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.
Yes, the people at The Independent finally did it all in one appetizer. Sweet maple waffles form the buns for buttermilk fried chicken sliders with salty crisp bacon and caramelized onion, drizzled with Chipotle aioli. The slightly sweet maple waffle loves the smoky spicy aioli while the salty bacon matches the textured fried chicken bringing all four fab flavors together. This is worth the road trip to Hangtown alone!
The road less traveled with all its benefits makes you get a bit more creative and resourceful with lodging. A town like Placerville simply does not have as many hotel or bed and breakfast options as other well know destinations. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for musty moldy bug-infested accommodations or overspend at a zillion star hotel. Your best bet is a vacation rental even if you are traveling alone. One might think you don’t need a full kitchen during your stay here and, with so many delicious restaurants in walking distance, you may not. But you will always use a kitchen even just for coffee, tea, wine, sparkling wine, port, or more wine.
You may also assume a vacation rental is further away from all the action downtown. But the Daffodil Suite at Coloma Springs Apartment has the best of both aspirations with all the plush comforts of home within walking distance to shops and restaurants in a quiet safe neighborhood. It is priced at the sweet spot between solid and lux hotel accommodations. But what makes it a place you want to return to is its breathtaking treetop views and romantic earth friendly fireplace mantelpiece. Next time you’re in Hangtown munching at CascadAH or dining fancy at Smith Flat, taste and drink responsibly and stay the night at Coloma Springs instead.
The Sierra Foothills may hang out in your memory long after you’ve left. Years ago, gold rush enthusiasts may have taken all they could find but left a bounty of rich soil behind that make happy grapes. The slight elevation keeps grapes soaking in the sunshine and may also be what makes this region’s wines so richly complex yet elegantly smooth.
Because they are negociants, the Vitone Family that makes Verde Sole wines could get their grapes from anywhere yet they choose these historical and bountiful Sierra Foothills for good reason. It’s not only a love of this land or a distinctive palate. For them, making wine is also part of a family tradition and a taste will convince you of how passionate they are about cultivating a grape’s full potential in a bottle.
Their Zinfandel starts with that beautiful berry fragrance all zin lovers covet yet continues with more dark round berry body than light earthy red raspberry. It has enough earthiness but not too much to overwhelm its chocolate milk thickness. Its firm tannins make it ideal for a meaty barbecue but its long lanky finish keep you thinking about it.
The Verde Sole Petite Sirah quickly draws you in with a bright heavy aroma of cocoa, vanilla, and toasted caramel. Then, a layer of plum, cherry, and blueberry, takes over while the vibrant acidity and silky tannins bring you back for another sip. This is such a carefully balanced Petite Sirah yet so versatile it can playfully dance alone or effortlessly match up to your richest hearty meat dishes. Don’t be afraid of the inky dark varietal some call “blue tooth”; this one’s tannins are soft and supple enough to fool a zin, Grenache, or Pinot lover.
So many locals recommend Grace Patriot Wines, your curiosity alone drives you there. The minute your feet hit the ground, you encounter the red dirt that give their bold wines character and intensity. Each wine in the line up was bright, bold, and memorable with long velvety finish.
Their rose of Tempranillo had big ripe luscious strawberry flavors but none of the sweetness. It could go with any food pairing. Theirs is the first Pinot Noir found in this region as many have said its one of the few that cannot grow here. Theirs is a wonderful holiday wine with spice and fruit of cherry, strawberry, and pomegranate yet restrained earth. Then, their Tempriano is a creative blend of Tempranillo and Graciano! Wow, the lux dark cocoa and leather from Graciano stand up to the plum and dark cherry of the Tempranillo. This is a biggie and matches up to your biggest richest meal. Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignon blend with Syrah was also a meaty well rounded combo. Its tannins were present and slightly chewy but did not overpower. These two grapes are like a warm friendly couple. The backbone of the cab needed the body and fruit of Syrah and the Syrah’s blue velvety texture needed the structure of the cab. Well done!
Not a typo nor a play on words, Paul Toogood’s winery is the one to check out if you’re in Fair Play California looking for a rich velvety tawny port style wine aged 12 years. Toogood Estate Winery sells this liquid dessert in many bottle formats from the half bottle, 375 ml, to the medium, 500 ml sized format. But this is probably the first place you will find these cute port pony kegs that hold a gallon of port! That’s enough to last you a year. Not me but possibly you.
These cute little containers are also reusable. Return any time to refill them with this luscious liquid and get a discount.
