Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: Wineries, I've found, are a lot like people. The vast majority blur in the memory without much distinction. There are, maybe a few dozen that you know you should like, but don't. There are a handful that you absolutely hate, and maybe double that you find yourself pretty darn fond of. And then, there are the close few that you really, really love--sometimes despite themselves, often for good reason.
Michel-Schlumberger is the kind of winery that just feels wonderfully right and is among my top 10 favorites. Though the winery's usually only open by appointment, taking the time to book a tour is something I highly recommend for the winery itself and doubly for the wine.
The simple, Spanish-style, stucco-and-tile building has a large, open-air courtyard and rectangular wading pond at its center, with French doors all around leading into a cozy tasting room. On a recent, cold, drizzly day, we found a crackling fire inside, incredibly friendly staff and wines that, while not perfect, had an endearing mix of French subtlety and California moxie.
Mouth value: Schlumberger specializes in Bordeaux- style wines, which is not surprising considering the family has been making French wines for some 400 years in the Old World. The 2003 Pinot Blanc ($21), aged in steel tanks, has a crisp, tart quality that's refreshing and less fruity than most Sauvignon Blancs. But Schlumberger is better known for its Chardonnays. The 2002 Chardonnay ($24) has a cleaner, more fruit-forward quality with light oak. Frankly, I liked it a bit better than the oft-lauded 2002 Chardonnay La Brume ($35), which seemed heavy-handed in comparison.
I've discovered that's the one thing that's hard about doing multiple tastings at Schlumberger: the wines are often subtle and a bit delicate, so I found the 2001 Pinot Noir ($38) a bit weak in the knees in comparison to the tart, tannin-heavy, but delightfully complex 2000 Syrah ($20). The best bet, however, if you can stomach the price tag, is the 1999 Reserve Cabernet ($75), which nearly brought me to my knees with its velvety richness. Hallelujah.
Five-second snob: Jacques Schlumberger, who took a controlling interest in the winery in the 1990s, is an art and music supporter who helped fund the construction of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State, where both he and his wife went to school.
Spot: Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate, 4155 Wine Creek Road, Healdsburg. By appointment only. 707.433.7427.
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From the December 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.