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El Dorado (California) Wineries:
During a tasting expedition just before Christmas 2001, a friend and I discovered several wineries we didn't know about in El Dorado county in the Placerville area, and rediscovered several we loved.
Most interesting of all, we discovered a new take on Souvignon Blanc. The Gold Country wines called "Fumé Blanc" taste nothing like the fumé blancs I knew previously. These are huge white wines with complex flavors, very high alcohol, ripeness and extraction. A new beast. Watch for these wines when they get discovered, especially from Lava Cap and Sierra Vista.
Since then I have come to discover the Fairplay Road appellation. I like these quirky small family-run wineries. They show some uneven quality at times, but their best wines can be excellent, and well priced.
1709 Carson Road, Placerville, CA 95667
(Tasted December 2002.)
2001 Souvignan Blanc ($12)
Nose of honeydew, chinese bitter melon, musty and a touch of citrus. Slightly buttery finish
2000 White Riesling ($7.50)
Mineral tones, light, dry, crisp lemon overtones, slightly spicy.
Lot 29 Hangtown Red ($8)
No vintage. An excellent price to performance ratio. Much better than the price would imply. Half Cabernet Franc, 20% Barbera, many others blended. The Cab Franc imparts a floral violet nose, very ripe tasting, a touch of vanillin. The finish is long and a bit bitter, from brambly fruit tannins.
2000 Charbono ($12)
Spicy herbal nose, light cherry fruit, acidic bright finish, a touch grassy, a bit thin on the palate. Clean and crisp, would pair well with light pasta.
2000 Refosco ($12)
Nose is large and perfumy, with forward fruit. Palate is light and smooth, with soft tannin. the palate falls quickly, a bit thin but balanced.
*2000 Barbera ($15)
Big impact, beautifully ripe fruit, slightly brambly on the nose with strong tannins.
1999 Zinfandel Walker ($12)
Simple strawberry nose, with white pepper and vanilla. Light palate.
*1999 Zinfandel El Dorado ($15)
Mineral dusty nose, earthy perfumes, pepper. Palate smooth and ripe, balanced and dark. Subtle oak profile.
2000 Zinfandel El Dorado
A fruit bomb, jammy and massively high octane (16.4% alcohol.) Huge strawberry and raspberry jam nose, sweet ripe fruit, very low tannin. Many people will love this ripe monster, but my own tastes recently lean more toward balance and some acidity to give some structure. To its credit, it lacks the vegetal overcooked tones that have started to hurt the overripened Amador wines.
2000 Merlot ($15)
Light, ripe, and straightforward. A bit simple.
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.50)
Very smooth, low tannin, good balance, American oak vanillins, chewy caramel finish. Ready now for the table, don't age it too long.
2000 Cabernet Franc ($?)
Perfume nose of rose petals and violets, light round palate falls away quickly as is the nature of this varietal.
*2000 Pinot Noir Reserve ($25)
Giant earthy nose, aromatic, light and toasty smells. Good tannic structure, subtle deep mushroom qualities. Finish lingers with spicy cinamon from Frech oak. Should age several years.
1999 Tempranillo Reserve ($25)
Although this is made in a Rioja style, it's missing the cedar (pencil shaving) nose that I have come to look for in the Spanish wine. This has a more light subtle toastiness, hints of pepper and cinamon, dry and lingering.
2000 Barbera Reserve ($25)
Nose of cigar box and spices, supple ripe flavors, very smooth, rounded, lacking the high acid that often marks Barbera. Chocolatey finish. Beautifully drinkable, could use a bit more tannin/acid structure to support the fruit.
1999 Meritage Reserve ($22.50)
A good Bordeaux style, rounded herbal tannin, vanilla, ripe cherries, finish of maple butter, crushed leaves, spice.
1999 Petite Syrah ($?)
Ripe mineral nose, big fruit and huge tannin. Quite high acidity compared to Boeger's other wines. Has that unusual oily cherry-liquorice quality I like in a Petite Syrah.
