Sure, it has titular echoes of any of a number of shabby sci-fi flicks, but Senate Bill 1380 heralds something of a marketing coup for Sonoma County wine. In an effort to pump up the brand muscle of area wines, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 28 approved the alpha-numerically-known bill (apparently sans pithy nickname), which requires a wine to be made of at least 75 percent Sonoma County grapes in order to bear the name "Sonoma" on its label. Wherever the remaining grapes are sourced will, I suppose, remain the dirty little secrets of the wineries. If any percentage, however, hail from Sonoma's Monte Rosso Vineyard, we shall all be very pleased.
Monte Rosso hovers above the village of Agua Caliente from the southwest side of the Mayacamas Range, on the outskirts of Sonoma. At a recent press junket, aptly dubbed "Monte Rosso Day," several colleagues and I tasted the wares of a variety of wineries that source fruit from the 125-year-old vineyard. The array was dizzying--literally. I had to steady myself with a firm grip of the table during our buffet luncheon, lest I be thrown off my mental merry-go-round and onto the wagon. This was my own fault, of course. Red plastic cups of the ilk most often seen at college keggers were dispensed as personal spit buckets, but the concept proved too counterintuitive for me to follow. "Who spits out fine wine?" my id asked my ego, to which my superego pointedly replied: "Professionals." The irony of praising the winemaker while dumping his life's work into a spittoon, however, proved unfathomable to me, not to mention rude. To wit, I swallowed.
Among Monte Rosso's flying circus of wine is St. Helena-based Louis M. Martini, the vineyard's owner, whose 2004 Monte Rosso Syrah ($50) recalls a strawberry and vanilla Life Saver Pop ("swirl" edition), followed by a quick drag from a cigarillo and a pinch of potting soil. Its wardrobe would consist of corduroy coats with elbow patches, turtlenecks and hush puppies, but wears it deliciously well. A similar smoke note makes a cameo in the Watkins Family Winery's 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (poured in preview, the vintage has yet to be released), a long goodbye kiss from a former lover who has just dashed a cigarette and applied very-berry lip balm after a redemptive coffee date. It's at once familiar, wistful and vaguely astringent--a loaded premise that goes down with deceptive ease. The 2004 Rancho Zabaco Toreador Zinfandel ($45), by contrast, resonates with roasted nuts and pomegranate arils. Strutting pleasingly onto your palate, it won't go until you whistle "Carmen."
For more information on Monte Rosso grapes, go to www.louismmartini.com, www.watkinsfamilywinery.com and www.ranchozabaco.com.