Amador County, La Mesa Vineyards, Shenandoah Valley, Wine, Wine Tasting

A Tasting Room with a View: La Mesa Vineyards

It seems that as Amador County wine country receives more exposure and accolades, new wineries are popping up like spring wildflowers. We say this in a good way – since this means more variety and more opportunity to taste some fantastic wines from our favorite day-trip wine region. One such new winery is La Mesa Vineyards, with a recently opened tasting room perched atop a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by its estate vineyards. We’d driven past La Mesa a number of times on our way to another winery where we are members, but with reservations required at most wineries during the pandemic, timing had not worked out to enable us to stop in. Until a warm, spring-like day in February a couple of weeks ago. 

Many visitors to Amador County may not have the opportunity to experience La Mesa, and that is a shame. Like many areas, the Shenandoah Valley has developed something of a “central” area along Shenandoah Road, where the more established, sometimes trendy “destination” wineries are located. Many visitors stop there, unaware of what awaits them around the next bend in the road. La Mesa is a couple of miles beyond that area; you have to keep driving to be rewarded with the stunning views, amazing hospitality, and delicious wines. 

Originally from Montreal, Quebec, vigniron Côme Laguë comes from a long lineage of agriculture; 10 generations to be specific. However, this enterprising French Canadian pursued a career in tech. Still, throughout the evolution of his career, he never lost the passion for wine that he had developed early on. He and his family often traveled through Amador county on their way to camp in the Sierras, and eventually he resolved to purchase land here. When the time came, he found just the right spot; a former walnut farm. As an added bonus, the property also had an established vineyard planted to Primitivo. Rather than rip out the vineyard, Côme decided to try his hand at winemaking. A neighbor helped with the first vintage, a single barrel of wine. That was all it took. Côme was hooked, and after a few more years at the craft, opened La Mesa Vineyards.

The tasting room at La Mesa is a modern, striking building, featuring sweeping views from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, or the generous patio outside. Much of the wine is produced from estate fruit, with some sourced from nearby vineyards. The estate vineyards surround the tasting room, adding to the allure of tasting a wine that was produced from grapes that grew just yards away. 

It was surprisingly quiet when we pulled in; only a handful of other guests enjoying wine on the patio. As a result, we had the tasting room staff practically to ourselves. They continued to be quite attentive even as more people arrived and filled the patio tables. The standard tasting flight consists of five select wines, with an option of whites and rosés, or reds. You can also customize your flight. La Mesa produces a wide variety of whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling, so it can be hard to select just five. Fortunately, being wine tasting veterans, we knew the drill: We ordered one flight of the whites and rosés, and one of the reds, and shared them.

Our server particularly recommended the Chardonnay, which was included in the whites and rosés flight. She explained that Côme prefers to make his wines in a more Old World style, meaning his Chardonnay saw no oak, and no malolactic fermentation. It is made in the style of a Chablis which, as we don’t prefer the heavily oaked style, was music to our ears!  We enjoyed it so much, we bought a bottle to take home. 

We also were surprised by the Muscat Canelli, which was aromatic and refreshing, but not cloyingly sweet, as some can be. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whites was the Barbera Blanc. Several years ago, Kent purchased a “White Barbera” from a different winery, and reminiscent of White Zinfandel, that one was sickenly, syrupy sweet. The La Mesa Barbera Blanc, however, was fresh, bright, and refreshing, with zesty acidity. This wine is made from the same Barbera grapes used in the traditional red wine, but the skins are removed immediately after press, so the wine derives none of the red color. We ended up bringing one of these home, too! 

All of the reds were excellent. The two standouts for us were the Primitivo and the Petite Sirah, which was also recommended by our server. The Primitivo was lively and vibrant, while the Petite Sirah was dark and brooding. Kent is rather particular about his Petite Sirah, and this one got the seal of approval. Despite the fact that we only needed to purchase two bottles to waive each of our $15 tasting fees, we left with a few more than that. 

In recent weeks, taking advantage of the unseasonably springlike weather, we’ve done a bit of wine tasting on day trips around our area. We’d begun to notice that at many of the small wineries we were visiting, we would like two or three of the wines, but others we didn’t care for at all. This was not the case at La Mesa. Each and every wine we tasted was tasty and high-quality, including the bonus pours of the Library Primitivo 2014, and La Notte, their fortified Port-style wine. 

