove introduce the similar 2006 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($30). Rhubarb pie also comes to mind.

Speaking of food, I like their mannerly tasting notes. While acknowledging that the wine is pleasant by itself, they suggest pairing it with a pork tenderloin dish, just "possibly glazed with a cherry reduction sauce." And the staff was in good humor, for it being closing time at the end of an unusually hectic day. It so happened that all the McWilliams were away at the hospital, greeting their first brand new Californian born in their adopted land.

Arista Winery, 7015 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Tasting room open daily, 11am to 5pm. Free. 707.473.0606.


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