Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Ever since a Sacramento retailer introduced Sutter Home's owner to a pre-Prohibition Zinfandel vineyard in Amador County, the revitalization of the Sierra Foothills wine industry has been going strong.

Both Calaveras and Nevada counties have seen large new vinyard plantings from the seventies on and new wineries opened as well.

But nowhere in the historic gold country of the Sierra Foothills has there been more change than in El Dorado County. (El Dorado lies roughly between Highways 50 and 80 between Reno, Nevada, and Sacramento, California, and isn't that long of a drive from the Bay Area or Central Valley towns like Modesto, Stockton or Fresno.)

It's a little known fact that in 1860, there were more wineries in El Dorado than in either Napa or Sonoma. Prohibition wiped out the mostly small enterprises and most of the vineyards disappeared as well.

El Dorado has a cooler climate, at a somewhat higher elevation, than most of the rest of Foothills wine country, permitting the successful growing of grapes like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. But it's El Dorado reds that interest me most and I recently conducted an armchair taste tour of the county's offerings.

Most of the producers are small, with distribution varying widely, from sales only at the winery, to limited out of state sales. A phone call to (800) 306-3956 will direct you to nearest retail availability and/or get you a free color brochure with a map and winery list.

Sierra Vista 1997 "Fleur de Montagne" ($14) A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault, it is a not unsuccessful attempt at a California style "Cote du Rhone." Very young, intense, bright berry flavors and a little plum and some spicy undertones. I'll like it better with 6 months to a year of bottle age. Rating: 87/87

Single Leaf 1995 "Estate" Zinfandel ($9.50) Ripe but not overripe berry and plum flavors with enough spine and backbone to improve for 3-5 years. Rating: 87/92

Latcham 1995 "Special Reserve" Zinfandel ($14) Ripe plummy fruit; lush and delicious; a wine that feels great in the mouth. Flavors enter tasty and build and expand all the way to the finish. Rating: 90/89

Windwalker 1996 "Cooper Vineyard-Amador" Barbera ($??) A challenger to Sebastiani and Montevina which usually dominate this category. Big fruit and a full bodied mouth and a highly extracted and richly flavored red. Plum flavors again, with a big spicy background. Rating: 92/??

Boeger 1995 Charbono ($??) Still a baby! The only problem with Charbono is it tends to want 10-20 years of bottle aging and I'm at the point in my life when I want wines that will be ready in 10-20 minutes. Powerful and intense with a slight awareness of alcohol. Plum flavors dominate. Rating: 85/??

Coulson Eldorado Winery 1996 Claret ($15) A blend of 60 percent Cabernet Franc and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it could have been labeled Meritage. Blackberry and cassis leading into some fairly complex flavors and after- flavors. Supple and silky. Rating: 88/88

Granite Springs 1996 Syrah ($14) Thick as a brick! A really ripe, intense, almost concentrated young red with super berry and plum fruit. Drinkable now but will outlive us all. A definite collectable. Rating: 94/88

Madrona 1996 Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) I want to like this wine better than I do and it is certainly priced right. The idea of blending these two grapes (Shiraz is a synonym for Syrah) is an Aussie invention and a successful one. It's a biggie, with berry and oak flavors. There's a touch of astrigency and I'm concerned the fruit may not outlive the tannin. Rating: 82/86

Venezio 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.50) Very limited and probably available only at the winery, but it's worth tracking down. It's beyond a "Best Buy"'s a steal. Unbeliveably youthful for a two year old. Really intense boysenberry and blackberry fruit. A classic Cabernet with a potential lifespan of 10-20 years. [ not confuse the Venezio (that's the guys name) with Venizia, the upscale label of Geyser Peak.] Rating: 94/98

Jodar 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13) Plum and blackberry; big and ripe; nice wine. Slightly tannic edge in the finish. Rating: 85/84

Oakstone 1994 Meritage ($14) A blend of 37 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 31 percent Cabernet Franc and 32 percent Merlot. Good claret style flavors, but unresolved tannins make it unsuitable for immediate drinking...maybe with time. Rating: 82/84

Oakstone Merlot Port ($16) Very young boysenberry and dark cherry fruit flavors. Sweetness level is just right and brandy enrichment is dandy. Rating: 87/85

Single Leaf Port ($15.50) is a blend of roughly 25 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. It's a rather complex young wine and a blend of two vintages, 1993 and 1994. The sweetness is perfect, the mouthfeel elegant and the flavors ripe plum and boysenberry. Rating: 90/86


Amberhill 1997 "California" Chardonnay ($8) This is the wine that used to be labeled "Raymond Amberhill" and is still produced by the famous Napa Valley winery. Never one to shrink from saying I told you so, I told the folks at Raymond that they had too many categories and price ranges of wines bearing the Raymond name and that it was confusing to consumers. Looks like they now agree. The new label is very striking and the wine is the same great value and good quality. Ripe, tropical flavored fruit, and loads of it, with some pineapple. Finishes dry. What wood influence there is is very subtle. Fruit is the statement here. Rating: 85/90

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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