Granite Springs Winery
5050 Granite Springs Winery Road
Somerset, CA 95684
One of the better small wineries in southern El Dorado county, Fairplay district. Purchased by Latcham a couple years ago, their style tends toward muscular, tannic wines, especially the excellent Petite Syrah and Zinfandels, and their prices are extremely reasonable. (Tasted December 2002.)
2001 Sauvignon Blanc Estate ($12)
Grapefruit, minerals, tropical fruit. Bright and crisp.
N/V Sierra Reserve Red ($8)
An excellent value table wine. Big, ripe, tannic, fruit forward. Hints of tobacco. 70% Merlot, 20% Zinfandel, 10% Cabernet Franc.
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)
Slightly sweaty nose, like old oak, with hints of minerals, spice and green herbs. Highly extracted flavors (slightly sharp tannins), high acidity. Likely to cellar well.
1999 Zinfandel La Falda ($12)
A good big everday zinfandel. Herbaceous minty nose, bright tannins, signs of extended maceration?
*1999 Syrah Estate ($16)
Soft herbaceous, chocolate, vanilla spice and black cherries. Traces of coriander in the nose and palate, hints reminiscent of good Indian food.
*2000 Petite Syrah ($18)
Black pepper, cherries, brambles (crushed leaves), blueberry and iron, mineral dust, simple ripe grapes and caramel oak. Slightly minty palate basically shows a big ball of fruit, somewhat unidimensional. Needs a few more years to develop complexity.
*2000 Estate Zinfandel ($30)
Big sensuous fruit bomb. Jammy round and ripe strawberry and raspberry, lingering strong tannins, tobacco and cinamon oak characters. A bit expensive.
2001 Muscat Canelli ($12)
Rich citrus and orange-oil nose, thick and lingering. Lots of glycerol on the palate.
2000 Black Muscat ($20)
Slightly sulfurous, port-like, oxidized. Spicy fragrances of cardomom, cinamon and raisins (Christmas stollen bread.)
*2000 Petite Syrah Port ($24)
An unusual source grape for port. Very oxidized, not too raisiny, mineral nose, chocolate and spice. Wonderful.
Lava Cap Winery
This winery surprised me with its consistently excellent wines. Their prices are higher than most El Dorado vineyards, but I consider their wines a value considering the quality. They have one of the highest elevation vineyards in the county, with cool air, strong sunlight, and decomposed granite soil that permeates most of their wines with a characteristic dusty granite fragrance that I am quite fond of. Many of their offerings have very high alcohol and some residual sugars, which may not suit everyone's palate, yet the result can be quite seductive and satisfying.
*2001 Fumé Blanc (sauvignon blanc) ($12) (tasted 12/02)
Here's a big surprise from gold country wineries. I never realized a sauvignon blanc grape could generate enough sugars to get a wine this high in alcohol (15.4%). The flavors are very complex, as rich in its own way as a big red wine. Nose isn't hot, considering the high percentage. Very mineral, granite dust or flint. Huge fruit palate with lemon/citrus, sweet pink grapefruit (not bitter), a bit tropical, orange blossoms or orange oil. Finish with a clover honey aftertaste. A very unusual wine, and a new favorite choice for a white wine. Not "light" by any means.
2001 Chardonnay reserve ($16.50) (tasted 12/02)
Pleasantly not overoaked. Despite 100% malolactic, the buttery qualities do not overpower the fruit. Pineapple overtones, and vineyard characteristic granite dust nose. A well balanced fruity/mineral chard.
2000 Semillon ($18) (tasted 12/02)
Floral nose with sweet overtones, clover honey, with salty limestone mineral qualities instead of the granite that permeates the other wines. A slightly rubbery smell reminds me of Monbazillac or Riesling, but the winery owner David Jones says they don't get botritis (the "noble rot") in these vineyards. Hmmm. Soft vanilla and buttery finish. Slightly sweet and lingering.
