Steve Martin once famously quipped that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. At Davis Bynum Winery, it soon becomes clear that talking about wine is a lot like tasting about architecture.
Indeed, Bynum's wines fairly set up residency on the palate, building small castles that arch spires of flavor from the tongue straight up to that impossible aerie found at the roof of the mouth. Moats and walkways made of brambleberry or cream or mineral flank these structures.
Given the mythic proportions that Bynum's wine assumes in the mouth, the winery's tasting room is gratifyingly unlike that of a feudal lord's residence. On a recent gray Sunday, we fell gratefully into the capable hands of tasting room master Kent Seegmiller, who led us on a fancy-house tour of the winery's current bottles. A fire was lit in the barnlike structure and a beautiful woman sat quietly beside it, a winery employee on break. Tchotchkes are limited to the ceramic work of one area artist, and the bathrooms outside are of the portable variety. Visitors on bicycles thanked Kent for letting them park there all day while they navigated Westside Road, returning to taste and buy several bottles. An enological intern here in the states from South Africa persuaded Kent that it was good form to give him a free tasting. A man came in from the cold to announce that he had a blind dog in the car and asked if it would be OK for him to bring it in. Of course! We were further than miles from Highway 29 with this old-school Russian River Valley hospitality and winemaking. I was so grateful for the lack of pretense and so involved with forming castles in my mouth, I don't remember how we convinced ourselves to leave.
Kent took us expertly through a tasting, beginning with a 2005 Shone Farm, Richioli Vineyard Fume Blanc ($15) that he explains is New Zealand-style, with plenty of pear, mineral, honeysuckle and gooseberry. The 2003 Limited Edition Chardonnay ($25) is all fresh cream and pineapple, finishing green apple. We tried a 2004 Cabernet Franc and Merlot Rosé ($15) that we were in entirely the wrong mood for and so moved on to the full reds, for which Davis Bynum is so well-regarded. (Bynum emphatically doesn't act alone, crediting his neighbor Joe Richioli for fruit, collaboration and advice.)
The 2002 Merlot ($28), like a Swanson Merlot, is a reminder that this much-maligned grape can ably survive one smarmy movie about a man who steals from his own mother. An Italian-style food wine, the 2002 Pinot Noir Lindley's Knoll Vineyard ($55) is every bit the plummy, jammy, cherried splash of fresh-sprung drinkable earth that causes swoons and erects castles. We finished with the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Laureles Estate Vineyard ($50), a fully structured Cab that made us laugh aloud when it hit the palate and began busily setting up house.
The fire banked, the blind dog settled down for a nap, the bicyclists went on their way, the intern set out for new comps, and we finally made our regrets, setting back out into the gray river air, renewed.
Davis Bynum Winery, 8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. 800.826.1073.