Placer County Wine Trail
By Greg B. C. Shaw, Contributor
Placer County (located between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe), once had more vineyard acreage than Napa and Sonoma counties combined. In the years during and following the gold rush, California’s “Gold Country” exploded with wine grape production that lasted until prohibition. Vineyards were then turned under for other agricultural products and eventually, some of the land was lost to suburban development as Sacramento expanded.
A re-birth is occurring, and Amador, El Dorado and Placer Counties are once again full of grapes. Placer County’s wine trail, the newest development in the Sierra Foothills appellation (only gaining official status in 2009), hosted the first annual Grape Days of Summer in August of 2010. In all, there were seven participating wineries that each provided an educational experience and a tasting. Some of the highlights include:
Lone Buffalo Vineyards invited guests to learn about wine aroma. It’s common to see wine tasters swirl a glass and then use their nose to identify the scents of grapefruit, currant, mushroom or cherry. These scent associations are not random however, and professional wine tasters (and serious novices) have learned to identify those scents by practice. Lone Buffalo introduced guests to the Noble Wine Aroma Wheel (developed by Ann Noble of UC Davis) which gives the names for various aromas in wine and then invited participants to sniff wine glasses filled with kiwi, lemon, vanilla and a full range of fruits and spices. To compliment the scent glasses, guests swirled, sniffed and tasted Lone Buffalo’s two Viongier wines. Grown at different altitudes, the two wines had distinctly different characteristics and with the identifying fruit in front of them, the light went on for many event visitors. They could detect the aroma and actually put a name to what their noses were telling them.
To celebrate their namesake, Lone Buffalo offered the buffalo slider – made from real buffalo meat. The hearty meat flavor and provolone cheese complimented the Tempranillo perfectly.
Lone Buffalo makes Viogneir, Sangiovese (in the rosé style), Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and a Rhône blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault.
Viña Castellano introduced guests to the concept of vertical tasting. “Vertical” refers to a tasting of the same varietal from several different vintages (years). In a vertical tasting the grapes for each vintage come from the same vineyard and the wine is made in the same manner. This helps tasters learn to appreciate how wine ages from year to year. Viña Castellano presented guests with three varietals (Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and Syrah) each with vintages of 2003, 2004 and 2005. As red wines age, the tannins soften and the fruit-forward character lessens, but the finish lasts longer and the more subtle flavors of the wines develop.
As part of the vertical tasting, Viña Castellano allowed guests to taste some of their library wines, which are wines from past vintages that are no longer sold to the public (because of a low number of remaining bottles) but stored at the winery as part of their legacy.
In addition to the red wines mentioned above, Viña Castellano also produces a Sauvignon Blanc.
Food and wine pairing can be a mystery for even experienced cooks and wine drinkers. Mount Vernon took on this challenge and helped guests learn a little about paring tri-tip with a meat-loving wine like merlot. Guests sampled a vertical tasting of Mount Vernon’s merlot (2001, 2002, 2005, and 2008 vintages), each with a slight variation on tri-tip that included medium rare with mushroom and with sauce. Visitors could taste the relationship between the earthiness of the 2001 vintage with mushroom tri-tip as compared to the lighter, more fruit-forward 2008 that paired well with a sweeter sauce on the meat.
Guests were then invited to sample Mount Vernon’s Syrah, Zinfandel and unique white port made from Roussanne grapes.
Mount Vernon makes a very wide selection of wines and visitors to the winery will also find Chardonnay, Barbera, Petit Sirah and the rare Alicante Bouschet.
Casque Wines (at Carpe Vino)
Americans sometimes have a tendency to assume varietal wines (wines made from a single grape) are superior to blended wines (wines made from two or more grapes). In Europe, however, blended wines are the norm and Casque Wines explained the process for producing their white Rhône blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Vermentino. A winemaker, for example can choose the herbal character of Roussanne, the floral nature of Viognier and the crisp acidity of Vermentino (actually called Rolle in France which justifies it being used in a Rhône blend) to produce a wine that contains the best of all three varietals. The blending process is complex and finding just the right percentages of each grape (which are usually indicated on the wine label) are part of a long process that (hopefully) will result in a superior wine. Casque called on visitors to sample the wines individually and then sample the blend of all three called Calotte Blanc. Casque does not yet have a tasting room, so this opportunity to taste their wines was offered by Carpe Vino, a wine bar in historic Old Town Auburn.
In all, by combing the individual educational pieces offered by each winery, Grape Days visitors gained a good bit of wine knowledge.