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Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery 

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Among the better understood side effects of wine is its ability to slacken the lower mandible. Most users report a pleasurable experience, even when the topic of conversation is wine itself, while the tendency to find new topics to yammer on about can lead to tension. Take, for instance, the topic of "fruity vs. dry." Lately, it's become fashionable among certain tippling elites to deplore California "fruit bombs" in favor of European products said to reflect the terroir from whence they came. Less is known about "fruit," although it's often thought to originate from the offices of the Wine Advocate. Folks, let's go to a mirror and pronounce "minerally." Yikes, does it look like we're having fun?

Dry and austere or fruit forward with melted chocolate, I like it all, as long as it's good. At Everett Ridge it's good—but at the tasting room, we didn't talk about that, we talked about Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Call Monday local's day for winetasting: people drop in and out, shoot the summer breeze; the winemaker pops by, we talk beer. I highly recommend it.

Everett Ridge changed logos and owners several years ago when it was purchased by the Sterling family, who own Esterlina Winery in Anderson Valley, the little winery with the fabulous view and its very own appellation. When their production grew and they needed to consolidate, the historic Everett Ridge property came up for sale. It's got a dandy view as well, which can be enjoyed from the tasting room or the patio out front. As is the custom at Esterlina, day-glo orange cheese puffs are served for, you know, palate cleansing.

Pair that with the 2007 Syrah Rosé ($16), a smoky and jammy, light, lively and basically dry rosé. The 2008 Cole Ranch Riesling ($19) carries the Esterlina label; this vintage is dry to off-dry, with pineapple-pear fruit over a deceptively simple, eminently balanced structure.

The 2005 Cole Ranch Merlot ($22) was warm and light, with framboise, raspberry-vanilla, soft with just a hint of a Merlot-y vegetal core (note that saying "Merlot-y" in the mirror looks less pinched than "minerally"). The red lineup was big, soft and fruity. The 2006 Estate Zinfandel ($32), candylike boysenberry and chocolate, juicy and firm; the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) took 30 months of oak with aplomb, maintaining plum-black cherry fruit and merely pushover tannins; the 2006 Estate Syrah veered from the varietal toward Cab, with dark toasty oak and ripe, glossy blackcurrant and plum.

I would have thought that this laid-back joint wouldn't charge a hefty (for the area) tasting fee, but it's refundable with purchase, and at the least we can pick up a similarly priced bottle of the Sterling's marketing coup, the Diablita brand. Diablita, described as "a fun and slightly mischievous woman who enjoys life," rocks screwcapped bottles of inexpensive red, white, pink and Zin. The 2005 Diablita Red ($16) is smoky, bramble berry fruity, with ripe liqueur-type nose and a clean, tight finish, a sure-fire barbecue bringer. Inexpensive, solid and sassy wine carrying a Sonoma County appellation? Now that's something to talk about.

Everett Ridge Vineyards & Winery, 435 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily 10am–5pm. Tasting fee $15; refunded with purchase. 707.433.1637.

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