March 18-April 2, 2007

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Wine Tasting

Imagery Estate Winery

By James Knight

"Wow," quoth the raven. I'd always been unnecessarily confused by Imagery Estate. Something to do with art, that I got. But I had to visit the winery to sort it all out. Located on the site of the short-lived Sonoma Mountain Brewery, Imagery Estate results from a 20-year collaboration between winemaker Joe Benziger and artist Bob Nugent, who created the first label and curates the series. The concept: Commission unique artwork from contemporary artists for each release of often uncommon varietal wines. The wine gets drunk. The art goes on the gallery wall. Not so complicated after all.

Although the bar was generously staffed with attentive pourers, we circled a while before landing amid the hubbub of the Sunday-afternoon crowd. First, we inspected the assemblage of souvenir merchandise, including Imagery posters, coasters, geegaws and baubles. The sight of pink baseball caps almost ruined the experience for me, but the gallery proved more highbrow. Chief among amusements was spotting the signature Parthenon that appears in each label, sometimes cleverly hidden in the design.

At last we felt ready. Imagery offers $5 regular and $10 reserve tastings. A sincere interest sufficed to dissolve the five-taste limit. Our young pourer was helpful and charming, but a little tricky on the whites. She introduced 2004 White Burgundy ($27) as an unoaked, fresh and fruity style of Chardonnay. Curiously, it was just the opposite: old cheese, musty oak. Corked? She thoughtfully swirled with us and didn't look displeased. The 2005 Viognier ($26) lacked both floral aromas and stone fruit taste, which Miss Contrary informed us was a varietal characteristic.

We all fared better with reds. The strawberry jam-scented 2006 Pinot Meunier ($22) made an enticing rosé; I'd cellar it for, oh, about 20 minutes in the freezer before popping it on a warm evening. The promising-looking 2003 Taylor Vineyard Zinfandel ($42) didn't deliver as much as the licorice-fruity 2004 Lagrein ($40). What's a Lagrein? Take a stroll down the informative "varietal walk" on the grounds to find out.

In a flash of food-pairing inspiration, I was confident that the 2004 Sangiovese ($27), tart with high cherry notes, would drink swell with seafood pasta. The 2003 Malbec ($34) was a tad dry, but perfect in every other way, if Malbec's candied cherry/rubber tire combo appeals to you. Those partial to richer wines might check out the violet-scented 2003 Petit Verdot ($38) and the 2004 Petite Sirah ($42), a hearty soup of dried fruit and blackberry with a touch of sweetness that carries it easily over the tongue.

Lastly, out came the chocolates and the "port slippers." The 2005 Petite Sirah Port ($34) is served from delicate glassware that looks like an antique, well, pipe of some kind. One sips and inhales the aroma from a little bowl held close under the nose. Alas, I'd spent the first part of the day scrubbing moldy walls, and all I could smell was the bleach on my hands, so I traded the slipper for a regular glass.

Imagery Estate Winery, 14335 Hwy. 12, Glen Ellen. Tasting room open daily 10am to 4:30pm; after Memorial Day, until 5:30pm. 707.935.4515.

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