Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: Oddly enough, the Windsor Vineyards tasting room is located neither in Windsor nor on a vineyard. In fact, the Healdsburg tasting room is the only place you can buy the wine unless you're ordering from the winery's catalog. (There are also tasting rooms in New York and Tiburon.) The two-pronged claim to fame of this winery is that it is the oldest and largest mail-order wine distributor in the country and that it will put your name on the label. In fact, that's pretty much the hard sell in the tasting room--ordering bottles of wine with customized labels for your wedding, business, bar mitzvah . . . whatever. Which is cute and all, but I'm really here for the wine.
Mouth value: There's a large number of wines to choose from at Windsor, and it's a bit of a toss-up on where to focus. Self-proclaimed as one of the top three most awarded wineries in the United States, Windsor offers high hopes. Maybe it was the day, my taster or the friendly but mostly unknowledgeable staff (know how much residual sugar is in your Gewürtz, folks), but I found the wines to fall pretty solidly in the tasty but not mind-blowing range. The good news is that the servers at Windsor are willing to pour pretty much whatever you're interested in, giving breadth if not depth to the experience.
The 2003 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc Private Reserve ($15) is pleasant, but it pales in comparison to last week's truly great Sauvignon Blanc from Hanna Winery. There's little of the obvious fruit and floral signature, and the sharpness of the alcohol pierces the palate a bit too sharply for such a subtle wine. A better choice is the 2003 Alexander Valley Gewürztraminer ($10). The wine is a little on the sweet side (OK for a Gewürtz) but has more depth and character. Don't be afraid to give the 2003 Rose ($12) a shot. This cute little Shiraz blend is tart and rosy.
At the recent Sonoma Harvest Fair, Windsor's 2002 Alexander Valley Carignane ($17.75) won a best of class. At a heady 15.6 percent alcohol, this is feisty brew with lots of chew. I was less impressed with both the 2001 Sonoma Meritage ($26), which lacked real definition and character, and the 2001 Sonoma Signature Series Merlot ($25.75). The 2000 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.50) improved with each sip, though on first blush it seemed a bit pallid. There's little of the beefy fruit or oak quality that many other Cabs from this area display. But after a few moments of breathing, there was a softness and lushness that redeemed it.
Don't miss: If poochie is panting for a little swirl and spit of his own, drop him by Fideaux (43 North St., Healdsburg, 707.433.9935) for a quick lap out of the "Dogs Rule, Cats Drool" water basin outside. He'll especially appreciate the leg-lifting puppy clocks. At least he's not alone now.
Five-second snob: The winery was started in 1959 by local legend Rodney Strong, who had the idea to create the customized labels for his wine-buying clients. The company now claims to have some 1 million customers worldwide. That's a lot of labels.
Spot: Windsor Vineyards, 308-B Center St., Healdsburg. 800.204.9463
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From the October 13-19, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.