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Monday, 12 March 2018 19:28

Wine Pick of the Week

Montevina 2013 Barbera Picmonkey

2015 Barbera



Amador County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $12

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."

Saturday, 21 June 2014 13:17

Barbera Fans Gather at Cooper Ranch

Bella Luna Table at Barbera Fest 2014 PicmonkeyLadies at right poured from the Bella Luna table

by Jen and Gary Sleppy

We enjoy Barberas and know them to be food-friendly wines. Over the years we've encountered this variety mostly one bottle at a time. At Saturday's fourth annual Barbera Festival in Amador County we had opportunity to taste examples from 74 California wineries, as well as a few from Italian producers. Of course, trying to sample all of these in one afternoon would difficult, if not impossible.

The Barbera grape is native to the Piedmont of northwestern Italy, but it's been grown in California since the 1880s. Its wine exhibits flavors ranging from bright red fruits like cherries and raspberries to darker fruits such as blueberries and blackberries. Not excessively tannic, Barbera is very appealing in its youth and doesn't require long aging, though examples from older vintages are said to be surprisingly attractive.

Site of the Barbera Festival is the Cooper Ranch on Shenandoah School Road just a little east of the town of Plymouth. Even though the event is held outdoors, admission is limited and each year the event sells out weeks in advance. Parking is easy and wineries poured from tables located under walnut trees so the crowd was spread out and tasters could enjoy wines in the shade on this warm afternoon. Our visit wasn't anything like the mob scenes we've encountered at some other tastings. Things seemed well-organized. People working on the day (we presume many of them were volunteers) were friendly and helpful.

Though the festival is held in Amador, vintners from other parts of the state also brought Barberas from their own regions. As Sacramentans, we're been fairly familiar with the nearby Sierra Foothills, so we looked forward to trying the efforts of more distant wineries. In all we tasted about 30-35 wines. Our favorite this day was the 2011 Barbera from Bella Luna Winery in the Paso Robles area of California's Central Coast. We thought it had an intriguing “earthy” quality and bright, but not excessive, acidity.

Many of the wineries in the area have planted Barbera vines with “the Cooper clone” which traces its history to the vineyards surrounding the festival grounds. The resultant grapes are thicker skinned and more heat-tolerant. They produce wines that are deep, juicy and tend to show big blueberry flavors. A wine we particularly liked was from nearby Helwig Winery, whose 2012 Barbera was a blend of fruit sourced from the Cooper Vineyard and also from their own estate vineyard. Its flavors were rich and showed good acid. We found it “filling,” and very satisfying.

Barbera Fest 2014 Crowd Shot PicmonkeyWalnut orchard provided shady settingThere was a booth pouring several examples of Italian Barbera. These showed bright fruit and had the acidity that makes for a wine that will be good served with food. Some of the wines we encountered Saturday from the California producers also exhibited these qualities, but some did not. One Amador example was way too alcoholic and lost the charm of this variety. Others may not have had excessive alcohol, but produced wines in a big, ripe style that seemed inconsistent with the bright personality that we think is the hallmark of good Barbera (or at least the Barberas we like).

Fleur De Lys Winery from the Fairplay area (southern El Dorado County) poured a 2008 vintage that was well-blanced and showed good acidity that we really liked. Apparently, they make Barbera on an intermittent basis and suggested they'd soon release their 2011 vintage. Karmere Vineyards and Winery is just up the road from the Cooper Ranch and they described their 2010 “Julie Ann” Barbera as being in the “Asti style.” It was still a little green and tannic, but showed a complexity with leathery notes and a somewhat oily texture. Westwood Family Cellars grows grapes in Placer County and offered three vintages. The 2009 showed bright, black cherry fruit, yet had a delicate, soft finish. Fruit in the 2010 seemed more like black currants and the 2011 had some cola-like aspects when we tasted it. Wilderotter is another Shenandoah Valley winery, whose wine we thought worthwhile. Their 2011 estate Barbera was full of bright cherry flavors and was right in the style we prefer.

While we made a diligent effort to try a wide variety of the Barberas being poured at the festival, the reality is that we got to fewer than half of them. Probably there would be some others that we would have also liked. Other tasters might have found a whole different list of favorites. As with most grape varieties, there is no "one style that fits all" for Barbera.

