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Posted September 2006

A Virtual Visit — Cline Cellars

By Thom Elkjer, Wine Editor

The location of Cline Cellars is double-edged sword. It’s one of the first wineries you come to as you travel into Sonoma and Napa wine country from San Francisco, so it’s easy to reach. Yet countless people pass by on their way to some more distant destination – thus missing a real wine country treasure. Years ago Fred Cline got hold of some extraordinary, ancient vineyards in Contra Cost County on the sandy banks of California’s mighty San Joaquin river, and has been making extraordinary wine from the grapes ever since. The prices are equally heart-warming. The tasting room offers rare history and soothingly bucolic surroundings, along with a warm welcome and wide range of wines to try (open daily 10-6, 4737 Hwy 121 in Sonoma, 800-546-2070, There are plenty of good whites on offer, but I’m going to break with tradition and recommend four reds to try when you visit:

Cline Mourvedre Contra Costa County "Ancient Vine" 2004 ($18): I love the Cline Mourvedre aromas: blackberries and cherries with some earth below and baking spice above -- and it's even better in your mouth. The grape tannins in these 100-year-old vines are indescribably wonderful: they don't so much balance the fruit sugar as merge with it into something better. For my money, one of the great California wine programs of any variety or region.

Cline Carignane Contra Costa County "Ancient Vine" 2005 ($16): this is the red-fruit counterpart to the Mourvedre, also from century-old vines. In your mouth it’s juicy and sweet and deceptively complex. Most Carignane suffers from rough edges, but not this beauty – the tannins and phenolics are etherically bound into the flavors so that the aftertaste goes on and on.

Cline Syrah Sonoma Coast "Cool Climate" 2004 ($16): this wine comes from the far southeastern corner of Sonoma Coast, not the ocean’s edge, so it’s got as much warm summer and concentrated black fruit as breezy-cool blueberry and mineral. It’s also a great ride for your palate: chunky texture, juicy acids, and an aftertaste that’s clean and confident and appetizing. Made me wish for a dish of cassoulet.

Cline Zinfandel Contra Costa County "Ancient Vine" 2005 ($18): Zin can't get more concentrated and intensely black than this, and I could not spit this wine out during the tasting – it was just too delicious. Full-bodied, smooth, dark, rich, spicy, earthy, and with a fabulous sweetness in the finish as the grape tannins slide off the tongue and let the fruit shine one last time. Transcends wine.

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