Originally started as a way to keep track of the names of good wines I enjoy without having a major brain fade - the Wine Hacker has evolved into a wine review and tasting site focusing on the lovely El Dorado County wineries who are now my neighbors.
When you think of Suisun Valley - good red wines doesn't easily come to mind A few years ago, Bert and I went tasting here on our way to stay at Clear Lake in Lake County. Eager for more fodder for my wine blog, I stopped at Sly Dog and did some tasting - and bought this great 2007 Meritage as one of my "finds" for the trip.
Yesterday in the midst of this Covid crisis I was searching for a bottle I didn't remember well to drink during our VMWare/Carbon Black virtual happy hour. Looking at my notes for this bottle, I found I didn't remember any of them and my notoriously bad handwriting (yep, my parents always said I should be a doctor) didn't give many clues past the big STAR I put on it and the all caps GREAT I wrote on the napkin.
Wowser! What a great wine and smooth blend! Wonderful clarity and a beautiful sparkling garnet color give a hint as to the intense experience your taste buds will have upon experiencing it. One BIG Red!
It is a big red, with a complex spicy nose with enticing jammy fruit - once you sip it, you get the huge cherry flavors with the nice Bordeaux finish and long finish characteristic of a much more expensive wine.
I think I will forgive them the cheap and tacky label!
I taste big spice on the finish - a hint of cloves, a bit of sassafras, and lots of verbena, with nicely softening tannins. It will age well, but has aged well to date also (considering it is 2020).
This wine was selling for $16/bottle in its heyday, I opened it after having cellared it for some time, if you can find it - it will be a fabulous find.
Music Pairings - Anything by Muddy Waters , Wally Schnalle's Idiot Fish (Bay Area fusion band), or maybe Three Dog Night (it does have DOG in the title) .
Food Pairings - We are having it tonight with Omaha Steaks "Mojo Pork" crockpot meal. Will be great with any Cajun food or complex spicy dish, as well as with BBQ ribs with a sauce with just a hint of spice and sweetness. Can hardly wait to find more, sad that we only bought one bottle. Next time!
Far off the beaten path, Fenton Herriott is one of the smaller wineries in the El Dorado area. I only learned of them through taking a flyer and ordering one of their lovely wines off the menu at the Smith Flat House (arguably the best restaurant between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe).
One sunny Sunday, we went on a pilgrimage to find this wine mecca, and were not disappointed in our tasting experience.
An overall observation - most El Dorado wineries specialize in wonderful reds and have a few token whites. Fenton Herriot has a full selection of great whites, roses and reds, plus yummy dessert wines. I have about five pages of tasting notes, so will attempt to condense them down to what I found to be the very best of the best (although every wine I tasted here was excellent).
On the "white and light" side, we loved the 2015 Gewurtztraminer for its purity, perfumey floral nose and rich creamy, peach, mango and citrus flavor with the hint of spice for which Gewurtz is famous. A tiny hint of earth in the finish gives it character and complexity. And a most interesting blend - the Jane Way Lot 4 , tones down the sweetness of the Gewurtztraminer by adding Chardonnay. This wine had a beautiful light straw color, a floral and spicy nose, and nice acidity with some white pepper and nectarine flavors in the finish.
I usually hate Rose', but the 2016 Rose' captured my fancy with a nice salmon color, only 1% residual sugar (so not sickeningly sweet like a lot of pink wines), and cranberry/strawberry flavors with a hint of nutmeg. At $18 a bottle, this is truly a bargain!
On the red side (always my favorite), we LOVED the 2014 Sangiovese and scored a few bottles of it for our Italian meals. Only 100 cases were made and at $23/bottle, we suggest getting them while they are available. This Italian wine has a rich cedar and licorice nose, with forward flavors of spice, oak (was cellared in 25% refurbished oak), black cherry, dark chocolate and mixed berries. A long, satisfying finish rounds out the experience of tasting this fine wine.
Velvety and rich, the 2014 Syrah is a medium-bodied and delightful wine with a dark, garnet color and rich flavors of coffee, dark cherries, plum, elderberries, and just a hint of vanilla and eggnog. This wine is rich and warm, and would be an excellent accompaniment for just about any type of meal (yeah - I don't think I would serve it with hot dogs, so as a qualifier, let's say any ELEGANT meal).
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon was the star of the red wine show, with a beautiful forest and olive nose, early flavors of Honeydew melon erupting into rich fruit-forward flavors of blackberry, cassis, oaky vanilla, and blueberry jam with just a hint of cardamom. At $30/bottle, we felt it out performed many of the $100/bottle Cabs we have had, and were happy to score a bottle of this wonderful stuff.
Our tasting included three outstanding dessert wines as well; the standout here was the 2015 CC Ruby Syrah of which only 63 cases were produced. I tasted silky, rich chocolate cherry flavors with a hint of cocoa bark and mint. It is very different from most dessert wines, and is totally free from the "raisiny" flavor that many inferior dessert wines have. It is a deep garnet color, and would be great with vanilla ice cream or as a nightcap (preferably while in a hot tub).
My dear husband Bert is a beer drinker and usually only drinks red wine to humor me. Imagine my surprise when I handed him my glass at Illuminaire Winery filled with the Pinotage only to hear him exclaim, "Off the hook! Can we get some of this?" What the---? Happily, I obliged him and this wonderful wine now sits in our cellar (which is just a small room off our garage), waiting to be paired with a fantastic meal worthy of its amazing spirit.
