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Monday, 22 May 2017 01:09

Four Fires Draws Wine Buffs

By Michael Eady

May 6th was the third edition of Amador Four Fires.

Chris Leamy and Darrell Corti PicmonkeyTerra d'Oro winemaker Chris Leamy (left) and Darrell Corti discuss Barbera at retrospective tasting

TASTE News Service, June 1, 2016 – Barbera fans have an opportunity on June 11 to congregate and enjoy many tastes of this classic food-friendly wine. At the Barbera Festival, held at Terra d'Oro/Montevina Vineyard in Plymouth, Amador County, more than 80 wineries will pour glass after glass of a wine that boasts a compelling story in the history of California wines.

"The story begins at Montevina in 1974," said Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers, a Sacramento-based wine merchant. Corti is internationally known as a wine and food expert. "Both in 1943 and 1960, viticulturists from U.C. Davis had recommended barbera as a compatible grape for California. In the Sierra Foothills, Cary Gott, owner of Montevina in Amador County, planted Barbera in 1972."

Amador Four Fires 2015 picture Picmonkey

TASTE News Service May 9, 2015 – Amador Four Fires, a new concept wine and food event launched its inaugural festival on Saturday, May 2 at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. Nearly 2,200 wine and food enthusiasts came to sip and savor at a unique festival designed to showcase Amador’s finest products and to benefit the Amador Fair Foundation.  

The exceptional attendance at a first-time event surprised even its co-producer Deidre Mueller who said “We were hoping to get some local and regional interest, but the attendance was far beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

The event offered a wealth of sensory activities. Over forty wineries poured 140 wines from the four wine regions that inspire Amador winemakers and growers: Southern France, Italy, the Iberian Peninsula and one dubbed “Heritage California.” Cuisine traditional to these regions was prepared on site over open-flames. Attendees could enjoy food and wine seminars, cooking demonstrations including all-day Cowboy Chuck Wagon cooking and tastings of olive oil, honeys, candies, cider and beer from local purveyors, while hearing music by two favorite local groups.

Buoyed by the success of its first Four Fires event, organizers have already announced May 7, 2016 as the second annual gathering. More information can be had at amadorfourfires.com.

Duck Rillettes with glasses PicmonkeyDuck rillettes with several wines

by Dan Clarke

Barbera is finally getting its due. Though its ancestral home is northern Italy, the grape has been grown in California since the 19th Century. It hasn't enjoyed the prestige and popularity of other red wines produced here, but what's happening in Amador County is beginning to change that.

This foothill wine region 40 miles east of Sacramento has long enjoyed a reputation for quality Zinfandel. In more recent years it has also been garnering notice for wines made from grapes native to France's Rhone Valley. And now the focus shifts to another worthy wine variety.

Saturday marked the fourth annual Barbera Festival. Wineries from all over the state came to Amador County's Shenandoah Valley to pour their Barberas. Tickets were priced at $50 and the event sold out months in adcance. Is the festival acknowledging the surging popularity of this variety or creating it? Probably it's a bit of both.

Montevina and Terra d'Oro chose to celebrate their anniversary a couple of days before this year's festival at Taste Restaurant in Plymouth, where Darrell Corti led a retrospective tasting of their 1980 through 2012 Barberas.

Plymouth is more hamlet than metropolis, but it's the closest town to the Shenandoah Valley and most of the wineries in the county. And, it has an extraordinary restaurant. Our evening began with a reception in the park across the street from Taste. There we sampled the current vintage of Terra d'Oro Barbera (2012) before adjourning to the restaurant for subsequent courses.

Jeff Meyers at Barbera Dinner PicmonkeyJeff Meyers

Actually, Terra d'Oro and Montevina wines are both products from the same winery. Montevina was established in Amador's Shenandoah Valley over 40 years ago and added the Terra d'Oro line in 1993. Since 1988 the Montevina property and both labels have been owned by Trinchero Family Estates. Cary Gott made the first wines at Montevina, but Jeff Meyers began his own winemaking career there in 1981 and never left. He now carries the title of Vice President and General Manager and his influence is still felt, though Chris Leamy has been the winemaker of record since the 2003 vintage. Darrell Corti commented such continuity is unusual. “Winemakers are like chefs,” he said. “They're vagrants.”

Montevina Barberas from the 1980 and 1990 vintages were poured with Chef Mark Berkner's first course, a roasted beet salad with sage, tat soi and hazelnut. The '80 Montevina Special Selection Barbera was a Cary Gott wine. The '90 Montevina was made by Jeff Meyers. While our tasting was not a contest, it was inevitable that we would prefer some wines over others. At my table several liked the '80. In the mid-1980s I spent a lot of time in this region when I was developing The Foothill Wine Press and am sure I would have tasted and enjoyed the 1980 vintage in that era. But not tonight. Though both wines were still drinkable, I much preferred the younger one. Darrell said “It's difficult to criticize an old wine for being old,” and I agree but thought the '90 was entirely more pleasant

Three vintages of Terra d'Oro Barbera ('93, '97, '99) were paired with duck rilettes served with dried local cherries. All three wines showed a little sediment by the time the glasses were removed, but they seemed remarkably vital otherwise. The '97 stood out immediately. It seemed lush—maybe even voluptuous. The '99 was subtler, but seemed full of promise as it opened up a bit. California's 1997 grape harvest was very big one, but also of excellent quality. Asked about the alcohol level in the '97, Jeff said it was really high—probably a bit over 15%. The wine was big and showy . . . and way better than I would have thought a 15% alcohol wine would be 17 years on. Had we not been moving on to subsequent courses and vintages—a surfeit of riches—I would have loved to spend more time with the '99.

Lamb Meatball at Barbera DinnerLamb meatball - simple, yet exquisite

Two examples of the 1998 vintage were served with the next course, a single lamb meatball, served on local white polenta with tomato cumin. Both these wines were Barbera, but bearing different labels and made in different styles. Jeff Meyers recalled that in California the 1998 vintage was the coldest (and wettest) in 30 years. “The '98s were panned by a lot of people,” he said, explaining that vintners in many parts of the state opted to pick early. “But we picked five weeks late this vintage. We let it get ripe. We waited and got the benefit of five extra weeks of 'hang-time'.”

The Montevina, poured from a 750ml bottle, was somewhat lighter bodied, but showed bright fruit characteristics. The Terra d'Oro, poured from a magnum, seemed darker, riper and richer and had been more aggressively oaked. Both were made from the same vineyards on a property just a few miles northeast of the restaurant. And both were splendid wines. Darrell likened the Terra d'Oro to a “minor Burgundy,” adding that it “smelled a little like a mature Pinot Noir.” The accompanying lamb meatball dish was the kind of rare experience that makes one very thankful he chose to be a wine and food writer.

Chris Leamy and Darrell Corti  PicmonkeyChris Leamy and Darrell Corti

The first two of the evening's wines made by Chris Leamy were the 2003 Montevina and 2003 Terra d'Oro. “We kept loving (the vintage) as we bottled it,” remembered Chris. “For some reason this vintage is aging superbly. It's all about balance.” The Montevina seemed more focused on the ripe, fresh cherry-like fruit; the Terra d'Oro was deeper, darker and richer.” They were paired with braised goat, served with mushroom, black truffle and a mirepoix gateau. If it is possible for each of two very different styles to go perfectly with a food course, then this would have been that time.

These wines from the 2003 vintage were still so young and vibrant, yet they were 11 years old. It was a congenial group of tasters/diners and by this time in the evening opinions were flowing from us, as well as from Darrell and our two winemakers. Picking up on a wine-ageing comment voiced from a table behind me, Chris opined, “I think well-made Barbera is going to age much better than any California Cabernet Sauvignon.” Clarifying that California Cabs racking up high scores on release, but stumbling badly after three years were what he meant, Chris heard murmurs of agreement from some. This Cabernet issue could have become an interesting tangent, but we had more Barbera to consider.

Two more wines from the same vintage made their appearance when 2007 Montevina and Terra d'Oro were poured with local strawberries served with crystalized fennel, honey and goat cheese. Once again, the Montevina wine showcased fresh, ripe fruit; its Terra d'Oro counterpart was deeper and richer tasting. Chris told us that the Montevina wine was finished with a screw cap, rather than the traditional cork and that he preferred it with the strawberry course. Me, too.

Mark Berkner at Barbera DinnerChef Mark Berkner

Chris suggested—perhaps only half-jokingly—that he'd like to see all of us again in 2024 so that we could re-taste this screw-topped '07 Montevina a decade later. Getting into the spirit, Jeff suggested a reprise next year. The evening had been instructive—we'd been tasting history and getting a rare insight into how one winery had evolved their treatment of a single grape variety. Counting the crostini served at the reception in the park, there were seven courses created by the Mark Berkner to pair with these wines. A tasting menu of small plates served with several wine courses is not all that unusual, but one designed to complement 11 variations on the same varietal theme is rare. The food was superb. Actually, there was one last pairing on the evening. Mark's menu concluded with poached apricots served with biscotti made with local almonds. This accompanied the 2013 Terra d'Oro Moscato, which Chris quipped “is our white Barbera.”

Darrell Corti could accurately be described as a Sacramento grocer and wine merchant, but that definition is woefully incomplete. Darrell has an international reputation and knows the major players. And they know him. During our evening at Taste, he related an anecdote about Piero Antinori's visit to California in 1976. Antinori, whose family has been in the wine business for eight centuries, had come to check out California and had asked Darrell to show him around. They visited wineries in Monterey, Napa and Sonoma Counties. Approaching the end of their tour, the group went to dinner at the Mark West Springs Inn. After arriving at the restaurant Darrell remembered he had a bottle of wine in the trunk of his car—a 1974 Barbera from Montevina, the very first vintage from the vines planted three years earlier. "I asked if they would like to taste it, since I had been given it the Sunday before by Cary Gott who had just bottled it," he recalled.  "Of course they would like to taste it. Both Tachis and Piero liked the wine, said it was good and Tachis in particular liked the double course of frog's legs he enjoyed.

"The next morning when I called to pick them up, Piero came down first from the hotel and said that Tachis was out of sorts. I asked why. He seemed to enjoy himself, the dinner, the wines. Piero said: 'After you left last night, Tachis told me he had expected to come to California and taste cabernets better than ours (in Italy.) He did not expect to taste better Barbera.' "

A few days after the dinner, Darrel gave us a bit more background on the Antinori visit and on Dr. Tachis. "Giacomo Tachis is probably Italy's most important winemaker of the 20th century," said Corti. "He is Piemontese and his family used to send him wine from Piemonte. I consider him the Patron of Barbera in Amador because of his reaction to the 1974 Barbera from Montevina. It gave credence to the quality of Amador Barbera. In those days in the 1970s, Barbera in Italy was a sea of thin, high acid, pretty nasty wine, which mainly was due to over produced vineyards and fit only for distillation, which is what happened to the majority of the production. Tachis's reaction was a reference to this fact. He and Piero Antinori were the first Italians to taste Amador Barbera, now forty years ago."

Editor's note: Those planning to visit Amador wine country should check out the Gold Country listings at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. They're a great source of links to the websites of Wineries, as well as Lodging and Dining options.

Sunday, 06 January 2013 02:07

March 4-5, 2017 Behind the Cellar Door

Region: Gold Country     City: Plymouth     Contact: https://amadorwine.com 

 

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