Was challenged to find a Cinsault for a winemaker dinner and was still not able to find one. I even checked in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Healdsburg, and the Bay Area, simply because that’s where my travels took me the few days before this tasting. Why is this lovely grape only used in blends and never the star?
They Hovey Cinsault, from the Sierra Foothills county of Calaveras, had soft supple light red fruit with a tiny bit of a floral quality. It was lovely if you are not looking for a heavy wine to overwhelm your meal. Thank Chuck Hovey for keeping Cinsault alive!
Feel like taking a warm tree-lined drive through the gold country? Plug Holly’s Hill Vineyards into your GPS and you’ll be able to taste some golden delicious Rhone blends while feasting on a beautiful redwood treetop panoramic view.
Their Patriarche Blanc blends Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for refreshingly crisp pear and melon richness rounded by creamy orange blossoms. A Cabernet-Syrah has the best of both big worlds. It’s got big cherry, plum, cocoa, and spice from these grapes. The Syrah softens the strong Cabernet Sauvignon tannins while the Cabernet Sauvignon blankets the sometimes overwhelming dank darkness of Syrah. Serve this with big rich steaks in savory sauces or a robust barbecue as an alternative to my favorite, sipping it on its own.
A brilliant representation of Chardonnay is at Sierra Vista. One of the first wineries to start producing wine in El Dorado County, Sierra Vista’s leader, John MacCready planted grapes on their own roots. The risk in doing this is that his roots may be susceptible to phyloxera. Back when European vines died from the louse, they grafted European vines onto Native American root stock because it had developed a resistance. But MacCready wondered if the grafted ones taste different than grapes grown on their own roots. And he’s had no phyloxera since the 1972!
Taste their wines to see the difference for yourself. His wines have brilliant typicity, a flavor that is represented by its origin and a true representation of that grape’s potential.
Wine tasting in El Dorado County is a uniquely refreshing experience for those accustomed to Napa and Sonoma. I’ve only been here 20 hours but I’m hoping that the tasting room experience is a sign of what the community is like. So far, the once popular gold rush town of Placerville has been as friendly as my first tasting experience.
Walk into the Golden Leaves tasting room off a beautiful winding road and you’re greeted with fresh baked cookies, smiles, and pleasant conversation. The husband and wife team tell interesting stories of their history while pouring fabulous wines. Their Pinot Grigio is a bright crisp mouthful of refreshing pear flavors. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo is a big round ripe red wine with pepper and spice on the finish. Their Merlot has a rich velvety body with dark cherry cola and a whisper of licorice on the long elegant finish. Their Cabernet Franc has ripe blue fruit flavors like plum, blueberry and a bit of cherry. They finish the tasting with a Tempranillo full of tart cherry and spice with a tiny whiff of tobacco. Their winemaker and owner John will be happy to tell you why his grapes get so flavorful in this region.
A little bit north of all the other Sierra Foothill wine regions (Amador and Calaveras) lies El Dorado County where the Shenandoah, Fair Play, El Dorado, and Sierra Foothills AVAs show off their juice. The county’s biggest city for restaurants and places to stay is Placerville, which has the best of both worlds. One side of town has newer modern conveniences like quick food options, gourmet grocery, and, of course, Starbucks. The other side of town, probably known as “Old Town” has adorable western style buildings and structures, hotels, taverns, and saloons. Some of these beautiful historical structures have been converted into upscale restaurants serving delicious cuisines all in an easily strollable (about a dozen) block strip.
Placerville is nothing if not bursting with history and a sense of its past. In the gold rush days, law enforcement had not yet established in these towns and many people migrated to the area in search of wealth. Some newcomers were not interested in the labor involved in mining gold or working for their fair share. Many hard working miners lost their gold at knife point and murders became too common. So, the locals gathered to form a lynch mob and would reprimand shysters or newcomers with unscrupulous or unethical behavior. Because of these practices, Placerville became known as “Hangtown” back then, which may sound severe but was a way of life and, as you can guess, prevented criminals from trying anything crooked or visiting at all.
Today, Placerville is a kind, warm friendly place to stop for delicious wines and food. The only thing that may make you feel a bit out of place is how many gun, ammunition, body piercing and tattoo storefronts are smack dab in the middle of town. You’ll pass about a dozen walking about a dozen downtown blocks. But that’s probably just because it was once the badass of the mother lode.
Still thinking about the rich ripe long and luscious Merlot and creamy vibrant Barbera from Gold Hill out in the Sierra Foothills. Got to get back to that Sutter Creek Wine Tasting room in “downtown” to get some more of that velvety wine. It must be the gold in those hills…
This is also one of the few wineries that brews beer. If your palate leans toward the suds and lighter alcohol or you prefer harder grape juice. You can find something here for everyone.
If you are a fan of French style wines and winemaking practices yet you love Paso juice, make sure you check out Clos Solene. You can taste their wines at the Paso Under Ground tasting room right on the square in downtown Paso. Like me, you may have lasting thoughts about them for days.
One reason is their Hommage Blanc is bursting with succulent juice and has a long lingering finish. If you’ve never tried a Roussane Viognier blend, this is the place to start. But if you’re a fan of these white grapes, this is a great example of how they are best represented. Their Harmonie is not just your typical GSM. Their version of the historical blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre has pronounced fruit, vibrant acidity, and a finish you’ll remember after you’ve left the room. Finally, their Sweet Clementine is a dessert style wine without the heavy sugar aftertaste or overwhelmingly high alcohol. All these wines have the balance and elegance to epitomize French Paso style.
Latin for limestone, Calcareous produces rich velvety wines from vines grown on this rich soil. Their hilltop tasting room just off Peachy Canyon also has breathtaking views, a soft breezy climate, and an inviting picnic setting. Wednesday nights they fire up an outdoor oven and serve pizzas with their wine along with live music. They also have a full kitchen for food and wine pairings by Thomas Hill Organics.
But the wines are really the reason to visit:
- Lily Blanc is a Rhone white blend with big body and a long finish that lingers with beautiful big melon and peach flavors.
- Vin Gris of Malbec is a full bodied dry rose yet bright with strawberry and cherry. An amazing pizza wine on a warm night.
- Grenache Mourvedre blend has a slightly smoky dusty nose of berry and plum with pepper and spice.
- Tres Violet has a splash of smoky berry and plum with a long finish that has a tiny bit of licorice.
- Syrah has tremendous flavor and balance with plum and berry yet a soft supple leather texture.
- Cabernet Sauvignon has a deep purple color from a splash of Syrah but its plum, cherry, and berry is rounded out by dark chocolate, cassis, and a whiff of smoke.
What do ya do after finishing a good book? Pass it on to a friend? Well, if you lived in a small close-knit community, the whole town would be your friends. How would you choose who gets the book first?
Paso Robles’ community has established these cute little library stands throughout neighborhoods to encourage book sharing and reading. It’s just the little touches like this that make me want to come back.
The newest addition to Paso’s delicious restaurants just opened on the square in downtown Paso with famously refreshing cuisine of Spain and South America. Proof that the locals appreciate this cuisine option, it has been packed since opening day. They’ve been doing delicious dinners with a full bar since last week. This week, they plan to open for lunch and brunch on weekends.
So, it is clear the passion that started Il Cortile continues. The queso fundido with rich velvety manchego cheese and Spanish Chorizo comes with plantain crisps in addition to toast points. The unique blend of flavors in one dish will keep you thinking about it for days.