Winemaker Aaron Hill, never to be seen without his signature baseball hat, has a right to be proud of his Sierra Foothills winery. This year at the California State Fair, his bold jammy reds won three gold medals; one for the 2014 Petit Verdot (another of my favs), the 2014 Zinfandel (bought one of these too), and the 2014 Alicante Bouschet.
The Pinotage was our fav wine at this tasting as it was literally bursting with big jammy cranberry, blackberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of allspice, and enough tannins to add complexity. It had a wonderful fruity nose, a smooth finish, and a beautiful deep cherry flavor with exceptional clarity. It was different, and not your "run-of-the-mill" red. What was different was the mix of fruit flavors and spice - giving it a unique and very welcome taste sensation.
This is because this varietal is not usually found in California. From Wikipedia:
No acetone nose here, thankfully! I also thought it was quite different from this description as it had no real smokey or bramble flavors, although I could taste some earth. What was predominant in this top notch wine was big, bold, juicy fruit flavor. I also got a very small hint of the peppery flavor one would get in a Pinot.
I think this wine is a bargain at $25/bottle!
As to pairings, I am working on some ideas - and here they are:
Food Pairings: This is not a shy and retiring red - it is BIG BIG BIG! It needs something big and juicy to accompany it, and right now I am thinking something like Beef Tamales smothered with a spicy red sauce, lasagna (Bert's favorite food), or a big bowl of Cioppino served with a bib and lots of those little hand wipes that smell like Windex.
Music Pairings: I see drinking this wine while listening to Isaac Hayes, Trombone Shorty, BB King, or Bonnie Raitt. Big, bluesy, strong music goes with the BIG RED this is!
Activity Pairings: The key word here is BIG - I vote for drinking this wine while boating or having a summer picnic with friends. I also see it as a great accompaniment to a rowdy, raucious pool party - even though it has a very smooth finish it is a strong wine.
One of the reasons I moved up to El Dorado County was the cornucopia of incredible wineries with reasonable prices for reds that melt in your mouth. This special Italian varietal from DiVittorio is no exception; we enjoyed it with a steak several months back and we still remember how special it was!
The DiVittorio winery was founded by Dr. Al DiVittorio and his wife Sally (an RN) - both of Marshall Medical Center here in Placerville. Dr. DiVittorio is a well known surgeon who probably saved my neighbor's life a year ago, but that is another story. The winery is unique and features wonderful reds and ports - and hails from a family recipe the DiVittorio's brought with them when they immigrated to America from Italy in 1904. This winery is a friendly, sunny spot in Camino, CA where all are welcome and tasting is free. Cheese and crackers are available to complement your experience, and a small jewelry case with finds made by local craftsmen graces the front entrance.
A Silver medal winner in the 2016 El Dorado County Fair, this wine is big, rich and bold, like a Barbera should be. It is also smooth at the same time, and doesn't have the brash after taste found in many lesser Barberas. The color is deep and rich, and it has a very pleasing earth and leather nose with a hint of fresh flowers. I enjoyed the velvety texture of this wine as well as it's mineral content and rich, chewy tannins (which tell me that it would have aged well, too bad, I drank it). Like most of DiVittorio's reds, this wine is a bit on the sweet side. This is because DiVittorio is also known for some of the most incredible ports you will ever drink, and the reds here also take on some of the port character. I would definitely recommend stopping by DiVittorio if you are ever in the Placerville/Camino area. It is well worth the visit - and they also have a special running where you can get a case of their 2005 (that's right, 2005) Cabernet and Syrah for $110. That is cheaper than grocery store swill folks.
Food Pairing Suggestion: We enjoyed this wine with a nice steak, but it would also pair well with any grilled meats or Italian dinners. I would love to try it with Spaghetti and Meatballs myself. Although I shouldn't be eating Spaghetti and Meatballs (but yet again, that is another story).
Music Pairing: My husband and I have an Alexa (Amazon Echo) in our dining room and we love to play our unlimited music while eating great food and drinking great wine. We listened to (what else?), Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack while enjoying our Barbera and steak. It was simply a magical combination, and could only get better if we were actually in Italy.
Activity Pairing: This is a sit down dinner wine in elegant surroundings, preferably with Italian decor. I would pay corkage and bring it to an upscale Italian restaurant. It would be a "date" wine that would wow, and set the stage for better activities to come if you get my drift.
Be sure and get this great wine before it is all gone!
Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Opened my email from Bloomspot this morning, and found a wonderful surprise. Cakebread tastings that are usually pricey are offered at a tremendous discount - $15 for two tastings of regular wines (usually $30) $28 for two tastings and a tour, and $48 for two for the premium wine tasting (usually $80). Hubby and I have a trip back to our timeshare in Windsor scheduled for late January, so I just purchased the premium tasting for two.
Cakebread makes yummy, time-honored and much acclaimed reds in Napa Valley, and is a family owned winery. They were the 39th winery established in Napa Valley, so there is a great sense of history and pride of ownership. I have served Cakebread at many fine occasions, so am very excited to taste and review their new wines. I particularly love their Cabernets, which are usually deep, dark and mysterious yet fruity with a big nose and strong finish.
If you want to join me in this amazing offer - just click here and subscribe to Bloomspot San Francisco. I have been a member now for just a few months, but so far, I am impressed.
Stay tuned for my reviews of the premium Cakebread wines!