Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: Dropping by to taste at appointment-only vineyards can be a bit daunting. In fact, I've avoided it at all costs for the past year. At least in public tasting rooms, there are usually a handful of people at the opposite end of the bar asking all the dumb questions that deflect the possible (probable) dumbness of your own questions. And there's always that inevitable moment when, at an appointment-only tasting, you feel obliged to buy a case of wine for dragging this poor guy away from his football game on a Sunday afternoon.
Unti is a great example of why you shouldn't sweat appointment-only tasting rooms from here on out. George Unti (or his son, Mick) takes your phone call, tells you to come on out, meets you at a makeshift tasting area in the winery/barn and then charms you with stories of his vineyard, his wines and his philosophy of winemaking. No pressure, no hard sell. Just you and George sipping a few hearty Syrahs on a Sunday afternoon. Now, what's so scary about that?
Mouth value: Think Italian at Unti. The wines are best drunk young, with little pretension and an eye toward big fruit, easy oaks and everyday drinking. You'd be a fool to hide these wines away for long, though they do benefit from breathing a bit after opening. The '03 Segromingo ($15) is a Chianti-style wine that's perfect for a casual meal. Lots of fruit and spice make it as entertaining as Flavor Flav at a dinner party. The '03 Barbera is silky and bright, picked very ripe so it drinks sweetly, rather than with a pucker. Syrah is Unti's favorite grape, with the '02 just released and the '03 coming soon. With amazing color and depth, it's as pretty to look at as it is to drink. The '02 lacks some of the earthiness of the '01, but has lots of nice, ripe fruit that will likely age well over the next couple of years--if it lasts that long in your cellar. This baby's ready to drink now.
Five-second snob: So, is Petite Sirah just a smaller version of Syrah, or what? Yes and no. Think of them as related by marriage, rather than juice. The Petite Sirah grape is a smaller, more concentrated fruit that's mainly grown in California. Unlike the Syrah (or the Australian Shiraz), Petite Sirah produces a bigger, darker, thicker kind of wine and is also often used as a blending wine to beef up other reds. Syrah is best known as a French grape that produces peppery, dark wines with lots of dark fruit. Not quite as saucy as a Zin, but far more flirtatious than a Cabernet or Merlot.
Spot: Unti Vineyards, 4202 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. By appointment only. No tasting fee. 707.433.5590.
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From the January 26-February 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.