Before you head there, check in on Facebook or post a picture at Toogood Estate to get a bottle of their wine for only $6. Which wine? That’s part of the fun! It is a blind bag purchase but everyone at the tasting room was happy with their 6 dollar purchase. Can you say the same for a six dollar burger?!
The refreshing flavors in Cantiga’s wines represent equally refreshing ideas, methods, and commitments. The idea is simple, produce the highest quality wines with fewer additives to enhance the natural flavors of each grape. Their methods include longer skin contact, which give wine its color and antioxidants. They also age wines longer to let the flavors concentrate and rich textures develop. Without additives like sulphites, their wines remain pure and full of fruit flavor with naturally lower sugar levels. You could say theirs are healthy wines. Their commitment to the tradition of pairing wines with food is something everyone at the tasting room can experience. But in case you’re too far away from this paradise, imagine warm soothing chipotle chilli matching the long luscious Zinfandel while a smoky salty Spanish Chorizo brings you back to the bright sumptuous Grenache.
But taste for yourself when you travel to El Dorado county because nothing you read can be as good for you as wines that don’t make you hungover. Their Chardonnay has bright crisp acidity and a nice long finish. It begins with citrus flavors and the thick texture of banana. Due to their winemaking methods, this is a white wine you can cellar for up to 25 years! Its time in neutral barrels gives it a creamy creme brulee mouthfeel with a lively bit of lemon curd that balances it. Delicious! Their Grenache has a full body of strawberry, bright red cherry, and a tiny bit of raspberry earthiness. If truthiness is a word, so is earthiness. Their Petite Sirah has a clean crisp scent and a body full of tart blueberry, blackberry, and plum but soft silky tannins and a long warm finish. If you’ve had it with jammy Zinfandels, theirs is a refreshing one to try. It has great berry flavor with a balance of earth and herbal aromas. Its naturally big bold fruit makes you think its sweet but it doesn’t have aftertaste because the sugar levels are low.
After the reds, they bring you back to a dry white called Semillon. It has the supple fragrance of tropical fruit like banana with the body of a nectar and a silky finish. They may say these wines European style but we say refreshingly delicious and better for you than most wines as well.
The spot for Italian wine lovers in Fair Play is Palissandro. They take the traditional Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Barbera and give them that California pizzazz. Their Pinot Grigio jump starts your taste buds with a slight floral flavor and fresh green bananas. It opens in your mouth with pear and pineapple that would pair wonderfully with chips and salsa or anything slightly spicy. Then, Rosa is a rose made out of Barbera and Grenache, which was barrel fermented to give it a little vanilla and slight cinnamon with hazelnuts.
The reds were the most impressive in the flight. Sangiovese has big strawberry and hints of red cherry and raspberry. Mild tannins and high acids make it easy to pair with just about any food and the strong fruit characteristics make it easy to sip on its own. Their super Tuscan has many layers of berry and cherry with hazelnuts and firm chewy tannins that match its acidity. Their Barbera has a lovely mocha quality along with berry and cherry characteristics and a long warm finish. It is the one you can still taste after you drive out of the tasting room. Bellissimo!
If you’ve got to eat your veggies, and you know you do, why not eat them in a delicious pie:
Of course this place has other more meaty pot pies as well. But, even the meaty pies have lots of veggies. So indulge at Z Pie Gourmet Pot Pies. They also have non-pie options like salads, soups, appetizers, and lovely looking desserts like cheesecake.
Charles B. Mitchell definitely gets his winemaking inspiration from Europe. After visiting some of the world renowned wine regions, he has adapted their most impressive practices at his winery in Fair Play, California with delectable results.
All this research and traditional methods is probably why he decided to make a dry rose using Merlot grapes. It starts with strawberry and plum on the nose with crisp tart cherry that waves over the tongue. His Fume Blanc has that fresh crisp green apple nose that promises refreshment. Then, tart pineapple and citrus take over, typical for a Sauvignon Blanc. Yet, the extra-long finish is probably due to the smoke of the barrel; that’s the “fume” in Fume Blanc doing its stuff.
With respect to Tuscany, his Bella Rosa is a lively table wine made from a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. This super-duper Tuscan has vibrant berry, cherry, and strawberry fruit flavors with big bold body and a hint of smoke. Its long velvety finish makes it a great pairing for meaty pizzas or succulent sauces over pasta, yet, unlike most Italian wines, it really doesn’t need food. Finally, their estate Merlot has a slight floral scent on the nose with a body of big plump cherry and a long warm finish.