We will definitely plan to stop in at La Mesa Vineyards again. If you are in the Amador area, do yourself a favor. Venture just a bit further up the road, around that bend, and up the hill to this wonderful tasting room with a view. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds (except where noted and credited.)
Barbera, Barbera d'Asti, Italian Wine, Italy, Piedmont, Wine, Wine of the Week, Wine.com

Our Wine of the Week: Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

Every once in a while, you score a wine that absolutely exceeds expectations. Our Wine of the Week this week is one of those wines. A few weeks back, Wine.com was having one of their red wine sales. Always on the prowl for bargains, we checked it out and, among a few others we purchased, we snagged a couple bottles of Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

We are big fans of Barbera, but typically prefer bottles from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, where Barbera grows exceptionally well. Barbera is one of the few varieties that we generally favor richer, fruit-forward New World versions over Old World. Maybe we just hadn’t found the right ones, but many of the Italian Barberas we’ve had have been rather thin and lacking, with acidity approaching excessive. Well, the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 was about to blow that stereotype right out of the water!

Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta has more than 1,000 years of history in the Piedmont region of Italy. The Incisa family ancestors settled there in the 11th century. In the 13th century, local monks leased land from the Incisa family to cultivate grapes, and by the 19th century, the Marchese Leopoldo Incisa della Rocchetta had become known in the region for his viticulture and winemaking. He was an early pioneer in experimenting with Pinot Noir plantings in Piedmont. Members of the family have expanded to Tuscany, where Sangiovese is king, but the Piedmont estate is still owned and operated by members of the Incisa della Rocchetta family. In the 1990’s the Marchesa Barbara Incisa della Rocchetta inherited and purchased the estate and continues operations to this day, producing wines from local native grape varieties like Barbera, Grignolino, Moscato d’Asti and Arneis, while continuing production of international varieties such as Pinot Noir and Merlot.

With such prestigious and long-standing wine making history, how can you go wrong? You can’t. The Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is a stunning, breath-taking wine. It really changed our minds about Old World Barbera. We opened our first bottle with grilled pork loin and the experience was euphoric. Recently, we brought our second bottle to a friend’s house for a homemade pizza night. With seven hungry (and thirsty) adults in the house, suffice it to say we opened more than one bottle of good wine that night. But the one that stood out, head and shoulders above all others, by unanimous decision of all present, was our Wine of the Week, Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018. It’s just that good. 

Garnet color. Aromas of blackberry bramble, plum, and spice. On the palate, black cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla, white pepper, and earthy notes. Bone dry with medium tannins and bright acidity, perfect for food pairing and great with grilled pork loin or pizza. Or both, why not?

The Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is available from Wine.com. As of this writing, it is on sale (still or again, doesn’t matter!) for just $16.99. Many other wines from Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta are also available and worth trying! 

What was your wine of the week? 

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Barbera, Chile, Chilean Wine, Garnacha, Organic Wine, Samples, Wine, Wine Blog, Wine Review, Wine Tasting

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 1

While the East Coast is being blasted by yet another major winter storm, and the Pacific Northwest is experiencing record snowfall, here in Northern California, it’s, well, pouring rain. But I mean really pouring! We’re expecting 3-6 inches of rain in the next 48 hours. The winds are also howling, up to 40 mph. And it’s cold…by NorCal standards. Overnight lows in the 30’s, and highs only in the 50’s. Brrr. By NorCal standards. 

So in light of winter’s harsh punch to the Northern Hemisphere, what better way to stay warm than to enjoy some big, bold, warming red wines on these cold winter nights? This is the first of a four-part mini-series, featuring reds from around the world that were provided as media samples.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

What better place to start this journey than South America? Afterall, there, it’s summer! From the Maule Valley in Chile, comes the Erasmo Barbera-Grenache 2016, a unique and delicious blend of 60% Barbera, 30% Grenache, and 10% Carignan. Using all organic grapes and wild yeast for fermentation, this wine captures the essence of the Maule Valley terroir.

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The original cellar at what is now Erasmo winery was built at the end of the 19th century. The mud-wall construction provided excellent insulation for maintaining a proper wine cellar temperature. In 2005, after years of neglect and inactivity,  Count Francesco Marone Cinzano set out to restore this historic building. Now complete, and filled with modern winemaking equipment, “La Reserva de Caliboro” lives on, and is the home to high quality, organic wines.

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Before…

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and After. Photo Credit Erasmo Organic Vineyard and Winery http://erasmo.bio/en/

On one particularly cold and stormy night, we paired this delightful, warming wine with a seared Garlic-Butter Brazilian Skirt Steak and Garden Salad. (You can’t forego your greens just because it’s cold out!) What an amazing pairing! Sheer perfection!

Deep purple color with brick rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and clove. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice, cedar, and vanilla notes. Tannins are firm but balanced, with lively acidity and a long finish of black and red fruit and white pepper.

