Sip 'n Stroll on King St.

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Reflections ranged from absolute delight to frustration — "You can't smell anything in these plastic cups!" — at the Sip 'n Stroll event from 3-6 last night up and down King St.

Participants recognized the strategic placement of tastings at the back of the stores, but politely "oohed" and "awwed" at the goods on the way to their destination: the booze.

At Silver Puffin, we squished ourselves between handmade African plates and wine koozies to hear from Guillermo Banfi from Sur de los Andes. He hailed his bonarda as "rustic, very fruity a little tart and a perfect wine for food ... great with burgers or pizza." It delivered on all accounts, if a little less fruity than promised.

While oenophiles in line bantered about the altitude at which malbecs thrive, — Banfi grows at 950 feet — novices were just thrilled to pick more than one selection.

My standout award has to go to the Hess Collection's Cuvee. Seventy-three percent cab, but they use 11 percent malbec, and the decision brings out the dark cherry at the mid-palette. While my best friend Kate tried on some of K. Morgan's beautiful but ridiculously expensive tops, I endured a long line for another sip. Watch for that grape to be a bigger play at Hess; representative Mark Weeber said they are expanding their malbec acreage from 3 to 50 — making them the largest for malbecs in Napa.

Chatting betweens stops, we heard several groups besotted with both the wines and the maker at Hampden, where Phillip Lolonis (Lolonis Winery) charmed visitors with a story of his grandparents emigrating from Italy in 1915. I enjoyed the "cab-drinker's merlot" as he put it, but most preferred the "Guiness of wines," Orpheus. The super-smooth petit syrah made impressions, even with Kate, who wouldn't normally consider that grape.

Besides running out of cups, the event was a great start for the out-of-towners — we met some from Florida and Michigan — and we even got some ridiculously pricey garb as well.

BY LYNSY SMITHSON STALEY

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