We do love Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we don’t know too many people who don’t. It’s the King of Grapes for a reason. So popular, so food friendly, so ageworthy and collectable, and so…expensive!
Not necessarily. If you’re shopping for Napa Cabernet, maybe. But what if we told you about a high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, from a California appellation, that you could enjoy for a mere $22 per bottle?
The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
Recently, we received a bottle of Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Where is the East Side RIdge? We wondered the same thing. It is located on the East Side (obviously) of Lodi! Now, we don’t normally think of Lodi when we are craving a Cabernet, and we bet you don’t either. This bottle has surely changed our way of thinking!
Most of the Lodi region has deep, loamy soil, good for Rhone varieties. However, up on the East Side, the soil is more rocky, with cobblestones and soil low in nutrients. You know how Cabernet shines brightest when it struggles!
Next you may be asking, who is this “Three Finger Jack?” The name comes from a legendary outlaw from the Gold Rush era, who sought his fortune in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Little is known about the mysterious man; nobody really knows how he lost his fingers, but his legend lives on in the Lodi area.
As for the wine that bears his name, the Three Finger Jack East Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is rugged and structured, as a famed outlaw should be.
We actually held onto this for awhile, waiting for suitable weather for a big, bold red. The summers in NorCal can be hot; calling more for crisp whites and rosés. Finally, an unseasonably cool (well, not hot) weekend arrived when we felt we could best enjoy this wine. Certainly a BBQ wine, which would pair well with steak, ribs, or brats, we opted to pair this with marinated lamb chops. The pairing did not disappoint.
Inky purple with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and vanilla. In the palate, boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis, with vanilla and caramel notes. Tannins are very soft with mild acidity. Smooth, full bodied, with a medium finish of dark berry and spice.
Honestly, we don’t typically think of Lodi for Cabernet. This one is nicely balanced with good flavor and soft tannins.
Though summer is waning, it’s not too late to track down some Three Finger Jack and pair it with your favorite grilled beast. A fantastic value from a region not often considered for Cabernet Sauvignon; lesson learned – think outside the box and you will be rewarded.
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.
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?
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.
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.
If 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.
My how time flies! It’s been almost a year since my first post on the Sierra Foothills AVA. When I wrote that piece, I had the grand idea of showcasing each of the five sub-appellations that comprise the Sierra Foothills: North Yuba, El Dorado, Shenandoah Valley, Fiddletown, and Fair Play. Alas, such is the life of a hobbyist blogger. Work, family, and life in general get busy, and grand ideas get set aside. It has taken some time, but I was finally able to make it to Amador County wine country recently to conduct some “scientific research” for this continuing series. It was arduous, but I’ll do whatever it takes for you, dear reader, to provide what I hope is interesting content.
As I lamented in my earlier post, the Sierra Foothills area is, in my opinion, an underrated and underappreciated wine region. Often flying under the radar of major wine publications, the wineries here are producing wines that rival bigger, better known producers and regions. Fortunately, the Sierra Foothills received some recent exposure when nearby Lodi hosted the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference. Although I was unable to attend, I’ve read some great posts from fellow bloggers on the field trips that were offered to the foothills. Several of the winemakers and owners I spoke with on my recent daytrip also commented on the visits, and appreciate the attention the conference gave to the region. Still, it is with some trepidation that I go on; for fear that too much exposure will spoil the tranquil, picturesque wine region located in my own back yard. Nevertheless, I wish nothing but success for these amazing wineries and wines, so I must shout my praises from the rooftops. Well, at least from my living room.
Amador County is home to two of the five Sierra Foothills sub-appellations; Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. These two neighbors adjoin one another, and while I did briefly venture into the Fiddletown AVA, my focus this day was the Shenandoah Valley.
The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps the best known Sierra Foothills wine region. It is the most easily accessible, and perhaps not coincidentally, is home to some of the larger and better known Sierra Foothills wineries. Many producers in the Shenandoah Valley, like Renwood and Montevina, have grown large enough to distribute their wines nationally, and perhaps internationally. In fact, some time ago I opened a Costco-branded Kirkland Signature Amador Zinfandel, and was surprised to find the Renwood Winery logo on the cork. That’s a testament to success!
Just outside historic Plymouth, a gold-rush era town, Shenandoah Road intersects State Highway 49. A short drive up Shenandoah Road, and around a hilly curve, and you are greeted by lush vineyards and stunning views. The majority of the wineries in the Shenandoah Valley AVA are located along Shenandoah Road or Steiner Road, which loops off Shenandoah Road, meeting it again a little further up. There are some 31 wineries located in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Most are small, family owned operations, and it is not uncommon for the winemaker to be the owner, or the owner’s son, daughter, or other relation.
Since the early days of the California Gold Rush, this area has produced wine. Originally, vines were planted by enterprising emigrants to supply alcohol to the thirsty miners who came to strike it rich. Zinfandel vines were found to thrive here, so that became the dominant varietal. Today, some individual vines can be traced back more than 150 years to those pioneering days. Other varietals have since been added to the region; mostly Italian and Rhone grapes that thrive in the warm, dry climate. The west slopes of the Sierra Foothills afford abundant sunshine during growing season, and summertime temperatures that can hit the low 100’s help to create ripe, fruit-forward wines.
Like all of the Sierra Foothills wine regions, the Shenandoah Valley AVA’s natural beauty equals, or dare I say, even exceeds that of the more famous California regions. Certainly Shenandoah Valley lacks the crowds, traffic, and commercialization of those internationally recognized destinations. Many wineries still offer complimentary tastings. Those that do charge generally limit it to $5, and that is waived with the purchase of just one or two bottles. (Many Napa wineries are now up to $30 or more, and waiver requires signing up for the wine club, a commitment of several hundred dollars per year.) Even the bottle prices are much more affordable, typically less than $30 for spectacular, award-winning wines.
Winemaking here waned as the Gold Rush petered out. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the potential for this region was noted, and commercial wineries established. Early wineries such as Deaver Vineyards and Sobon Estate are still going strong, and are joined by relative newcomers like Andis (est. 2010) and Helwig (est. 2011). The growing popularity of wine among the younger generation, and the trend away from exclusivity and pretentiousness in wine has driven the rise in popularity and demand.
The atmosphere at the wineries in this area vary from traditional, down-to-earth, and intimate, to state-of-the-art, hip, trendy, and vibrant. Some offer tours, including a Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. Click the link to read my post on my recent experience and learn more. To attract even more people to the area, including non-wine-drinkers, Helwig Winery built an amphitheater along with their winery. They host a summer concert series each year, attracting some big name performers and plenty of fans, who are introduced to the beauty, and deliciousness, of the area. No matter your preference, you are sure to be greeted warmly, and will taste some underappreciated, world-class wines.
If you are thinking of visiting, the closest airport is Sacramento (SMF). Check out the Amador Vintner’s Association website for trip planning help and tips. Come to the foothills, check out the wines and history, and enjoy the stunning scenery. You’ll be glad you did!