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Tuesday, 08 January 2019 20:36

Amador Celebrates Oldest Zinfandel

TASTE News Service, January 9, 2019 — This weekend, Andis Wines, Scott Harvey Wines and Vino Noceto will celebrate the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in America.

Barbera Fest 16 crowd scene Picmonkey2Tasters have room to stroll at Terra d'Oro

TASTE News Service, June 15, 2016 — With an enhanced venue at Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards and a new format providing wine tastings by region at this year’s event, the sixth annual Barbera Festival on Saturday, June 11, continued to delight the palates of festival goers.

At Saturday’s event, Barberas were presented by nearly 80 wineries from all over California.

Friday, 01 January 2016 12:04

49er Icon Signs 1869 Bottles

Joe Montana signs 1869 bottles PicmonkeyJoe Montana signs a bottle of 1869By Dan Clarke

Nearly 30 years ago Randy Cross called San Francisco 49er fans a “white wine sipping crowd.” The comment from the all-pro guard came after a loss in which he felt the team’s fans exhibited a less than enthusiastic attitude. It was a derisive comment, but maybe not inaccurate.

Fans of many teams might be more likely to be beer drinkers or maybe shot-and-a-beer drinkers. However, 49er fans live close to the nation’s most significant wine regions and have a reputation for relative sophistication. It’s likely that they do drink more white wine than other football fans, though data on such matters is sketchy.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015 17:47

Italian Passion, California Sunshine

Vino Noceto Tasting Menu PicmonkeyTasting menu pairs foods with Sangiovese and other varietals

by Dan Clarke

Sangiovese has disappointed many California growers and vintners. Once hoped to be the next viticultural success in a state that can grow most anything, this variety hasn't reached the broad success here that it has enjoyed in Tuscany. Were there more growers devoted to the cause like Jim Gullett, the story might be different.

San Francisco Bay Area natives Jim and Suzy Gullett purchased 21 acres in the Shenandoah Valley of California's Amador Country in the fall of 1984. Zinfandel and Barbera had long history in Amador County and some newcomers were planting the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were so successful in Napa and Sonoma. Why choose Sangiovese? “We wanted to do something other than Zinfandel,” Gullett explained. “Barbera? Yeah, we could have done that,” he reflects, but that prospect obviously didn't excite him. “We wanted to do something different and we thought that it (Sangiovese) could work here. I'm a bit of a contrarian and sometimes look for things to do differently.”

The computer scientist who was turning farmer chose to go to Sangiovese's historical source. “I believe that wine is first made in the vineyard,” Jim explains. In the fall of the year after they purchased their property, Jim, Suzy and their two and five-year-old boys traveled to Tuscany “to make sure that we wanted to do this.” They made the acquaintance of men prominent in the world of Sangiovese—people like Paolo di Marchi of Isola e Olena and Alceo di Napoli of Castello dei Rampolla. On returning to California, further investigation followed and the Gulletts observed the progress people like Bob Pepi and Dick Peterson were having with the variety. “Things we saw in Italy, we could see in this winery Caporone in Paso Robles,” Jim recalls. When they acquired their Shenandoah Road property about half its acreage was fallow, but was likely a grain field at one time according to Gullett. The other half of the property was planted to walnuts. Noceto is Italian for walnut and Jim's wife, Suzy, grew up in Walnut Creek, California. So was born Vino Noceto, the wine estate said by several experts to be home to California's best Sangiovese.

Vino Noceto Tasting Bar Jim G PicmonkeyJim Gullett, a self-described contrarian

In the spring of 1987 the couple acquired an additional 18-1/2 acres adjacent to their original parcel and began planting grapes the following year. Of their twenty-four planted vineyard acres in Amador County, about 23 are devoted to five selections of Sangiovese. “There's a bit of Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia, too, and two rows of Aglianico, one row of Petite Sirah, one row of Alicante Bouschet and one row of Syrah,” Gullett says. He likens these additional varieties to seasonings in the kitchen. “With Sangiovese a very little bit added will change the wine,” he explains. Vino Noceto has several bottlings of Sangiovese, one of these labeled “Misto” contains 87% Sangiovese, 3% Canaiolo Nero, 4% Malvasia and 6% Trebbiano. In all, Vino Noceto produces 4-5,000 cases of Sangiovese annually and 400-500 cases each of Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel and Barbera.

