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!
The name Deodoro may be fun to say but the wine is what speaks the symphony. Each step through their flight has rare typicity while each sip can uncover different characteristics.
As its name suggests, Euphoria can make you feel as happy as a lemon tree on a sunny day. Its bright crisp green apple awakens you while its honeydew body shines through. Take this wine to a picnic to pair all the way through succulent salads, sumptuous seafood, or sunshine and solitude.
Their Syrah has an elegant balance of red raspberry and dark blueberry without that blanket of cranberry that can overwhelm. It has brilliant layers of spices that make every sip a different experience.
Our favorite is a Cabernet Sauvignon that pairs with anything or nothing throughout an entire meal. Its dark ripe cherry and black currant layers make it a tasty sipper all by itself while you’re cooking. Silky tannins and bright acidity make it a terrific pairing for your best bold steak and creamy garlic potatoes. Finally, its soft supple leather body with remarkable coffee fragrance make it a lovely after dinner toast.
Or, LDT as it is known locally here in Paso, has an exciting new tasting room in downtown Paso just one block away from the congestion of the square yet close enough to all the restaurants to stop by for a glass of wine before or after dinner. The excitement never ends on weekends as they bring in live music and stay open a bit later than most tasting rooms.
Their flight includes such variety you’re certain to find a wine for each unique palate in your party. We began a tasting with three Chardonnays that could not be more different. The first tasted just like a Sauvignon Blanc but without the harsh grapefruit flavor or nasty minerality. Bathed in stainless steel, it had brilliantly bright crisp lemon peel and even honeydew flavors with mouthwatering acidity. The next one from Sonoma’s coast had a bit more apricot and nutmeg with a floral fragrance and still a bit of acidity. Finally, their Alexander Valley Chardonnay had much more mellow acidity with lively fruit and felt like buttery popcorn in your mouth.
A surprisingly refreshing rose made out of Merlot had a beautiful ruby color with flavors of watermelon, strawberry, and rhubarb. It makes you wish you had a barbecue or picnic to take it to. Two Pinot Noirs followed designed to please two very different types of Pinotphiles. The first Pinot had tight acidity with an herbal quality and mellow fruit yet the second was bursting with spices and equally rich in strawberries as it was in currants. Our favorite was a Sangiovese that had just a small percentage of Merlot probably explaining a nice dark cherry and plum flavor in this wine, often known for its tart red cherry characteristics. It was a lovely balanced wine that gave you a hint of vanilla on its long finish.
The charming gold rush town of Sutter Creek is going through a re-birth. With delicious tasting rooms opening along Main Street, plenty of places to stay, and restaurants going through renovations, it’s time to return and give this town another look.
Try the quaint individual tasting rooms to chat with the locals and possibly meet the winemaker or owner. But go to the Sutter Creek Wine Tasting wine bar to try wines from several different labels during one tasting. They have a great variety of reds, whites, and roses as well as some interesting sparkling wines. With discounts for a purchase of 3, 6, or 12 bottles, why wouldn’t you want to stock up on a bunch of these:
Gold Hill California Champagne – a nice crisp sparkling with a hint of sweetness but not too much.
Le Mulet Rouge Almond Sparkling Wine – nuts are a flavorful pairing for sparklers so why not get them all blended together. This slightly sweet sparkler is great for appetizers, cheese, or as a dessert wine.
Gold Hill Malbec – dark ash and berry with hints of plum and blueberry dominate giving it a ripe luscious mouthfeel. We love this high alcohol wine for after dinner.
Gold Hill Merlot – probably one of our favorite Merlots. Lively bright cherry without overwhelming acidity dominates this wines body. Light tannins and a log lasting finish keep it real.
Gold Hill Barbera – this area is known for Barbera and theirs has tart bright red cherry fragrance with a big wide body full of flavors.
Gold Hilll Cabernet Sauvignon – with a cherry cola fruit palate, this wine is balanced by bright vibrant acidity and strong tannins.
Gold Hill Petite Sirah – this wine has a smooth slightly spice box melange of blueberry pie with a dark dank smoky quality that gets more and more prevalent as you swirl. PS, I love you!
Rhone varietals like Syrah, Grenache, and, the cult, Mourvedre crowd the soil in Paso these days. Big fans of these grapes unite here. But, when you crave something a bit more Italian inspired, and we all do at some point, head to Pianetta for big full Italian stallions with a California style. This father-daughter fab find is a block away from the Paso square and the spot to buy wine that feeds your Italian food cravings…or any food cravings, really.
They don’t make any whites but their rose hits the spot with its chilled watermelon flavor. A bit of floral fragrance is the first thing you smell but big round refreshing strawberry, banana, and plenty of watermelon follow. This is a nice meaty rose for taco night or even a barbecue. Their Sangiovese has that bright crisp cherry flavor typical of this grape yet the long finish you’d expect from a cab or robust Merlot. Finally, they serve a very unique Petite Sirah with an earthy green lavender nose but licorice and all spice body with very smooth tannins. Savor this glass for a few minutes and you’ll smell a smoky campfire scent as you swirl.