Vivino Average Price: $22.99

Stay tuned for the next in this Warming Reds for Cold Nights series. In the meantime, tell us, in the comments below, what you are enjoying to stay warm during these cold winter nights.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds
Family Estate, Family Winery, Placer County, Wine, Wine Country, Winery

Loder Vineyards

In Western Placer County, near where the suburban housing tracts meet the rural farms and ranches, the Loder family has a small parcel of wine grapes. Ron and Kathy Loder are long-time wine lovers. When they were raising their children, they had grassy fields for the kids to play and practice football. Once the kids were grown, Ron and Kathy decided to plant grapes and make their own wine.

Getting started wasn’t as simple as just planting some vines and waiting for them to produce fruit. Ron was serious about wanting to make good wine, so he contacted U.C. Davis; renown for their viticulture program; and asked for help. Ron and Kathy really, really wanted to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – their favorite varietal wines. However, the experts told them that their microclimate and soil were not suitable. Instead, they were advised to grow grapes more suited to the Mediterranean climate here – Barbera and Tempranillo, and interestingly, Cab Sauv’s parent, Cabernet Franc. In all they have about ¾ of an acre of Estate vines, and they also source other varieties from vineyards around Northern California.

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to visit and experience Ron and Kathy’s production. The group started with appetizers and wine in the Loder family home, and then Ron escorted us out to the vineyard for an educational tour. One of first things I noticed about Ron is his passion for wine growing and winemaking. Ron enthusiastically talked us through the process, from initial plantings, to waiting the three years before the vines produce wine-quality grapes, to harvest, crush, and production. While in the vineyard, he brought out his refractometer, the instrument used to determine the brix (sugar level) in the grape juice, and allowed each of us to have a look.

Ron is also a humble man, relating the story of his efforts to cheat the process and make wine with grapes from two years old vines. It was a complete failure, and they marked the bottles with an “F”. They still have a few bottles, just as a reminder.

After the vineyard tour, we moved on to the fermentation room and cellar. Robyn even had the chance to punch down some recently harvested grapes that were in the fermentation tank! Then, of course, we got to sample more wine.

Loder Vineyards is not a commercial production, but with the quality of their wines, they should be. Touted as “no headache wine”, Ron uses a minimalist approach, with microscopic amounts of sulfites used, and little other intervention. All of the wines spend nearly two years in oak before bottling. Just a few weekends before our visit, they had just bottled their 2016 vintage.

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A true “friends and family” production, the Saturday following our visit, they would host their annual harvest and crush party. We were invited, but already had plans to be out of town.

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Ron’s vocational background is in commercial building construction. As such, when they first started bottling wine, they used blue painter’s tape as labels; having an ample supply on hand. This tradition continues today, and Ron says if he ever does enter commercial production, his labels will be designed in similar fashion.   

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All of the wines we tasted were well made and complex. Fruit forward without being jammy, with smooth tannins and balanced acidity and oak influences. We tasted Estate Barbera and Tempranillo, some interesting blends such as Tempranillo-Cabernet Franc (Kent’s favorite) and a Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Ron and Kathy have made connections in the wine world, and source Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, so they can make and drink their beloved favorite. We barrel tasted the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is already coming along, with promise to be a fantastic wine!

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We were honored to be invited to this event, and consider Ron and Kathy, and all of the other’s there that evening, to be new wine friends.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
LangeTwins, Lodi, Lodi Rose, Lodi Wine, Rosé, St. Amant, Wine

Yes Way, Lodi Rosé!

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.

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Photo Credit: http://www.lodiwine.com

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.

 LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017

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.)

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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!

This wine retails at the winery for just $15!

St. Amant Barbera Rosé 2017

​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.

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I think the cat is angry because it can’t drink Rosé.

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!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit (unless otherwise noted) and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
Auburn, Gold Rush, Lincoln, Placer County, Placer County Wine Trail, Sierra Foothills, Vegan Wine, Vegetarian Wines, Wine

PaZa Estate Winery – A Hidden Gem

Always on the prowl for hidden gems in the wine world, a few days ago we headed out to explore our own backyard on the nearby Placer County Wine Trail. Located east of Sacramento, along the Interstate 80 corridor on the way to Lake Tahoe, the Placer County Wine Trail features 19 wineries, and counting.

Placer County is part of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA. Wine grapes were first planted in here in 1848. If that year seems familiar, it could be because it is the same year gold was discovered in nearby Coloma, sparking the historic California Gold Rush. The miners who traveled to seek their fortunes also came with a mighty thirst. Enterprising European immigrants recognized that planting vineyards and making wine could be a lucrative way to quench the miners’ thirst. In the 1860’s, there were more vineyards and wineries in Placer County than in Napa and Sonoma counties combined! With warm days and cool nights, many Mediterranean varietals thrive in this area.

