The vinosphere has steadily warmed over recent years, and a thick haze of easygoing, consumer-friendliness has settled in. No one can tell you what's a good wine. Don't be bossed around; your palate is the boss. Rare indeed is the place where, as the unwary wine sampler, flattered into believing you have the lead, you are led kicking and screaming by the tongue to what you will like. And you will like it.
Locals is a high-concept tasting room in the sleepy pit stop of Geyserville. They offer over 60 wines from nine wineries in varietal flights. You can compare the 2005 and 2006 Hawley Viogner ($22), for instance, noting how one changes from cat pee to spring blossoms with a little time in the glass, while the latter starts out like sharp cheese on a water cracker.
The trouble started with the Zinfandel. At Locals, said our host, what's important is your palate. Faced with 10 Zins to choose from, I merely suggested that I was looking for a certain extracted style. "Words, those are just words. Words are funny things," I was admonished. "I'll get a feeling for your palate," our host instructed. "Then I'll choose what you'll like." It sounds so reasonable and service-oriented. It's all about you, and finding what you like. I felt like an EST seminar initiate, at once violated and enlightened. Words are just words. Do visitors ever resist this approach? "They try, but they're up against the best."
A young couple on their first wine country experience suggested that they preferred a green taste in a Cabernet, but were told, "Anything green in a red wine is always bad." So nix the 2005 Hawley Pinot ($32) with its bacon and green spice. I prefer the strawberry conserve flavors and just-after-the-rain earthy aroma of the 2002 Peterson Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($35), but I held my tongue. Maybe anything just-after-the-rain is always bad.
I got into trouble again at the end. We decided not to make a purchase that day. "That's too . . . bad," the host said. The word "bad" dropped like a heavy magnum on the floor. My friend came out from hiding behind a table of hip merchandise and we fled to recover with a bottle of Meeker from next door.
I've brought two people on two different occasions to Geyserville and each time, Locals brought them down. I say, give it a chance for the variety, it's a great concept, but both erupted in vitriol after walking out the door.
Locals Tasting Room, corner of Geyserville Avenue and Highway 128, Geyserville. Tasting is free. 707.857.4900.
The Bay Area's most exciting new wine scene is plugged into industrial-scale waste water systems. East Bay winemakers are fashioning excellent wines in warehouses down by the waterfront. In Berkeley, A Donkey and Goat Winery goes micro-Burgundian with its oak puncheon fermenters. Emeryville's Periscope Cellars is in a former WW II submarine repair facility. Get out of the wine country, and get a rare chance to check out 15 member wineries at the East Bay Vintner's Alliance 2nd Annual Urban Wine Experience. It's held at Rosenblum Cellars, the godfather of the scene, in retired military buildings, on Saturday, Aug. 18, from 3pm to 6pm. 2900 Main St., Alameda. $35-$45. www.eastbayvintners.com.