Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tasting in the sticks -- with the hicks

In an effort to hit all California wine-growing regions, I've branched out in my tasting adventures, going to Lodi and Amador County recently. (OK, full disclosure, I've actually been to both of those regions tasting before -- what can I say, I'm a small town girl!) While some of the company you may keep at the tasting rooms and festivals is a bit, er, interesting (the b/f almost had to fight a drunken redneck who was barging onto our shuttle bus at last year's Lodi ZinFest) there are some flashes of brilliance to be discovered in those regions.

We hit Lodi on a rainy Saturday, meeting up with friends from Sacramento at Michael David Winery. At first we were charmed by its country store appearance, but then we saw the mobbed tasting area in the corner of the room, crowded with people more interested in the plentiful nibbles than the beverages but who, quite possibly, knew more about wine than the workers behind the bar... Michael David had been my group's favorite from ZinFest the previous year, but that day the only two that impressed us out of a long lineup were the Incognito Pink (a rosé made of old vine Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre) and Petite Petit, a blend with honest to Betsy the cutest label ya ever did see (am I talking like a hick yet?) that they give this clever description: "Our carnivalistic blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot is definitely the star of the show. Trunk fulls of blueberry, plum, violet and chalky tannins give a seamless finish to this jumbo-sized offering." Elephant label aside, it is a big wine worth seeking out (the winery finally has an online shop).

Continuing with the animal theme, a couple other wineries in Lodi worth stopping by are d'Art, a labor of love from a married couple and their two mutts (one shy, one friendly) who roam the winery, and m2, a partnership between two friends with a very low-key industrial tasting room enhanced by two rambunctious Sealy terriers. At d'art we fell in love with the Cabs, both the '05 and '06 rocked our socks with their peppery but smooth flavor and finish. At m2 we purchased their yet-to-be-labeled '07 Viognier, which had a floral bouquet and flavors of apricots and honey, and well as the '06 Duality, a blend of Petite Sirah and Syrah with aromas of dark black fruit, coffee and cocoa.

Amador County, along with neighboring El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills, has got to be some of the loveliest grape-growing country I have seen, with leafed-out vineyards covering its hills and picturesque red barns providing eye-catching contrast. In Amador we hit Sobon Estates, their sister winery Shenandoah, Cooper Vineyards, and Renwood Winery. Let's just deal with Renwood first. Beautiful tasting room with lots of celebrity schwag off what can only be dubbed a wine-themed boutique, invitingly landscaped grounds, but pushy staff (HOW many times can you mention the wine club???) and over-priced wines. See ya.

Cooper was my standout winery from my last visit there in early November (during which I battled an army of fruit flies), but alas, their stellar Sangiovese was sold out. I consoled myself by sitting in their colorful chair collection on the front porch and settling with the silky '04 Merlot (which I'm pretty sure I bought last time -- and have since consumed) and the jammy '06 Barbera. We picked up the '06 ReZerve Zin and the creamy, luscious '06 ReZerve White Port made from Viognier and Marsanne at Sobon, then headed to Shenandoah where a lighter-style, peppery '05 Cab was the standout and we couldn't resist the '07 Orange AND Black Muscat. We were surprised -- we hardly ever drink, let alone BUY dessert wines, but Amador seems to have a knack for producing some delicious ones.

Don't let it be said you can't learn anything in the country...


jason said...

I have always thought of Amador and the surrounds with a sense of curiosity. Seems like the land of Big Zins and Italian varietals. Sounds like I should make my way out there for some tasting to see what it is really all about...