In 2001: A Space Odyssey, computer superbrain Hal asks a researcher, "Will I dream?" before getting his plug pulled. If researchers at Japan's NEC Technologies have it their way, the next great artificial intelligence might inquire, "Will I drink?" They've created a winetasting robot that uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze the contents of a glass and report on its flavor profile (sommeliers the world over collectively shudder). Bomb squads have long used robots to go where humans fear to tread. Is the day far off now when robots are sent into tasting rooms in lieu of, say, wine writers? Not, dear readers, if I can help it. I promise that I will always venture heedlessly into any tasting room, any time--for you--even at the risk of getting bombed (in the blotto, not blammo!, sense of the word).
This nearly happened on a recent visit to Sonoma's Buena Vista Carneros tasting room, which is likely the oldest such establishment in California. The winery's history is recounted in a wall-sized story board that recounts its founding in 1857 by Count Agoston Haraszthy, a member of the Hungarian Royal Guard, who, among other disparate pursuits, also ran a ferryboat and founded a city in Wisconsin before launching the local wine industry. Despite the rich heritage of Buena Vista's location, the winery sources its grapes down the road a few miles at the lauded Carneros appellation, where it owns a thousand acres of the prime real estate. Recent efforts by viticulturist Craig Weaver have borne fruit, which was summarily crushed and expertly turned into award-winning vino by winemaker Jeff Stewart.
The 2004 Syrah ($25) is rife with leather and tar, and satisfies an olfactory addiction for the deep, smoky aroma of hot asphalt about to be bulldozed. The 2002 Merlot ($25) is an inky, peppery wine with a alluring dusty quality, not unlike the cozy smell of a recently reignited furnace. Likewise, the 2003 Pinot Noir ($35) has a toffee nose that gives way to cherry and wood notes, which finishes in a flush of Mexican chocolate. In contrast, the 2004 Chardonnay ($22) is like eating a caramel apple from the inside out. It begins with the crisp hues of green apple, but finishes with a broad caramel flavor--perfect Halloween sipper.
Buena Vista Carneros, 18000 Winery Road, Sonoma. Open daily,10am to 4pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.938.1266.