Monthly Archives: October 2013

Madrona Vineyards

Clearly, the people at Madrona believe in thinking outside the box… and I do not mean boxes of wine. They took a basic and fundamental tasting room practice like whites before reds and analyzed it objectively. Here, they’ve switched the order of wines in a tasting flight many times and adopted the convention of pouring reds before whites because the acids in the whites are so high due to the altitude that tasting them before the reds make the tannins in the reds stand out too severely. Yet, the whites taste the same after the reds.

Their entire flight of wines is well crafted. Each wine has tremendous typicity, representing the purest expression of the grape with respect to the land and climate. Their Nebbiolo is one you cannot miss. With hints of fennel and licorice, it pairs exceptionally with every course from a sumptuous salad to thick creamy pastas and rich smoky meats. Yes, we tested this with our meal at Smith Flat. The many layers to this wine change and grow as you swirl but the wine remains multifaceted.


You don’t have to make gluten free bread. You don’t even have to buy it. But, with so many people allergic to wheat, why wouldn’t you!? Breads made out of rice, tapioca, or lentil flour taste better and often have the same texture as breads made out of wheat flour. And, in these beautiful wine regions, many have started to dry the grape skins, mill that into flour, and make delicious baked goods out of Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet flour that are also rich in antioxidants. Think of the profit margin when making products like this out of the byproducts from winemaking using ingredients that you can get for free. Most winemakers are happy to give these grape skins away.

Bricks not only makes their own gluten free bread, they make it taste delicious. We had to ask the waiter because we were certain he made a mistake and gave us the regular bread. It is really as tasty as it looks here. This Santa Fe sandwich came with turkey, bacon, avocado, green chili, and pepper jack and came with fries as crispy as these look.


Chef Lance Carlini at Miraflores

Yesterday’s indulgence was a feast prepared by Lance Carlini, Executive Chef at Piatti in Sacramento, to showcase how his “farm-driven, hyper-seasonal cuisine” matches up with Miraflores’ approachable and elegant wines. Any meal at their Mediterranean-inspired patio is exquisite but what made this one memorable was the chef’s use of local seasonal ingredients and ambition to enrich each dish with their natural flavors.

The first course was an apple, black walnut, wild arugula, mint and early citrus salad paired with a light crisp Barbera. The pepper in this arugula was big and bold enough to enhance the tart red berry fruit in the Barbera. Next, a Mourvedre danced around your mouth against a rich butternut squash angelotti with fried sage and bacon in a brown butter sauce topped with pomegranate. The crisp plum in the red wine cut through the rich butternut squash and brown butter sauce while the tart pomegranate stood up to the dusty rustic layers in the wine. The rich short ribs on white polenta with mushrooms, smoked blue cheese and horseradish root matched wits with the big bold Zinfandel. But the final dish was the most ingenious. Persimmons and panna cotta with toasted pistachios and “orange surprise” danced on your tongue, literally because it contained pop rocks! The fizzle of the pop rocks was an excellent match for the slight frizzante in the Mucat Canelli and the buttery pistachio flavor enriched the honeysuckle in the wine.

Chateau Rodin

A tasting room can impress you with something as simple as a welcoming greeting and a small rustic space. Heck, some wineries (like Demetria) can wow you even without a tasting room, embracing the outdoor pastoral picturesque experience and beauty of their land.

Bugs and cobwebs are everywhere and it’d probably be hard to find a tasting room without them. Some people don’t even notice them. But the cobwebs, bugs, and dank musty smells at the Chateau Rodin tasting room are hard to miss. You may want to overlook them, putting on your optimistic and open minded attitude in hopes that you’ve found a diamond in the rough. You may even argue that the wine should speak rather than the tasting room. If a wine speaks to you, something is seriously wrong with it.

We are not winemakers or scientists but even we know Merlot should be red or garnet in color when it is young. How they got such a recent vintage to look brown is a mystery. How they got it to taste like brandy is probably a scary story. Locals are full of scary stories about these “winemakers” and their legal troubles or their challenges with decor.

When you travel off the beaten path, trust the locals. Small towns are full of people who are familiar with their local winemakers and are quick to offer recommendations and help visitors. If you pop into a tasting room because it was on the side of the road, don’t be afraid to exit when you see too many cobwebs or an unclean space. If the tasting room is not clean, imagine how clean their equipment and cellar is!

