The second stop on our visit to Amador County was Noceto, conveniently located just around the corner from Terre Rouge/Easton. Other than a rather pedestrian and semi-sweet Pinot Grigio, this was a great stop as well. These folks are Sangiovese specialists covering the full spectrum from modestly-priced table wine up to single vineyard bottlings. While I did go through the full lineup of single vineyards, the tasting was rather rapid fire and from small glasses. So it's probably not worth trying to differentiate from my notes, though they all had specific character and tended to be more rounded than the "normale" Sangiovese. I liked their 2008 Nutz! ($12), a Barbera-Sangiovese table wine, the 2008 Sangiovese ($18) and the 2007 Riserva Sangiovese ($20, normally $24) most given the price points. All had the acidity and leathery character I expect from Sangio, with darker and more rounded fruit moving up in price. Their 2007 OGP Zin, from the Original Grandpère Vineyard planted in 1869, was my favorite of the trip. Dark and big, yes, but also spicy and peppery with sufficient lift. The Vernaccia (dry, with melon, pineapple and minerality) and Mistura (a dark blend of Alicante, Syrah, Petite Sirah and port varieties) were also excellent. Really nice values here as well as the sub-$20 wines were spot on as pairings for pizza and pasta, not just the funky and/or flabby leftovers that didn't fit anywhere else. Probably more varietal character here than compared to Central Coast Sangios, and cheaper, too. Another producer that started in the 80s, still going strong.
Morse/Il Gioiello was up next. It's a drive out a good ways on narrow, patched up roads, but oddly enough it is gated, has a bocce court, and appears to be thoroughly modern including a Tuscan-styled tasting room. Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but the wines here seemed to be more fruit-driven with more obvious oak, slicker and more modern in a New World mold. Definitely reminded me more of what I find towards Santa Barbera in terms of Italian and Rhone varieties. Instead of the attractive, precise rusticity and character of Terre Rouge and Noceto, these are highly polished wines. I was most pleased with the 2007 Mourvedre which still showed lots of its feral and tannic character. I suppose the Shenandoah Valley works quite well for this variety. The various other wines--Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Viognier, Zin, Montepulciano--were good, sound wines at fair prices ($20-$30), just more jammy than I like when it comes to expressing varietal and vineyard character.
The last stop was Karly, largely a Zin producer. I'm not a big Zin fan, and several of their wines epitomized the style I just can't understand. One was all raisins. Another was certifiably sweet and roasted, though it seems that was intentional. One was more spicy, though, so one out of three ain't too bad. Their 2008 Mourvedre, named "El Alacran" (The Scorpion), was good fun, however. Definitely unfined and unfiltered, it's a cloudy purple-red in color and a chewy mouthful of ripe Mourvedre character (albeit $35). Their Marsanne was oxidized and volatile, while the Sauvignon Blanc was candy-sweet, which I struggled to wrap my head around. My guess is they sell to less European-influenced palates, hence the cloying sweetness and uber-ripe fruit in certain wines. But it makes it very hit or miss even if you just want a (reasonably) dry New World styled wine.
All-in-all, a nice 4 hours in a different wine country. Much more down to earth than most wine regions without the insulting stratospheric pricing. Terre Rouge's Rhone varietals were among the very best I've tasted from California, yet were priced very reasonably given that most had a bit of age on them. Same story for Noceto, except younger wines based mostly on Sangiovese. I was not expecting as much old world influence in a region known for big, ripe Zins. I'd bet though more producers are like Karly, while Terre Rouge and Noceto are the outliers. Given the style and pricing, I'd be tempted to join Terre Rouge and Noceto's wine clubs if I lived in driving distance.