2001 Viognier ($?) (tasted 12/02)
Pre-release sample. Exotic tropical nose of apricots, pineapple, peach pits (almondy), not mineral. Palate with hints of lichi and buttery vanillins. Very sensuous and fragrant.
*2000 Barbera reserve ($25) (tasted 12/02)
Hugely mineral nose that jumps out of the glass like a dusty breeze in the sierra high country. A strong sense of place. Vinillins linger under the dust. Palate with soft tannins, big ripe fruit, medium acidity. Finish with dark cherries, caramel, acidity, some oak characteristics.
2000 Sangiovese (tasted 12/02)
Lower acidity than the Barbera, more limestone and less granite mineral characteristics. Cinnamon nose, soft caramel finish. Part mourvedre in the blend lends some spicy weight.
2000 Merlot reserve ($20) (tasted 12/02)
Very ripe fruity nose with cinamon and vanilla, ripe blackberries. Flavors are simple and very fruit-forward, lush, with lots of oak on the finish.
1999 Merlot Stromberg ($30) (tasted 12/02)
A hint of oxidation on the nose (acetaldehyde, but not a serious problem, results in port-like quality.) More complex and balanced than the reserve, the fruit balances better with tannin and acid structure. Lingering tannin, with hints of chocolate and humus.
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon reserve ($20) (tasted 12/02)
Table-ready flavors, very ripe and smooth, light to medium tannin and a chocolatey finish.
*2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Stromberg (tasted 12/02)
Much more mineral nose than the reserve, higher acid and liquorice-like tannins (lingering oily mouth feel, like a young Bordeaux.) Finish with caramel vanilla, a hint of anise?
2000 Cabernet Franc ($35) (tasted 12/02)
Vanillins overtake the floral nose that would be more typical of this varietal. Buttery palate, with good acidity. Light flavors with a hint of bitter cherries.
2000 Syrah reserve ($20) (tasted 12/02)
Without the granite nose, more smooth, earthy, spicy cinamon toast, slightly herbaceous in the mouth. 15.1% alc.
*1999 Syrah reserve ($40) (tasted 12/02)
Very active nose, with a hint of terpines, violet perfume (almost soapy), without the granite dust tones, exotic floral hints of gardenias or orchids. Palate is huge, explosive fruit and sensuous supple ripeness, with vanilla, smoke and bright cherry tones. 15.4% alc.
*2000 Zinfandel reserve ($25) (tasted 12/02)
Dusty granite nose, with ripe strawberries, raspberries, chocolate, black pepper, oregano. Residual sweet flavors of cardomom and anise. A very interesting, big unique zinfandel. 15.3% alc.
*2000 Petite Syrah ($30) (tasted 12/02)
Dusty granite nose, soft cherries, blueberries and raspberries, lots of tannins and ripe fruit. Huge in the mouth, very ripe and slightly sweet (.4% residual sugar, 15.3% alc.)
*2000 Mourvedre ($20) (tasted 12/02, Re-tasted 4/04)
Portlike sweet nose, with deep chocolate, vanilla, coconut, toasted christmas spices, ripe cherries, perfumes resembling rose petals. Dark fruity palate shows residual sugar (.4%), but the young acidity and smooth tannins create a rounded dry finish. Lingering silky mouth-feel with taffy, a hint of toasted woody brambles and peppery Asian spices. Huge and seductive. 15.1% alc.
2001 Cabernet Blanc dessert wine ($15) (tasted 12/02)
A cabernet sauvignon grape grown in a colder area that didn't quite achieve ripeness, so the vintner chose to stop fermentation before complete dryness, leaving more residual sugars (6.5%). Nose of strawberries, mint and cinamon, like hard candies, with additional minerals and floral tones. Palate with high glycerin, making lingering soft mouth-feel of strawberries. 12.7% alc.