Smith Flat

Few places can really wow you while giving you a sense of history like a gold mine converted into a restaurant. Pictures won’t do the clay, rock, and, mortar walls, watering well, or the gold mine itself justice. So, try to use your imagination. Or, heck, visit the restaurant yourself. Perhaps this is all the encouragement you need.

The food is the reason to try this uniquely designed restaurant. Farm fresh to table is easy to do in a wine region because they obviously have the soil and climate to grow succulent produce. But their menu actually lists the local farms they use to prepare their dishes.

The Black Butte Porter Stew was like slow cooked beef in a rich sauce with potato and root vegetables. The Wild Mushroom Ceviche could have been too rich but the citrus marinade brightened the dish and the golden Balsamic reduction balanced the thick polenta cake.

Nothing soothes a cool crisp fall day like a rich warm risotto. This one had roasted pumpkin that was blended smoothly into the rice but sweet basil all over gave it a vibrant gusto and a dollop of mascarpone in the middle tempted you in case it wasn’t already rich enough. The Muscovy duck special was cooked perfectly and bathed in a rich sauce.


The best way to get a taste of what this region represents is to attend a professional chef’s wine pairing offered at wineries like Miraflores. Not only is it a treat for the eyes, a visit can also alleviate stress, reduce concrete jungle frustration, and remind you of the secret of life. The beauty and splendor of this region surrounds you at this exquisitely designed oasis in wine paradise.

They also believe in the way to your heart. Weekends draw professional chefs from all directions to forage for your feast and pair Miraflores delicious wines with creative and luscious dishes. Our skilled and experienced chef for the day, Christopher Caul, hailed from Carmel and was available for questions, comments, photos, and playful banter. How he also had time to prep this sumptuous feast remains a mystery.


For French cuisine just 15 minutes from downtown Placerville, check out a husband and wife eatery called Allez! Here you can order many things you cannot pronounce but will remember for a long time. They also have a wonderful dessert wine like port that tastes like chocolate.

Thanks to the owner and proprietor of Miraflores, we had a delicious meal to remember for decades and a few memorable comments about the region. One was about the famed Mourvedre grape, the M in a GSM Rhone style blend. On its own, Mourvedre has acquired a cult like following in recent circles. But the quotable assertion is that “Mourvedre is the grape that is going to define the region” because it is “the Pinot Noir of the Sierra Foothills.” As if the Sierra Foothills needed a Pinot Noir, cheers to that!

Auriga Wine Cellars

Elegant refined wines are all that Auriga pours. They also finish the tasting flight with a dessert wine that only has 16.5% alcohol so not a lot of sugar aftertaste but plenty of flavor. As if that wasn’t reason enough to try it, it is fortified with brandy like most dessert wines. But theirs uses brandy made from grapes.

More of El Dorado

A few days in this blossoming wine region clearly was not enough. The weather in El Dorado county is fantastic, the people are friendly, the wine is amazingly delicious and almost always has soft silky tannins. Then, there’s the food. If I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again; wherever there’s good wine, good food is sure to follow. The restaurants in this town could be dangerous for my delicate wine glass figure.

The most inviting about this area is its proximity to just about anything your heart desires. ‘Nuff said about wine and food. Tahoe is and easy 35 minute drive from Placerville and so is Sacramento if you crave the concrete jungle or need staples like Sephora or Trader Joe’s. Napa wasn’t even 2 hours away. The Bay Area and all that San Francisco has to offer cannot be that far away. What makes it best for weary travelers is that they even have their own airport. Fly in, taste responsibly, eat well, and fly home. Boom, your next wine destination decision is done.

Mt. Konocti Winery

Don’t let its industrial setting with picnic tables outside dissuade you from trying their wine. Several locals recommended this winery and there’s always a reason for talk like that.

They are one of the few wineries that is taking advantage of the wonderfully abundant pears in Lake County. After prohibition made winemakers tear out their beautiful vines, most planted pears to continue using their land for revenue. Many pear orchards remain throughout Lake County and Mt. Konocti is one of the few that produces a sparkling wine out of pears with no grapes. It has a light crisp refreshing quality that is not too sweet and not too dry. You’d think the pears would make it taste sweet even without residual sugar but it has no sugar aftertaste. It is also only 10% alcohol so feel free to open it for grandma over Easter Sunday brunch.

Their Cabernet Sauvignon is also very balanced. Although it has deep dark plummy black cherry flavor, its big body and spice match up with crisp acidity and quite a long finish.