By James Knight
Although it had become spotty and dog-eared by late November, the basil in my care soldiered on amid a frost-burned, fetid garden, looking green enough for a season finale batch of pesto. I stuffed some choice leaves into the food processor, then shelved the project in the fridge while I considered this: since olive oil is the second ingredient to pesto, shouldn't I use the very freshest, most artisanal, locally pressed extra virgin that my budget will allow?
At Davero, locally renowned purveyor of exactly that product, Colleen McGlynn is happy to disabuse me of this notion. The strong flavors of garlic and basil simply overwhelm the spicy, grassy nuances of the best olive oil—better to treat it as a simple lubricant in pesto, after all. But drizzled over ribollita, a Tuscan soup with cannellini beans, bread and kale? "Heaven," McGlynn sighs.
Olives arrived in California along with mission bells, but Ridgely Evers was the first to bring in certain high-quality, Tuscan oil varieties in 1990. Today, Evers and McGlynn distribute olive trees from their nursery, press oil from their 22-acre olive grove, run a biodynamic vineyard, farm and, since September, tasting room located where Westside Road bends south, catty-corner from Madrona Manor. It's a nice break from just winetasting, and for and non-wine wine country gifts, the infused oils, jams and lavender soaps therein are estate-grown, too, from green tomato conserve to Meyer lemon curd.
Served up in little paper cups, Dry Creek Valley Estate Olio Nuovo ($32) is as green as moss on rocks, smells like wheat grass and tickles like pepper. The Extra Virgin ($32) is a mellower, buttery version from last year's harvest. Responding to chef demand, DaVero blended estate product with others from California and Spain to make "Line Lube" ($24) affordable, versatile and also available by the gallon ($74).
As to DaVero's wine, degrease the palate with the crisp, dry 2008 Rosato of Sangiovese, soon to be officially released. Bright and firm, black cherry-and-black olive, the 2006 Sangiovese ($45) is a score for Cal-Ital, while the 2008 Sagrantino ($95) is in a different league, with floral aromas of muscat, apricot and juniper berry, and leaving a fine, dry finish that sweeps the cobwebs from the top palate. DaVero's "365" nonvintage red ($22) is an everyday, hearty blend for simpler moments, like tucking into some whole wheat rotelle and homemade pesto.
DaVero Sonoma, 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open 10am to 5pm daily except Tuesday. Nominal tasting fee $15 (psst—don't sweat it). 707.431.8000.
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