*2001 Muscat Canelli ($15) (tasted 12/02)
Mineral floral nose with a sexy elusive fruit palate, smells of tropical fruits and pears. The mouth-feel is oily and exotic.
*2001 Barbera Reserve (tasted 12/03)
With grapes from Amador county, this barbera has an immensely complex nose, starting with a healthy dose of mineral dust and oak spice. After sitting open for a few hours, amazing things happen. Nose of spicy caramel oak, ripe briary cherries and plums, peach blossoms, caraway seeds, musk perfume (vetivert), light cigar tobacco (Galloise cigarettes.) The palate shows characteristic high acidity and low tannin, with mouth-coating spicy cherry, plum and berry liquer, dry cedar, glycerin, and a slightly splintery cigar box finish. (15.3% alc.)
2001 Merlot Reserve El Dorado (tasted 12/03)
Deep cherry fruit and caramel oak nose, with dusty gravel, peppery spices, chocolate mint and gardenia blossoms. Flavors well balanced between minty cherry fruit, chewy chocolate tannins, and tobacco-caramel oak.
2001 Petite Syrah (tasted 12/03)
Inky black color, lovely big saturated grapey nose. Coffee and ripe grapes slowly expand into earthy spices, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, graphite, hints of terpine later on. Massive and ripe in the mouth, cocoa with vanilla sweetness, tobacco and sweet oak, plums and black cherry fruit integrate with coating tannins, with a lingering oily finish. (15.3% alc.)
P.O. Box 454
Camino CA 95709
I like this small family-run operation. They make honest complex structured wines. Their terroir lends itself to a bright mineral profile, with feisty ageworthy reds. Their prices are very good for the quality. Let these wines age a few years. My notes are scanty from a brief 2003 visit. I'll try to get more detail next time.
2000 Gewurztraminer ($10)
A bit bitter, hints of green pepper, not as spicey as I like this varietal.
El Tinto (no vintage blend, $10)
Soft and grapey with cedar pencil undercurrent, high acidity, light ruby color, a close match to a medium quality Rioja.
*1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)
Lovely structured wine. Cassis, cherry, bitter chocolate, brambly tannins, cedar and minerals. Clean acidity and lingering tannins say this should cellar well for a very long time. (Re-tasted 7/06) Developing very well, maintaining rich black cherry, cassis and chocolate flavors at the front and back of the palate, although the center falls away a bit. Bramble and cedar smells have become hidden under the rich dark fruit.
*2000 Zinfandel Reserve ($20)
Big. Strawberry nose, American oak vanillins with some cedar pencil, tingling acidity, high tannins. I like it.
1998 Quintet Reserve ($25)
Big fruit, with cedar wood, cabernet cassis tones. Blend of 16% Cab, 35% Cab Franc, 38% Merlot and others.
2000 Syrah Reserve ($20)
Grassy barnyard smells, blueberry fruit and good tannins. Interesting.
Sierra Vista Vineyards
A small winery in Pleasant valley, CA, near Placerville. They make an excellent Viognier, and an unusual huge Fumé Blanc. Their style generally tends toward clean bright flavors with good balance. I did not take complete notes during the brief visit, so these are short comments of a few of their wines. (Tasted December 2002.)
*2001 Viognier ($25)
Malty nose, wih spicy apricot and pineapple tones. Very dry on the palate, crisp, but with lingering sweet hints of honey.
*2001 Fume Blanc ($12)
13.8% alcohol, very ripe, hints of mineral, not grapefruit but citrus oil and a touch tropical.
1999 Syrah ($12)
Chocolate, strawberry nose. Light flavors, clean and not big.
*2000 Fleur de Montagne ($21)
Chatauneuf style blend of grenache, mourvedre, cinsault and syrah. Bittersweet chocolate and herbaceous nose. Tannic, spicy, needs time to cellar.
1999 Herbert Syrah ($25)
Vanilla nose, clean flavors, bright fruit.
