This year’s top wine bars, tasting rooms, and wine pros
written by Sara Schneider
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Photo by Thomas J. Story
Best Tasting Rooms
Prettiest: Denner Vineyards
Built against a hill in a series of graceful arcs set off by modern metalwork, the complex is at once an efficient gravity-flow production space and a work of art. By appointment only; $10 tasting fee;dennervineyards.com.
Most entertaining: Francis Ford Coppola Winery
You gotta love sipping a mojito poolside—at a winery. From the movie museum (with props from films) to the hunks of meat coming off the Argentine grill at the winery restaurant, the father of The Godfather is a master of entertainment, even when it comes to his wine. Pool pass $15, no tasting fee; 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, CA;franciscoppolawinery.com.
Best place to spend a day: Raymond Vineyards (shown here)
Forget sitting around when there's a blending lab (you blend), plus a pool table and karaoke if you reserve in advance. Tasting fee from $10; 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena, CA;raymondvineyards.com.
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Photo by John Clark
Winemaker of the Year
Oregon Pinot 101 with winemaker Isabelle Meunier, of Evening Land Vineyards in Salem.
What are the characteristics of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir? They are pure and delicate but still elegant and complex, with beautiful red and black fruit and silky tannins. It's magic in a glass.
What's the difference between an Oregon Pinot and a California one? California Pinots can leap out of a glass. In an Oregon one, look for beautiful fruit aromas and flavors but with some restraint and great acidity that carries a long finish. To me, Oregon Pinots are a nice bridge between Burgundy and California.
Anything you like more about making Pinot in Oregon than in France? We have a huge amount of freedom here in the way we can grow the grapes and make the wines, while in France everything is tightly legislated. In the end though, I think we have some of the best weather and soils for cool-climate grapes. The vines really thrive here, and give us magnificent fruit with character year after year.
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Photo by Thomas M. Barwick
Sommelier of the Year
Terry Threlfall, who leads the wine program at hot Vancouver restaurant, Hawksworth, dishes about the B.C. wine scene and offers a few tips.
Which wines in B.C. should we be tasting? Rieslings—especially the old-vine versions from Tantalus and Sperling Vineyards in the Okanagan—impress with steely minerality and complexity. And keep an eye on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Foxtrot and Meyer Family Vineyards, both of which have pure, racy fruit reminiscent of good Burgundy. Foxtrot's 2008 Pinot has to be one my all-time favorite B.C. wines.
How to avoid stale wine by the glass? Choose a restaurant with high volume and turnover (good signs are wines offered by the taste, glass, carafe, and flight), and ask if the wine is dated and checked or stored in a wine-preserving system. At Hawksworth, I'd much rather the kitchen get some extra cooking wine than a customer receive an oxidized glass.
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Photo by Andrea Goméz Romero
Best Wine Bars
For the wine geek: Covell, Los Angeles
You don't order a wine from a list, instead, you think up an adjective, a place or even a mood, and the sommelier pours you a few tastes to nail your craving. Consider it a "choose your own wine adventure" among cozy-cool salvaged treasures. $; 4628 Hollywood Blvd.; 323/660-4400.
For the foodie: The Local Vine, Seattle
This new Capitol Hill spot attracts a crowd with the likes of white truffle popcorn that pairs oh so well with the Spindrift Pinot Gris on tap. Flights are described by character-"statuesque: traditional, bold, structured" (white) or "cheerful: unpretentious, easy to drink, aromatic" (red). $; 1410 12th Ave.; 206/257-5653.
For super-local wines: Urban Enoteca, Seattle
Arm yourself with a "library card" at the registration desk and head to the Fidélitas counter for a taste of their crispy and creamy "Optu" Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend or to McCrea for their spicy, peachy Grenache Blanc. Charge a few bites to that card from the Library Lounge menu, and at checkout, everything magically appears on one bill. $$; 4130 First Ave. S.; 206/467-9463
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