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.)
Chablis, Chardonnay, Costco, Kirkland Signature, Premier Cru, QPR, Value, Wine

Warehouse Wine: Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014

Warehouse Wine? Sure, why not? Premier Cru Chablis for $15? Heck, yea!

Costco Wholesale warehouses are known for offering good wines at great prices. Members can find well-known labels from around the world (depending on your state’s regulations), and enjoy substantial savings over traditional wine shops, and often at prices better than even large wine and liquor stores like Total Wine & More and BevMo. These are great deals, but for the biggest bang for your buck, look for the Costco Kirkland Signature label. No, Costco doesn’t make wine. They use their immense buying power to source and purchase wine from well-known producers, and label them with the Costco brand. Pulling the cork often reveals the secret identity of the estate or chateau that produced the wine, when they use their own corks. A 2015 article in Wine Spectator pulls back the curtain on some of those producers, and some impressive names they are. And Jon Thorsen, the Reverse Wine Snob, has written extensively on the Costco wine scene, and regularly reviews their wines.

So now we know about wine buying at Costco and the bargains to be found there. But what’s so special about Chablis? And what is this “Premier Cru” thing? Good questions. The short answers are: Chablis is Chardonnay wine made in Chablis, which is located in Burgundy, France. “Premier Cru” is a designation that identifies a Chablis wine that was made from grapes from better-than-average vineyards. The Best of the Best receives the Grand Cru designation. You can read a more in depth analysis at Wine Searcher.

When I was a kid, I remember my parents drinking “Chablis” from a jug. (Back in those days, the rules about naming wines were less strict.) carlo-rossi-chablisSo when I started my own wine journey, I had that image in my mind, and avoided Chablis, thinking it was nothing more than cheap plonk. Furthermore, when I started exploring wine, I stuck mainly to New World wines; those from the U.S., Australia, and South America. In those days, Chardonnay meant those overly oaked toast bombs, of which I’m not a fan. Thus began my ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) days. Only in the past two or three years did I learn that Chablis – the real stuff from Burgundy – is completely unoaked. There are no toasty, lick-the-inside-of-the-barrel flavors. Venturing out of my comfort zone, I tried a bottle several months ago, and I was very happy with what I tasted! (Fortunately, the trend with Chardonnay, even in the U.S., is toward lightly oaked or unoaked styles.) Thinking about all the delicious Chablis I missed over the years, because of my incorrect assumptions, is disturbing! Having since turned in my ABC Membership Card, I am now always on the lookout for good Chablis bargains.

So how does the Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014 stack up? Pretty darn good.

kirkland-signature-chabils-premier-cru

Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of pear, yellow apple, and elderflower. On the palate, there is pear and apple, with zesty lemon and grapefruit mid-palate. Bright acidity, and a lighter mouthfeel when cold, but as it warms it softens and becomes softer with a bit of creaminess. The finish goes on and on with tart citrus notes. Not the best Chablis I’ve had, but surely the best QPR for a Premier Cru.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

Retail: $14.99

This is definitely a wine I would serve to guests. The label may not impress, but in my opinion, it’s more important what is IN the bottle, than what is ON the bottle.

Cheers!