If you go:  Since the event sells out early, getting tickets ahead of time is a must (www.barberafestival.com). There's some live music, but it's mostly for the background. People come for more for the experience of tasting a wide variety Barbera styles. Food is available from several vendors, though at additional cost. We enjoyed a golden beet salad from Andrae's Bakery and were intrigued by the “Duck Dog” offered by Taste Restaurant. We settled on Taste's Salmon Niçoise, another salad but a good choice on a warm day. Seating is limited. We took a couple of breaks sitting on the lawn, but we noticed some people had brought their own folding chairs. If next June is a little long to wait to taste Barberas, many of the wineries in Amador and El Dorado Counties would be happy to pour examples in their tasting rooms. Links to the websites of those wineries, as well as links to Lodging and Dining options, can be found in the Gold Country listings of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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.

from TASTE News Service

Scott Harvey in front of Vineyard Picmonkey"balance is critical . . . " --Scott HarveyLower alcohol wine represents Napa Valley winemaker Scott Harvey’s commitment to making wine that is drinkable, enjoyable, and enhances good food. At last, new tastes in wine are catching up to Scott Harvey’s training.

The winemaker is not alone in his views about the superiority of lower alcohol wines. According to Richard Halstead, CEO of global market research Wine Intelligence, “Alcoholic strength of wine is an issue that consumers take seriously across the world." According to Drinks International, "there has been widespread criticism of 15.5% alcohol blockbusters and requests for winemakers to aim lower."

Trained in Germany in the Old World style, Scott believes that balance is critical to good wine making results. In a recent interview with Dan Berger, writer for the Sonoma County, California – based newspaper and online site, Press Democrat, the writer explored the winemaker’s perspective on the place of alcohol level in wine making. “Balance is the key to all great wines, said Scott Harvey. “I prefer to make my Napa Valley Cabernets come in at 13.5%.” Many Napa Valley cult wines come in with labels from 14.5% to 15.5% “although from the way they taste, they could well be at least 1.5% higher.” said Scott.

“I pick wine grapes when the grapes still taste like Cabernet grapes or Zinfandel grapes—rather than like raisins. Most winemakers are afraid to pick this early, but I listen to the grapes.” Scott picks Cabernet grapes at the moment when they are red fruits, not black fruits, turning into raisins. It’s what Scott calls “The Perfect Moment” in his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br9H29iYsC8

A lower alcohol wine can be an award-winning wine. For example, Jana Cathedral Napa Valley 2006 ($65) has an alcohol level of 13.5%. This limited production Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is the winner of a double Gold Medal at the America Fine Wine Competition. “I made this wine in the European style with low pH and low alcohol, so it pairs very well with an elegant and rich meal,” Scott explained. “I named it for Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona, where I proposed marriage to Jana.”

Another Scott Harvey award-winner, with a 13.5% alcohol level, is Scott Harvey 2009 J&S Reserve Barbera, which was singled out at the California State Fair with a Gold Medal - 94 Points. “The rich full flavors express both the varietal and the terroir of Amador County,” explains Scott. “This Barbera is a blend of the Spinetta Vineyard and Vineyard 1869 of the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, California.”

Lower alcohol and more balanced results have been more achievable with the more recent cool vintage releases of 2010 and 2011. “It’s the lower temperature vintages that produce less sugar, and with less sugar comes lower alcohol," said Scott.

Scott Harvey Signs Bottle PicmonkeySigning a medal winnerOn the white side, Scott is known for his European Style Riesling, which previously has had alcohol levels as low as 9.5%. Scott will have a new release of his Mendocino Riesling in June. He is also a celebrated wine blender, originally known as the creator behind the popular Ménage à Trois. Most recently, Scott brings his blending skills to his latest award-winning white wine blend, Primero Beso (First Kiss.)

The World Wine Championships, run by Beverage Testing Institute, has just awarded 91 points (rated Exceptional) to Scott’s Primero Beso 2011 White Blend, ($18), with a 12.5% alcohol by volume. The judges rated the blend for its “pale golden yellow color. Aromas of dark fig-date bread and honey with a soft, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a tangy apple, peach, starfruit and lemon tart accented finish. Very refreshing and lively as a sipper or to pair with spicy Mexican foods.” 4/13/13

About Scott Harvey WinesHandcrafted wines from Napa Valley and Amador County, Scott Harvey Wines produces wines under three labels: Scott Harvey Wines, Jana Winery and InZinerator. Established in 2004, Scott Harvey Wines features Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel, Napa Valley Cathedral Cabernet Sauvignon, Amador County Barberas, Zinfandels and Syrahs along with a variety of one-of-a-kind white and red wine blends. Creator of “niche wines that over deliver,” Scott Harvey, owner and winemaker, has been making quality wines for over 30 years.

Editor's note: Planning a visit to the Napa Valley? You'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options there, as well as links to all of Napa's wineries at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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