Though Jim Gullett is intimately involved in all aspects of the Vino Noceto vineyards and winery, he has help. Dave Brown is responsible for most of the orchard and vineyard work on the property. He's a fourth or fifth-generation resident of Amador's Shenandoah Valley and his family farms a nearby vineyard. Rusty Folena, who also has deep roots in this area, handles the day-to-day aspects of the winemaking.

Jim and Suzy Gullett have three adult children; Randy is 33 and works as a project manager for a Silicon Valley computer company. Bobby is a couple of years younger and is taking a sabbatical after several years working for the winery. Daughter Lindy, 27, is finishing her Ph.D. in psychology at NYU.

Prominent as Vino Noceto is among American Sangiovese fans, it's still a small, family-run operation. About 80% of its sales are direct-to-consumer. These come from their tasting room and a 1700-member wine club. Though the vast majority of the remaining 20% goes to wholesale markets within California, Vino Noceto wines can also be found in about 10 other states.

A sign in the tasting room at Vino Noceto reads, “Italian Passion, California Sunshine.” Speaking of his commitment to Sangiovese, Jim Gullet explains, “This is a long-term procedure. If you don't have focus, fortitude and finances to go for five, six or even 10 years, it's irrelevant. It takes that long.” Vino Noceto has been “a 25-year project to get us to a certain point,” he says. After a moment, he adds that the 25-year mark was 2009. One could conclude that at Vino Noceto Sangiovese has benefited from a good deal of California passion, too.

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to this colorful wine-growing region east of Sacramento, you may want to check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of Sierra Foothill Wineries, as well as the sites of Lodging and Dining options and even nearby craft Beer purveyors.

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.

Friday, 15 November 2013 16:25

November 15, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Sobon Estate Syrah Picmonkey

 2011 Syrah

 

Producer: Sobon Estate

Appellation: Amador County

Alcohol: 13.8%

Sugested Retail: $16

 

“It wasn't that many years ago that Syrah, the predominant grape of France's northern Rhône Valley, was the up-and-coming variety in California. New plantings went in, notably on the Central Coast and in the Sierra Foothills. For reasons nobody seems to have figured out, America's wine-drinking public hasn't embraced the variety to the degree expected. That's a puzzler, because California produces some very high quality Syrahs.

“This week's Pick, the 2011 Amador County Syrah from Sobon Estate, is a wonderful wine regardless of price. That it is well under twenty bucks, makes it also a bargain. It's a big wine, lush but not 'over the top.' The current vintage is 84% Syrah, 12% Petite Sirah and 4% Primitivo.

“This Syrah shows aromas of blueberry and plum. There's also some ground white pepper in the background and maybe a hint of that bacon-like character that creative reviewers sometimes describe as 'feral.' The first taste fills the mouth--it's rich and velvety and reprises those blueberry/plum qualities evident in the nose. The fruit is substantial, but the wine would be one-dimensional if that's all there was. Fortunately, there's much more.

“Those subtler aspects that make good Syrah so appealing become more apparent on second and third tastes and as the wine opens up in the glass. The white pepper background, maybe just a hint of brown spices and some of the 'roasted meat' character are all there, but in a understated way. Overall, this was a very satisfying bottle of wine.”

Food Affinity: “We encountered the 2011 Sobon Estate Syrah at a restaurant when we ordered it with a pizza. While that wasn't a bad pairing, this Amador County wine would be better accompaniment to many of the hearty dishes appropriate for brisk fall and winter evenings. Grilled fennel sausages might work. Considering this variety's geographic origins, how about boeuf en daube, a deeply flavorful French version of beef stew, or maybe a cassoulet?"

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