A family business can mean many different things. In most cases, it means a family started the business and hired others as the business grew. But they still call themselves a family business because the same family owns it. Even when a large company buys a winery, they still call themselves a family business, saying it’s just owned by a different family now. PFFFT. Rasmussen Vineyards & Winery is an actual family business, owned and operated by the members in their family.
Still that’s not the reason you should visit this tasting room. The reason to go is that supporting your local family farmers has never been more delicious. They will pour one luscious balanced wine after another. Their entire flight of wines to taste were all well-crafted each in a way that elevated the grape’s qualities.
You finish the flight with one of the most uniquely different dessertees. If you like the Thin Mint cookies from Girl Scouts, try their late harvest Merlot. It has an addictive chocolate eucalyptus character. No tasting fee! No phone either… this is not their day job.
If you’re going to venture off the beaten path, and you know you should, why not experience the wines made by a true country girl. Patti Bello, the owner and winemaker at B & E Vineyard is not only a cowgirl with cutting skills, she is an expert at cultivating balanced yet complex flavors in red wines.
Bordeaux varietals show off their vibrant flavors at this “Tasting Saloon” in the middle of rolling hills that feed their vines. A ’13 Merlot had bright cherry flavors with light berry influence. No overripe fruit here! The ’13 Rhythm blend has lush cherry, silky tannins, and lots of vanilla and spice integrated. Their ’13 Cabernet Sauvignon is a lovely wine with a deep dark cherry body and soft supple tannins that lead to a long velvet finish.
Other tasting room guests traveled from Santa Barbara just for a bottle of their ’09 Merlot, which was sold out, naturally. So, Patti opened an ’09 Rhythm blend, which contains some of this popular ’09 Merlot and it was as thick and rich as chocolate milk. Decadent rich plum and lush cherry flavors in this wine made it a great finish.
But that was not the final finish. A fortified Que Sera has the delightful richness to finish a feast yet no heavy sweetness. Not sure how they do that but this dessert wine is a find!
It’s easy to drink locally. Supporting small businesses in your area can make you feel tremendous pride. But, being well traveled can make you appreciate likewise well traveled wines. De Bortoli produces an estate grown Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley in Australia that would even make you spoiled Californians enjoy this bounty and its luscious fruit.
This wine’s vivacious acidity is what you first notice and that’s enough to pair with your favorite seafood, spicy, and succulent side dishes. Yet, the slight minerality and layers of citrus with thick yet crisp pineapple make it bold enough for a rich risotto or the only wine that can take you through several courses.
Next time you are in El Dorado County or on your way to and from Tahoe, check out Nello Olivo for “the best Italian wines under the California sun” in an equally regal tasting room. Just 8 miles from Sutter Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848, you can make a few enriching discoveries of your own. A tasting room in Sequoia’s Historic Wine Cellar appears to be designed for wine with thick natural rock walls and a stone floor. You feel like you’re tasting in a wine cave.
Their wines are even more delightful. Many Italian varietals are featured with local favorites like Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their styles are befitting of each individual varietal. A Sangiovese has bright vibrant red fruit that makes you quickly return for another taste and each mouthful hits your palate differently as it evolves. A Merlot has a really nice balance of crisp acidity with a big bold red body. But the succulent and elegant Super Tuscan Style will be the one you want to take home for an equally succulent meal or sipping by a roaring fire. It gets its balance of ripe red acidity from Sangiovese with deep dark plum and blueberry from Barbera and Petite Sirah. Finally, a backbone with tremendous elegance and complexity with an array of spices are probably the result of the famed Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Serve this with your most elegant super supper.
A visit to Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery is an experience for the palate as well as the heart. While you enjoy these fine wines of strength and character, your soul is nourished by a heartwarming story of the family rescuing and attending to airmen who parachuted out of their B-26 Marauder when it crashed 200 yards from the family home in 1956. Pieces of the plane are on display in the tasting room and the family tells stories of how they were able to reunite 2 of the crash survivors who took different paths in the military and had not spoken for 53 years. Their stories are best on their website but a blend called The Crash commemorates the event.
Their flight begins with a nice crisp Viognier that grabs you in the back of your mouth. Lively apricot and pineapple that are succulently ripe make this wine easy to pair with spicy summer salads, Thai, and Indian dishes. The Crash has aromas of bell pepper, eucalyptus, and red cherry that continue on the palate. Layers of cherry, berry, and spice unfold as you swirl. They finish with a Petite Sirah that wows with lots of pepper and a hint of cocoa as you approach it. Bright blueberry flavors swirl in your mouth while spice and structure balance it. This is one elegant wine!
Our affections for Italians never fades and now we have a new favorite in Paso. Pelletiere is not only making some distinctive California wines using famed Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Lagrein, they’re doing it with such style and elegance, you’ll want to return.
Their Viognier starts with lively apricot and pineapple joined by a bit of white pepper and soft vanilla. Then, it finishes long with a nice thick body. Their rose of Sangiovese, Viognier, and Syrah has a vibrant blend of fruit flavors with a succulent body that can star at any picnic.
Their reds are full of character and an array or layers. A Sangiovese has wonderful waves of spice that meet you at different flavor pockets and play up all the flavors in any feast. Big berry on the nose and a crimson tide of flavors that evolve in your glass, tell you this is miles above your standard pizza wine. A hint of blue fruit and vanilla make you reminisce. Finally, you may want to save a varietal like Lagrein for cult followers but this one impresses all palates. This softly bruiting powerhouse is known for its tannins and acidity but neither overwhelms because they are balanced beautifully. Instead, what you feel is its blackberry, pomegranate, and blueberry bounty with a slight coffee taste on the long finish as you admire its deep purple.
If you’ve ventured off the beaten path in Amador County, you’ve no doubt found Sutter Creek, a charming wine village with the rich history of California’s Gold Rush. But nobody has been rushing to Sutter Creek for its restaurants. A quiet newcomer to the Amador restaurant landscape looks fabulous and sounds delicious but only serves breakfast and the last time we visited they refused to serve us just ten minutes after closing time: 11:00 AM. But, the menu looked much more interesting that any other restaurant in Sutter Creek. So, more on that later.
Currently, the best place to eat in Sutter Creek is Taste, which is actually in Plymouth. Well worth the 15 or so minute drive from Sutter Creek, Taste has creatively tasty delectables for those with a gourmet palate or simple wine country visitors who want to be wowed. A seemingly simple salad had amazing layers of flavor from fried chickpeas and tangy kumquats. Next a pork belly had a slightly crisp outer texture with tender salty meat on the inside with lively flavor from fennel.
The Mushroom Cigars were highly recommended by locals. Will def be back to try them!