Each wine is welcoming enough to return to a previous wine after you’ve moved on to bigger bodied wines. Check out these family operations because they are often better at passing on traditions and cross training the unique practices that give their wines character. That’s how they manage to keep their style consistent across vintages.
For a taste of charm in Sutter Creek, stop by the Baiocchi tasting room where Greg pours lively local varietals with Italian style. With a nod to his ancestors, he takes a fun creative approach to winemaking that captures the flavors best for pairing wine with foods. His “Dego Red” is not only a tribute to his grandfather but also shows he likes to have fun with wine descriptions. His tasting room is one of the few where you can get a cool cigar and smoke on the sun kissed patio. Pun intentional.
The tasting went a little like this; Viognier hits you in the nose with lots of caramel. Then, strong acids make your lips smack and mouth water. But the most memorable flavor in this wine is its minerality and stone fruit that keep that overly floral feeling from overwhelming. Indeed, a very balanced wine. Next, the “Dego Red” is a soft, bright, and easy to drink red blend of Grenache and Syrah. Then, the Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo G-minor has tight crisp acidity with tart fruit but a smoky back beat, probably thanks to the Tempranillo. His Grenache is like smelling a bowl of berries and waves of tart cherry or cranberry. It craves a barbecue.
If you could channel the past lives of a wine tasting room in gold country California, I’m sure you’d be amused. Between the buildings of former brothels, various jail cells, and gold mines underneath, anyone could spin a wicked story. But none so true as the one where Driven Cellars now pours fab juice.
During the thriving days of California’s gold rush, many men traveled to these parts in search of a dream. Whether that dream panned out or not, those men needed comfort and sustenance. So, most of these little gold rush towns contained hotels, saloons, and brothels– the trifecta of happiness. What’s interesting about Sutter Creek’s brothel is that it was across Main Street from the hotel where many gold rush enthusiasts stayed. To avoid being seen walking into the saloon or brothel, men used a trap door in the sidewalk to cross the street and enter privately through an underground tunnel. After safe passage into the saloon, they could have a drink and enter a small viewing room or parlor adjacent to he bar where they viewed various women and selected a fitting companion. The new tasting room for Driven Cellars still has the other end of that trap door entrance. The rest has been blocked off to protect pedestrians and pets. But, they still have the parlor room… only now it is more like a comfy wine lounge. But I’m sure men still view other women for companionship while sipping a tasty bevie.
Driven Cellars is in a spot to watch not only because they are in a historic building but also they plan to serve food and offer patio seating. They also have a lively selection of crisp refreshing whites and big bold reds. Our fave of the day was a Primitivo with the tart red cherry flavors but thick plum body that balances out this grape’s pronounced acidity. It is their most popular red and one that makes the trip worth a visit, even if you already have companionship for the night.
When traveling to a new wine region, you can quickly cut to the top of the line just by asking around for the locally famous winemakers. In a town like Murphys, winemakers like Rich Gilpin are known by name. He is the man behind the magic of several wineries known for their quality wines. He also mentors other winemakers and consults for several other wineries. One of his secrets is staying up on the latest and greatest equipment to squeeze the most succulent flavor out of his grapes.
Lavender Ridge is where you can taste his craft for Rhone varietals like Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne, the answer to anything-but-Chardonnay. His Roussanne has that lovely rich lemon curd and crème brulee thickness you can only get from time spent in one of those cool concrete eggs. This is a white with the hearty tannins of a red. Their Viognier has a slight hint of that floral fragrance that is typical of this grape yet it is balanced by flavors of apricot and slightly green banana. The bright red Grenache smells like a sweet bucket of cherries yet is balanced by many layers and flavors like tart red plum, earthy mushrooms, and herbs de provence. Simply magical!
The newest tasting room in Murphys is in a larger than most building right on the main strip. I believe it was once the firehouse. In this great location, Bunting serves up some classically French styled wines with a punch. The French style is not only seen in their delicious grape varietals that are sometimes hard to find in California like Marsanne and Roussanne but also in an incredible balance of bright crisp acidity with soft tannins that show off the natural fruit flavor of a varietal. The punch is in the high alcohol levels (sometimes 15%), which makes the experience like classical music with the volume turned way up.
Definitely worth a visit!
Where better to go on March 17 than Irish Family Vineyards in Murphys, CA! This trip we were wowed by a Malvasia Bianca that had lots of apricot and lemon curd with a hint of banana. Their Duct Tape that fixes most everything is now called Quick Fix and it still does with wide thick body from Merlot and Cab. Then a Petite Sirah and Zin Kilkenny red has ripe plump juice with a complex body of plum and spice on top of a whiff of smoke and vanilla. We love this wine any day of the year.