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With limited time available that day, we were only able to visit a couple of wineries. Consulting the Wine Trail map in the pamphlet we picked up, we set our coordinates for PaZa Estate Winery. Winding our way through the hilly, two-lane roads between Lincoln and Auburn, California, we were glad to have GPS on our phones! Over hill and dale, we carefully made our way. As instructed by Siri, we made a hard right in the middle of a 90-degree left turn, and continued on a paved, single lane road. The pavement soon gave way to gravel, and we started to think that Siri had gotten us lost. Cresting a hill, we saw the sign informing us we were approaching our destination. Rounding another curve, a paved parking lot welcomed us next to a residential home. Walking a short distance from the parking lot on a wide gravel path, we soon entered the shaded tasting…shed. Yes, you read that right…PaZa Estate Winery has an open-concept tasting shed, rather than a room. And for good reason! Why would they want to obscure the amazing vineyard and valley views with walls?

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Our host that day was Operations Manager, Cindy. She gave us some of the history of the PaZa story. The name, PaZa, is an amalgamation of the first letters of the owners’ names: Pamela and Zane Dobson. Sharing a love for wines, and having enjoyed fulfilling careers and hobbies, they decided to embark on a winemaking journey. They bought the property where the winery is now located in 2005. The first vines were planted in 2007. In 2009, they produced their first vintage, using grapes sourced from other vineyards. Finally, in 2011, the first vintage of estate wines was produced. Estate varietals include Barbera, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Albariño, and Zinfandel. No fining materials are used, making PaZa wines suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

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The day of our visit was warm, but in the shade of the shed and with a cooling breeze through the trees and vines, we enjoyed our tastings of one white and three reds. The 2016 Chardarino, a blend of 60% Albariño and 40% Chardonnay, we delightfully refreshing, with a full mouthfeel and crisp tropical and citrus flavors. The reds included a 2102 Primitivo, a 2013 Barbera, and their LTD – Living the Dream red blend.  Aged three years in French oak, the Primitivo burst with dark berry and cherry flavors, and plenty of vanilla and spice. The Barbera was also aged in French oak for three years, and was soft and smooth, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors. The LTD – Living the Dream is a 50/50 blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and was rich and delicious with ripe blackberry, cherry, and black pepper notes. Big and bold, with firm tannins, the LTD would make an excellent wine to pair with a steak or any other grilled meats.

img_0028img_0027If you are in the area, and would like to experience some true hidden gems while taking in some breathtaking views from the tasting shed, come visit PaZa Estate Winery. Set your GPS to 3357 Ayers Holmes Rd., Auburn, CA 95602, and enjoy the ride.

 

Barbera, Clarksburg, Heringer Estates, Old Sugar Mill, Wine

Review: Heringer Estates Barbera 2013

New World Barbera has become a favorite in my home. We are fortunate enough to live in close proximity to both the Sierra Foothills, and Clarksburg AVAs in Northern California. Both of these regions have proven to be suitable for Italian varietals, and many of them thrive here. The latest example I had the pleasure to enjoy was the Heringer Estates Barbera 2013.

Heringer Estates is located in the Clarksburg AVA, specifically at The Old Sugar Mill. I wrote about The Old Sugar Mill a couple of months ago in my Destinations series. Home to 11 wineries, it is a fantastic location to visit if you are in the Sacramento area.

The Heringer family has been farming in the Clarksburg area since 1868, when John and Geertje Heringa arrived in the region from Holland. In 1973, the Heringer family planted their first grape vineyards, and the Heringer Estates winery began operation in 2002. The entire operation of the Heringer Estates winery is located at The Old Sugar Mill, from crush to retail sales. [1]

As good fortune would have it, my parents are members of the Heringer Estates wine club, and arrived at our house on Christmas day with a bottle of this excellent Barbera. We opened it, naturally, and it paired beautifully with our roast pork loin dinner.

Heringer Barbera

Here’s what I wrote about it in my Vivino review:

Delicious New World Barbera. Rich and full bodied with aromas of black cherry and blackberry. Cherry and berry flavors, with notes of cedar, black currant, and clove. The finish is dark berry and spice. Quite smooth and nicely balanced. This paired nicely with roast pork loin.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Available exclusively at Heringer Estates. Shop Online here.

Retail $30.00

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[1] http://www.heringerestates.com/scripts/cpg.cfm/2