I t's time to wipe the slate, cleanse the palate and buy a new calendar as soon as they're discounted 60 percent. In this new year, I resolve: to observe a moratorium on Sideways references—it's been fun for three years, but it's time to cork it; to step out of the debate of Champagne vs. sparkling, but to drink more of each; to lay down wine for longer than a few days' storage on the kitchen counter, so as to note how nuances of bouquet develop after, say, three weeks; and to give the topsy-turvy ex–Topolos Vineyards another chance, and see what's going on there now. Hey! I can take care of that last one right now.
Last time Swirl 'n' Spit dropped in on Russian River Vineyards was in February 2006. Ownership was up in the air, and the restaurant had cleared the tables for the last time. Topolos, with its distinctive North County architecture—part hop barn and part Russian fortress—was a funky favorite for locals and visitors alike. The vintages could be at times uneven, but memorable. I still recall an evening more than 10 years ago, when my neophyte palate was stunned by a 1994 Topolos Piner Heights Zinfandel, not quite sure if the wine was shockingly overextracted and overoaked, or simply, brutally, glorious.
It's got a new, classy label, and while some of the funky details are gone, there is a sense that it's not done with its makeover. If asked, hosts will still show curious guests a bottle of Topolos' infamous "Stu Pedasso" brand.
The nicely priced 2005 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($12.99) is a tasty, dry pink wine with substance. Save it for summer or turn up the heat and have it now. You might note Russian River Valley cola notes in the 2002 Pinot Noir ($39.95), enjoying perfumed raspberries on the way to an herbal, rustic finish. I have no problem with blueberry Sharpie accenting the leathery bouquet of a 2005 Dry Creek Syrah ($24.95), but with the 2005 Dry Creek Petite Sirah ($34.95), we finally move into the deep purple territory of luxury tannins that sweep roasted nut aromas and blackberry-pie flavors to their happy home.
The tasting room star that everyone seems to show up for is the just-released 2004 Redwood Valley Barbera ($31.95), a bright and food-friendly table wine. Watch for the upcoming 2003 Napa Valley Charbono ($29.95), sure to be a special treat. Also on the horizon is the return of the Old Vine Zin that was a darling of the Topolos crowd. With all that coming on line, and the restaurant reopened as the new location of Greg Hallihan's Stella's Cafe, there's little reason in the new year to pass up this friendly, rambling old landmark.
Russian River Vineyards, 5700 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Forestville. Open daily 11am to 5pm, tasting fee $5. 707.887.3344.