1999 Zinfandel Reeves Vineyard ($16)
tobacco, oak, very big and ripe, but more than just fruit.
2001 Viognier Doux ($15)
Beautiful, pumpkin pie, apricot, mushroomy finish, oak tones at end.
(530) 620-5175, (800) 880-4026
A very reasonably priced winery, in an unpretentious and good quality region of El Dorado County. Balanced big wines with surprising seriousness considering the price.
2000 ZinMan Zinfandel (Tasted 3/03) ($14)
The nose tells me this is a very high alcohol wine, with characteristic "hotness", yet I must confess that I'm a sucker for this style of huge jammy zin. The smells and flavors fit the profile perfectly. Heady fragrances of sharp black pepper, pepper tree sap, dust and earthy qualities, chocolate, burnt wood, strawberry jam, some American oak caramels. This smells slightly lighter in this general profile than (for example) Renwood or Catacula '99. Palate is structured, ripe, spicy and tannic, with high acidity, raspberry seeds and bramble qualities, yet not as chewey as some of the monsters in this style. (15.3% alc.)
1999 Syrah Estate Bottled (tasted 10/03) ($18)
Definitely a syrah in the smokey-grassy-barnyard territory of flavors, as opposed to the more lighthearted fruity-floral style common among California syrah. I like this one a lot despite possible Brettiness. The nose reminds me of smoked meats and old grass, with a bit of barnyard. The flavors hover in a tannic oily zone, slightly astringent. Odd but nice, like a good Hermitage, let it age.
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled (tasted 10/03) ($14)
I consider this wine to be a very good value at $14. A nose of cherry tobacco, and big cassis fruit in a classic profile. Fairly low acidity, especially considering the region, but not vegetal. Dark tannic finish with tabacco tones integrated from toasted oak.
Van der Vijver
PO Box 564
7451 Fairplay Road
Somerset, CA 95684
Tel: (530) 620-3210, Fax: (530) 620-9424
A small winery run by quirky Dutchman Robert Van der Vijver, whose parents Jan Willem and Els sometimes visit from Rotterdam to help in the tasting room. Tasters drive up a long dusty driveway lined with wooden shoes, to a small wood cabin that acts as tasting room next to home and winemaking gear. The style tends toward low oak, young fruity flavors, floral smells and oily mouth feel. Some of these wines are a bit flawed but honest and grapey, showing pure varietal and fermentation characteristics. Unique and individualistic.
2000 Sauvignon Blanc ($50/case special at winery)
Amber yellow color, yeasty flavors and smells; very grapey, young fermented flavors, almost like a sample from the fermenting tanks. Odd.
Quirky heavy fruitiness but refreshingly light oak treatment. Bubblegum, pineapple, malolactic butteriness (only 30% mlf, apparently.)
N/V Mellow Yellow Red
Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel blend creates a rich Italian style table wine. Clean fruity nose with a light touch of oak, quite balanced acidity, not very tannic. This would pair well with many foods.
Very floral, not oaky nose, with some volitile acidity (acetic smells.) Young fruit tannins, slightly oily and but light. Feels dry or tart (unsweet, acidic) in the mouth.
2000 Reserve Merlot
Just released after two years in the barrel. High amount of volitile acidity has me a bit worried about too much barrel oxidation, possibly hurting its ageworthiness; almost a touch of acetaldehyde that blows off in a minute or two. Excellent underneath the acetic smells, with spicy notes and a deep soft fruity palate. Velvety in the mouth, a bit earthy.
2001 Reserve Barbera
Floral nose with some grassiness. Dark fruit in the mouth, with blueberry, liquorice and cherries. The oily fruit in the palate reminds me of cherry fruit rollups (dried fruit leather.) Interesting.
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon
Big deep fruit, oily and still young, needs time. Extended maceration shows in the extracted tannin structure, which hides well under the thick cherry fruit. Hints of cinnamon oak don't overpower.
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