Monday, December 6, 2010

A Day Trip to Amador County: Part I

While visiting my girlfriend's family in Davis, California, we took a day trip to Amador County--or alternately the California Shenandoah Valley--to visit a few wineries. Davis is about equal distances from Napa City and Plymouth, but the price differential made the choice pretty easy. Tasting is apparently free everywhere in Amador, and it seemed each winery went through nearly a dozen wines. Napa seems to run $15-$30 just to taste several wines. I'm accustomed to the relatively high prices for tasting in Santa Barbara, usually around $8-$12 to sample a producer's portfolio. But going much higher is a bit too "price gougey" for my taste. Amador fit the bill for a budget-friendly afternoon.

The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps known best for its old vine Zinfandels, with some vineyards dating back to the pre-Prohibition era and beyond. The regions sits at the base of Sierra Nevada mountains, hence the broader designation of the region encompassing Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras as the Sierra Foothills. Although this is a warm region, likely a Region III on the Davis heat summation scale, producers tout the variety of soils and elevations at their disposal. This isn't a region for light acidic wines, but the diversity of vineyard sites appears to allow for an interesting mix of warm-climate grapes to be grown. Heat is an important part of the picture, but it's not the only the part.

I actually was not all that surprised to find a handful of noteworthy wines. Those poured at Terre Rouge/Easton were especially good. Terre Rouge is the brand used for the producer's Rhone-style wines, while Easton covers other bottlings like Cabs, Zins and Barberas. When I say Rhone-style, I definitely mean it. I'm used to the ultra-ripe, melted style of Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Terre Rouge tastes like it came from the Old World. Their current GMS blend, the 2007 L'Autre, is a dead ringer for a cru-level Rhone if not a Chateauneuf du Pape. Red fruit, garrigue, meat, earth and heavy tannins all point to an Old World wine. Their 2004 Mourvedre--also the current release--is gamy with tar, herbs, pepper and firm tannins, like a clean Bandol. The only potential concern might be that most of the wines are very tannic, perhaps to the point that the tannins outlive the other components of the wine. But many of their wines are released with some age, so that helps bring the style into better focus. If you like earthy, structured wines that should be long-lived, this is the place for you. I also enjoyed their 2006 Barbera, which is less structured, but more polished. The Syrahs are quite good as well, though it seems we visited only a couple of the many versions they produce. Their Zins were the only disappointment since I found them tipped a bit to the raisiny side instead of the spicy, peppery side. Prices were very good values in the $15-$30 range. In terms of pricing and overall quality, this blows away the vast majority of Central Coast producers. There's a reason why a producer who began in the mid-80s is still going strong today.

Notes from the rest of the visit will post tomorrow.

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