Greeting visitors at Cline Cellars' tasting-room door is a realistic, life-sized rubber butler, molded from latex and dressed in a tuxedo. He stands eerily motionless, like the pre-Robin Williams post-encephalitic patients in Awakenings. The purpose of the sentry is unclear: perhaps it's meant to engender an atmosphere of mirthful irreverence, an idol to ward away the same snobs who would tsk-tsk a wooden Native American dry-rotting in front of a tobacco shop. Or perhaps the rubber butler proves the adage that good help is hard to find.
Good wines, however, are not hard to find at Cline, whose tasting-room menu currently boasts, among dozens of other selections, a raft of single-vineyard designate Zinfandels--gorgeous fruit bombs, each distinct from the other and each with its own super-powerful suggestion of simile.
Among them is the 2004 Sonoma Zinfandel, which hails from the Dry Creek and Alexander Valley vineyards, and behaves like a shy child who sulks before becoming an affectionate hug-machine with strawberry popsicle breath and a finish like a velveteen bear. Conversely, the 2004 Bridgehead Zin, sourced from Contra Costa County, is a beach scene in which the new lovers' afternoon is threatened by the unexpected presence of an ex, but then blooms with dark possibility. Notes of berry, chocolate and toasted vanilla add heft to this otherwise peppery mouthful.
Also sourced in Contra Costa County, the 2004 Big Break Zinfandel is a heady, musty adventure, like crawling toward the back of a closet deep into a warren of dust bunnies and chancing upon a cedar box containing dried blueberries and a single eucalyptus leaf--and then drinking it. It's a complicated, robust and powerful wine that seems to want to live in the musk of a guitar case next to your lost pipe.
Despite also being sourced from Contra Costa County, the 2004 Live Oak Zinfandel is a markedly different affair from the others. This is a big-boned, chest-pounding Zin that teams with dime-store exotica like black cherry cola and hot pepper jelly. It's like some reckless friend of a friend who's initially off-putting but groovy once you get to know him, and, in this case, worth the effort.
The price for all these bottles hovers between $25 and $28 (tastes are only a buck). However, elements of each can be found in a single bottle of the 2004 California Zinfandel, which is a tasty bargain at $11.
Cline Cellars, 24737 Hwy. 121, Sonoma. Open daily, 10am to 6pm. 707.940.4000.