Whether you love the smell of Malbec in the morning or the afternoon, the curtain is up on Francis Ford Coppola's latest winery venture. From his base in the Napa Valley, the film-auteur-turned-wine-magnate has pushed onwards, taking over a 1970s chateau 40 clicks northwest of Calistoga. That's Sonoma County.
Although Chateau Souverain was a kind of Gallic conceit to begin with, it has been rumored that Coppola was going beyond the pale. Reports came in that it was to be a "wine country Disneyland," with swimming pools, cabanas, outdoor restaurant, bocce courts, amphitheater, dance floor and a new home for the Coppola movie museum. Could there really be a wine country Disneyland? This question pulled us north up Highway 101, as if the blacktop was flowing back into Geyserville. Whatever was going to happen, it wasn't gonna be the way they call it back in Rutherford.
The heads. You're looking at the heads--by which I mean, weak references to the more obvious Coppola movie lines. I'm the first to admit it. OK, we just came to taste wine. Taste wine, with extreme prejudice.
The cryptic "Moving Ahead" sign has been replaced with the brand new moniker, Rosso & Bianco. We saw only a vegetable garden along the quiet drive. The rumored sights and thrills must still be in preproduction.
The tasting room crowd was mainly of the holiday-weekend element, dressed-up women with underdressed T-shirted dudes in tow, but that's not to judge. Because it's judgment that defeats us. There's no lack of merchandise for sale: pasta sauce, picnic basket ensembles and Sofia paraphernalia of both the bubbly and box-office kind. Lunch in the adjacent cafe features a reasonably priced menu of Italian starters and plates. They had just closed for the day, but if I have a chance to go back and do it all differently, I'd order a pizza quattro formaggi and kick it on the terrace.
Tastes of Rosso & Bianco wines are offered for free, an offer you can't refuse. Served in tumblers to highlight everyday drinkability, this lower-shelf line was more pleasing than expected. The 2006 Bianco Pinot Grigio ($10.99) was clean, slightly sweet with mineral and citrus notes. A warm vanilla nose and tangy fruit carried the likable 2005 Rosso Classic ($10.99). I regret not having a jelly jar of the 2005 Rosso Shiraz ($10.99) right now, to revisit the sweet apricot jam nose and fruit leather flavors.
The finest wines are available at a price. Although not floral, the 2005 Reserve Russian River Viogner ($24) pleases with a light, sweet honeydew and vanilla palate. Strawberry smokiness, some gingerbread meatiness add interest to the 2005 Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36). In homage to Argentina's signature wine, the 2005 Diamond Collection Malbec ($18) is labeled with the blue of that nation's flag. Smell that? Nothing in the world smells like that, that brand-new tire and cherry smell. The 2005 Director's Cut Zinfandel ($22) gives up a cedary, bramble aroma and grapes eaten off the vine in the late afternoon. A shot of the 2005 Diamond Collection Claret ($19) seemed balanced and firmly tannic, not deeply moving. Try it with cold rice and a little rat meat--or spaghetti alla carbonara classico.
Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco, 300 Via Archimedes at Independence Lane, Geyserville. Tasting Room open daily at 11am. Tasting fee $5; Rosso & Bianco wines free. 707.857.1400.