Friday, September 26, 2008

Sierra Foothills Wine Country

Hi, there! The cat did not fly away, she's just not been cooking too much recently, so there are no new recipes for now. However, the days are getting shorter, the weather is going to cool down next week, so I won't be able to survive on salads and wine, cheese and figs much longer. Cooking posts are on the way!

And today the sky is blue, the sun is bright, and the grapes are ready for picking, and we are going to visit one of the lesser-known California wine regions (I actually went over the weekend, but just got some time to post today).

If you love to explore the wine country, to see it develop, to discover new interesting styles and meet people who produce them, but are tired of the showy atmosphere, crowds, and heavy, hard to drink wine styles that are becoming features of Napa and the more popular part of Sonoma counties, then Sierra Foothills is one of the good options for you. Out of several wine producing counties in the Foothills, the most easily accessible, and, as a result, more developed are El Dorado and Amador counties, and this is where we are going.

The foothills have volcanic soil, and climate is similar to Northern Italy, so it's especially good for groving Italian varietals - Barbera, Sangiovese, Primitivo - and Zinfandel, but the local winemakers experiment, often very successfully, with other grapes, from Rhone varietals to Tempranillo.

Wines are produced in small batches and few of them can be seen outside of the region, tasting rooms are cozy, the visitors are few and mostly local, and it's not unusual to talk to the winemaker on his way from his tractor to the office.

The biggest, closest, and my favorite is Boeger Winery, with it's cute fairy tale buildings, garden, and vineyard, located in a beatiful valley a few minutes out of Placerville. We first discovered the place with my ski buddies six or seven years ago, when we were opening the season in Sierra at Tahoe and had to leave the slopes early because of a heavy storm. So we made it to the tasting room that is open till 5 pm, collected the snow from the top of the car, and brought it into the tasting room. One of the friendly tasting room ladies took the snow from my hands, made it into a ball and tossed in the middle of the tasters. Winter fun began.

At that time I was impressed with their Tempranillo, but this time I thought that the Milagro, the reserve Tempranillo blend, is the best. Sauvignon Blanc and Barbera are also worth trying.

Other places from this trip, worth visiting for various reasons:

David Girard - for their luxurous grounds and estate, and for beatiful Coeur de Terroir blends

Gold Hill - for the peace and quiet, and the picnic area with the view (the wine on the photo on top is Boeger Sauv Blanc, but the view is Gold Hill)

Young's - for the artsy landscape, complete with a lake and a boat, music and wines with artistic labels

Bella Piazza - magnificent castle and grounds, great Barbera

Dobra Zemlja (no site yet) - the old man Croatian owner and winemaker is a character and makes the best Zin and fortified wines, and, the staff say, drinks most of it himself. The stuff are a family, the cellar is in a cave with frogs, the place is hard to find but worth it

Sobon - the ambiance of an old farm, figs, walnuts, cats, farming museum, several types of Zinfandel from vines over 100 years old.

My main impression of Amador Shenandoah AVA was that there are more winaries per mile than in Napa (and no traffic!), more appearing every year, and many of them are interesting in some way, so I'm coming back soon for sure.