It's late winter in the winery, the new wine has been put to bed, but even as it slumbers in oak casks in the cellar, thieves are at work. Wine thieves. And this month, for a small fee, they'll cut you in on the racket.
The wine thief is sort of a reverse turkey baster. Inserted in the bunghole, it draws a sample out of the barrel. Barrel tasting of new wine is an Old World way for winemakers and negotiants to get a sense of the vintage and plan for future blends or purchases. Here, it's become another good excuse to fill the roads with limos and have a party. March is Sonoma County's new Barrel Tasting Month. It kicks off on the long and winding Russian River Wine Road. Wineries offer some extras like food and entertainment, and "futures" can be purchased, meaning practitioners of delayed gratification can buy a promising vintage now and pick it up 12 to 18 months later.
A sipping, swirling population some 30,000 strong is expected to descend on over a hundred wineries this year, mercifully spread out over two weekends. Try out your mental judo to beat the crowds. Will people assume that the first weekend will be more popular, and choose the second? Or have they already second-guessed that, in which case, do you outguess them and go the second weekend? I need a glass already.
Moshin Vineyards in the heart of Russian River Valley will be offering "country music and snacks," according to the tasting-room guy. It's easy to like Moshin. There's the hummingbird label. The new-in-2005, gravity-flow dream winery built into a hillside lets the wine flow gently from crush pad to the fermenters, with their sweet hydraulic punch-down setup, all the way down to, well, the tasting room. Like so many other enterprising victims littering the area, former math teacher Rick Moshin fell hard for Pinot somewhere along the way, and both permutations on the menu show a marked style. Light-colored, a tinge of brick, the wines kiss the nose with cognac essence.
Inhaling the 2005 Molinari Vineyard ($25), I could almost picture a slice of raspberry cheesecake with a garnish of green pepper. But instead I took home the 2004 Dry Creek Valley Merlot ($22) for a little more in-depth study of its earthy redwood forest scent and rich blackberry flavor, with mild--not quite velvety; let's say terry-cloth--tannins.
Also, check out co-winemaker Kenny Likitprakong's side project, Banyan Wines. The 2006 Monterey County Gewürztraminer is a sweet, balanced refresher aimed at Asian-food pairings, with aromas of honeysuckle and, well, cardboard, but in the best way possible, as when you're opening a package you've been excitedly expecting--like that case of wine you bought last year.
Did I mention that the Russian River Wine Road Barrel Tasting is only $10? A steal.
Barrel Tasting, Friday-Sunday, March 2-4 and 9-11. www.wineroad.com. Moshin Vineyards, 10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, Tasting room open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. 707.433.5499.