Tasting at Williamson made the next three experiences I had seem pale and perfunctory by comparison. There was no glass change from red back to white, nary a soda cracker in sight and the thrifty refunding of only one of two fees upon purchase at those joints. I hope those pinched pennies pay out double—in pennies. Not so at Williamson, which offers up creative food pairings with each pour, side-by-side comparisons and witty banter all for the price of free. Alas, there lies the rub. The Williamsons are so confident that after trying their wines you'll want to buy that I left wishing they had lent their blending talents to a token inexpensive vintage or had charged a fee. While I didn't get the gentle ribbing that the voluble Mr. All-Talk-No-Wallet before me received, tasting is just trying, after all. But I'll say this: The wine is superb.
Aussie transplants in Dry Creek Valley by way of Silicon Valley, Dawn and Bill Williamson put down their vinifera roots in the early 1990s, and made like vintners in 2002. Furnished in contemporary villa (the walls antiqued, the art not dangerous), their Healdsburg tasting room warms up as any expectation of pretense is dissolved with hearty hospitality. On a recent weekday, the Williamsons poured their finessed wine with finger food sliced and diced on the spot. The pairings work quite well ("We're looking for the well," quipped Dawn Williamson).
Matched with cheese and bread-and-butter pickle, the 2005 Chardonnay Amourette ($38) is a limpid pool of toned-down toffee, and a paragon of balance. Bill Williamson conceived of the 2005 Vin Rouge "Clarissa" Claret ($47), with nose of cassis, ginger and Fig Newton, as his late-night sipping wine, an agreeable replacement for coffee. Next, Williamson drizzled honey over blue cheese, piggybacked on a wedge of cheddar. Note how the warm, juicy 2005 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($57) extinguishes the tangy blue. True enough.
Claiming his 2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon ($57) is crafted for the grill, he offers a pepper-crusted challenge: Note how the Cab takes away the salami's salt and fat from the palate, leaving only flavor. Indeed, it does. Go back to the other Cab, it will go down too hot. Whether parlor trick or, indeed, design, it's just like the man said. No brash down-under style, the 2005 Shiraz ($47), served with chutney and cheese, shows burnt vanilla bean and a bit of bramble, but the softness of a Napa Merlot. Where's the sweaty-saddle Shiraz with Vegemite? These Aussie transplants are surely defectors on that account.
Williamson Wines, 134 Matheson St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am–7pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.1500.