Riesling. A divisive grape, to be sure. Most people either love it or hate it. For many of us in the United States, Riesling means syrupy sweet, low quality wine. Yet the greatest Rieslings are actually dry, with low residual sugar, and layers of complex flavors. Renowned wine expert Jancis Robinson calls Riesling “the wine world’s greatest underdog.” Of course, she is referring to dry Riesling, but even sweeter styles have their qualities, and are appealing to a vast segment of wine consumers who prefer sweet wines. My dad is one of them; a sweet Riesling is his favorite style of wine. Indeed, many wine experts assert that Riesling is the world’s greatest grape variety.
Riesling is a versatile grape, and can be made into sweet, dessert wines, or crafted into dry, refreshing dry wines, or anything in between. Many Rieslings produced in the U.S. are sweet, which leads to much of the confusion about the varietal. When all you know is one style, you assume all labels are that same style. Riesling originated in Germany, and the fact is, German producers did themselves, and the grape, no favors in churning out barrels of low-quality Riesling back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Today, quality has improved, and there are many high quality Rieslings readily available to consumers.
I had the privilege of tasting one such German Riesling recently. As a member of NakedWines.com, I ordered a bottle of the Klein Riesling Trocken 2016. Admittedly, German wine labels are among the most confusing and confounding on the planet. Just remember this: “Trocken” means “DRY.” And dry this wine is! Winemaker Peter Klein is a rising star in the German winemaking scene. He is a 14th generation winemaker! (Read that again…fourteen generations!!) He was runner-up in Germany’s “Young Winemaker of the Year” competition this year. And his Riesling Trocken is all that!
Pale straw color. Aromas of pineapple and pear. On the palate, crisp acidity and flavors of pineapple, quince, pear, and white peach. Definitely fruit-forward, but not sweet. We started ice-box cold and let it warm as we drank it on the patio. As the wine warmed, enticing floral aromas emerged. We enjoyed this sans food, but it would be an excellent accompaniment to spicy Asian food or local, German cuisine.
If you have always assumed all Riesling is sweet, get your hands on a Trocken, chill it down a bit (but not too much) and get ready to experience the greatest grape in the world. If this Klein Riesling Trocken 2016 sounds like a good place to start (and it is) click here for a voucher worth $100 off your first NakedWines.com order. You’ll be glad you did.
If you think all Rosé is White Zinfandel, I have two things to say to you. (1) You’re not alone, and (2) you need to get out and explore Rosé!
I’ve actually been in conversation with people who say, “I don’t like Zinfandel; it’s too sweet.” When they see the quizzical look on my face, they say, “You know, Zinfandel? The pink wine.” (Spoiler alert: Zinfandel is actually a red wine grape.) While it’s true that many of us got our start with White Zinfandel, myself included, Rosé wines have come a long way in the past 40 years! (A nod to all you purists who will argue that Rosé from Provence has always been good.) But the popularity of dry Rosé, as I opine all Rosé should be, has taken off in recent years, and thankfully, there’s no end in sight!
Many people think of Rosé as a spring and summer wine, and for good reason. A well-chilled, crisp, dry Rosé is quite refreshing when lounging by the pool, or dining al fresco. I am a believer that there is no Rosé season, and drink it all year round, but I will concede that it is best when the weather is warmer.
When you think of Rosé, what grape varieties do you think of? Other than Zinfandel, of course. What? You mean Rosé isn’t a varietal? Nope. Rosé can be made from virtually any red wine grape. Yet it seems that most domestic (U.S.) Rosé wines, and many Old World examples, are made from Pinot Noir, Grenache, or other Rhône varietals. However, Lodi winemakers are pushing the envelope with some stellar Rosé wines made from grapes you may have never considered.
The Lodi AVA is home to more than 125 different grape varieties. The temperate climate; warm temperatures and dry summers; is conducive to Mediterranean grapes, which thrive here. Lodi winemakers produce Rosé wines from Carignan, Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and many others. The characteristics that make each of these varieties great red wines, also serve to produce Rosé wines with distinct profiles themselves.
The following wines were provided as media samples for review. I received no other compensation, and all opinions and tasting notes are my own.
I’ve written about LangeTwins Winery before, when Robyn and I had the good fortune to meet some friends for a personal tour, with winemaker David Akiyoshi as our guide. It was a memorable experience, to be sure! So I was excited when I opened the box that the nice FedEx courier delivered, and found a bottle of the LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017. (Click the link to read about the day, and some of the LangeTwins story.)
From the winery:
With an alluring vibrant pink color, our 2017 Sangiovese Rosé is delightfully refreshing. Opening with juicy aromas of watermelon and strawberry, the same fruit notes carry over to the palate and are balanced by bright acidity. These smooth flavors and a lasting finish will leave you wanting another sip.
Here are my tasting notes:
Crisp, dry, and refreshing. Medium pink color. Aromas and flavors of strawberry and raspberry, with a pop of watermelon jolly rancher on the finish. This’ll be great all summer long!
Well, now. I’ve actually never had a Barbera Rosé before. Barbera is one of my favorite varietals. I’ve enjoyed many red Barbera wines, and even a White Barbera (fermented with no skin contact.) But never pink!
St. Amant Winery was born in the early 1980’s in Amador County, growing their own grapes, and making wine in borrowed facilities. The name comes from the founder’s wife’s maiden name., Their first emphasis was on port-style wines, with some success. In the late 1980’s, the White Zinfandel craze exploded, and St. Amant jumped on board. The success of their White Zin sales allowed the family to purchase their own winery, in French Camp, California, just outside Lodi. In 1996, they moved to their current location in Lodi. The history of St. Amant is quite fascinating, and I encourage you to read the whole story on their website.
About the wine, from the winery website:
This delicious dry rosé of Barbera is the perfect refreshing wine for a hot summer day. Barbera’s natural acidity and Lodi’s decadent fruit flavors come together to create a lively wine that is sure to please. Yes, it may be a pink wine, but then again, it’s a delicious pink wine. The 2016 Rosé was such a hit that we couldn’t resist doing another one. If for no other reason, it’s a wine I like to drink during the summer. It’s a dry, lighter-styled version of our Barbera, with a zesty refreshing quality that lends itself well to warm summer days. Barbera’s natural acidity and luscious fruit lend itself perfectly to this unpretentious and quaffable wine. It has a deep pink color with a bright fuchsia edge. Strawberry and cranberry aromas follow through on the palate capturing the essence of spring in the glass. Drink Pink!
Here are my tasting notes:
Great color! Deep rose petal in the glass. Aromas of wild strawberry and red cherry burst from the glass. On the palate, a variety of red fruit rolls across the tongue, including strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, with hints of kiwi and watermelon. Rich texture and mouthfeel, with bright acidity. The finish is medium with sour cherry (almost like the Lifesaver flavor!), strawberry, and raspberry. A delicious summer sipper, and great wine to pair with light food dishes.
This wine retails at the winery for just $15! (Noticing a trend?)
If you’re not convinced to get out and try some delicious Lodi Rosé wines, well, I guess I’ve failed. Lodi winemakers and producing some stunning Rosé wines, that are delicious, unique, satisfying, and affordable. So, get up, head to your local wine shop…or better yet, come out to Lodi…and try some Rosé!
By Kent Reynolds
Photo credit (unless otherwise noted) and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.
El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.
El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.
The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.
High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.
From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!
Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.
Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!
Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!
Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!
From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.
At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.
As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.
With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.
By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael