Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: So far in my travels, the number of wineries purporting to be a gateway to Hell is exactly one. Fortunately, Armida Winery, which sits atop a rolling hill in the Dry Creek Valley, also has the only dibs on being the gateway to Heaven. On select weekends during the year, like the upcoming Dry Creek Passport, you can decide which threshold to cross over.
Less about making a religious stand than promoting its coffin-encased Pinot Gris, called "the Antidote," and other more worldly concoctions, Armida hosts a rip-roaring Heaven/Hell-themed tasting (complete with angels and devils) during certain weekends, much to the delight of fans--though with an enormous window peering over the idyllic view of the valley, Armida is pretty heavenly most days. Stroll along the outside deck, sip from a broad collection of wines, then sneak a sinfully evil truffle from the bar. Hey, no one's perfect.
Mouth value: What especially enamors me of Armida is the uniqueness of each of its wines. Too often, a winery will have a slightly monotonous tone that rings through all the wines. Not here. The 2003 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc ($16) is tart and a bit flinty with lemony overtones. Conversely, the '04 Russian River Gewürztraminer ($19) smells like a freshly picked apple, and tastes as crisp, with just a hint of sweetness. The '03 Keefer Ranch Chardonnay ($25) has a slightly smoky, meaty quality that is obviously no stranger to the oak. Enough to set off a fire alarm was the Castelli Vineyard '03 Pinot Noir, which was a bit like a burned marshmallow.
What Armida has always done especially well are busty Zins, like the Tre Torrente Vineyard '03 Zin, which, despite a little bite, was a perfectly nice wine (though a little pricey at $30). I was more swayed, however, by the Cabs. The '00 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) sang with dark cherries and a cheekiness that made it immediately endearing. Also impressive was the '02 Stuhlmuller Vineyard ($32) Cabernet that was the biggest Cab of the bunch with lots of cassis, but still needing a little more time in the bottle.
Don't miss: This year's Passport Weekend, according to the tasting-room staff, will be even bigger and better than last year. They're not divulging any secrets, but it will no doubt be worth the wait.
Five-second snob: The winery sports three geodesic domes on the property--basically buildings with funky round roofs. Why? Well, no one really knows, as the property was purchased intact, and the previous owners weren't around to answer questions. No one's complaining, though. The curvaceous caps quadruple the usable space inside.
Spot: Armida Winery, 2201 Westside Road, Healdsburg, Open daily, 11am to 4pm. Regular tasting list is free; $2 for additional reserve tastings. 707.433.2222.
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From the April 13-19, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.