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Enjoy the Art of Sparkling at Amista Vineyards

It may be taking things a bit too far to suggest that Amista Vineyards exemplifies the good old 20th century proverb, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” After all, proprietors Vicky & Michael Farrow are sitting pretty with 28 acres of prime, Dry Creek Valley vineyard estate in Sonoma County, happily running a retirement project gone wild.

But they chose to plant a lot of Syrah, a grape that is — unjustly — considered to be somewhat of a “lemon” as compared to the area’s more popular varieties. So what did they do? They made lemonade.

Sparkling lemonade. And how.

Make friends

On a recent trip to Amista Vineyards, the Farrows didn’t strike me as particularly iconoclastic — I mean, they have two wonderfully behaved sheltie dogs, the Fair Isle sweater vest of the dog world — and yet they continue to buck the trend, refusing to jump on the Pinot Noir bandwagon, instead making some of Dry Creek Valley’s only sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Syrah.

Yes, I said red, sparkling Syrah, like they make Down Under. And mates, is it ever a treat.

Starting Dec. 1, Amista offers an “Art of Sparkling” dosage tasting of their Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. Expertly led by Amista winemaker Ashley Herzberg, whose somewhat bubbly personality complements the strictly technical information that guests will receive about the making of méthode champenoise sparkling wines, the tasting visits four samples of the same Chardonnay-based sparkling that Amista makes, at four different dosage (added sugar) levels.

There’s no prize for guessing at which dosage level Amista’s Dry Creek Valley Blanc de Blancs ($36) non-vintage blend will be released at on Dec. 7, 2013, but yeah, I more or less guessed it.

Sip it sweet, sip it dry, sip it extra brut

There’s a cool, peaches-and-cream aroma to Amista’s base sparkling wine, the one with no dosage. But the final version has a fuller mouthfeel, a good mousse, and just a hint of yeastiness.

It’s really a challenge of your tasting skill to pick out the differences — Vicky Farrow says that the first time she saw the lineup of dosage “trials,” she thought, “This is going to be a party!” Well, this tasting proves that it’s work, too. Somewhat enjoyable work.

And the sparkling Syrah? Yes, please. I’m told that the NV Sparkling Syrah ($32) make a really good mimosa — just more of a cold, winter morning sunrise mimosa, because this isn’t a blood-red sparkling Syrah, it’s deep pink, with creamy, smoky red berry notes. With Chef Helena’s pepper-crusted pork filet, it’s a joy.

Amista’s got your Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Zinfandel crowd covered, if dry, still wine’s their thing. But watch for their up-the-ante Rhône varietal wines, as there’s a Grenache-based blend on the way, plus a Grenache rosé sparkling wine, as well as some wild, smoky Syrah.

Hit the road, or just cross it

Grab picnic supplies at the Dry Creek General Store, which is just down the driveway and across the road, and set yourself up on the patio adjacent to Amista’s barn-style tasting room with a view of the vineyards. Nice on a sunny day but, with a Blanc de Blancs, a hunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread, I’ll bet you can make lemonade of the situation in any kind of weather.

Amista Vineyards, 3320 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Daily, 11am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $10. “Art of Sparkling” dosage tasting, weekdays by appointment or first Friday of each month, 11a.m.–noon; $30. 707-431-9200.

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