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.
One bright January day, I stumbled upon this handsome gentlemen at the newly opened Nello Olivio tasting room in Camino, CA off Highway 50. He was the epitome of grace and finesse, and invited me to join him in some libations left over from a wine club event that had just been held. I had just tasted his wines, and immediately joined the "Wine Mob" as I just couldn't get enough of the big, earthy reds offered! Also , wine club members can use this beautiful room as well as a gorgeous "cave" at the Placerville location that was just the site for my husband Bert's 65th birthday held this July.
And the wine we opened that day? It is now a library wine as it was a double Gold medal winner; the 2015 Sagrantino. I tasted it that day in January, bought it and hid it to save it for Bert's party. I mostly hid it from myself -if I had seen it in plain site it never would have made it till July! Sagrantino is a rare treat, as it is an Italian varietal only grown by a few wineries in the US. Until recently, it was almost exclusively grown in Umbria, Italy.
It was the perfect birthday treat - rich with a lovely berry nose, heavy but smooth and rich tannins, and plummy with hints of earth, cinnamon, leather, and just a touch of fine oolong tea. Our friends loved it, and ran to the tasting room to try the 2016 Sagrantino. Not quite as big or elegant, but still a very fine wine and a great find.
If you are looking for a light summer wine, another one enjoyed at our party was the 2016 Bianconello. It is simply delightful chilled! It's perfect if you want a dry white that is not lemony, buttery or heavy. I also loved the Dieci and the Sangiovese.
If you visit Camino OR Placerville, be sure to stop in and visit the "Grapefather". The reds are fantastic, and the ambiance wonderful.
And now, for something completely different (to quote Monty Python) - here is a little video they showed us in the Placerville tasting room. Yes, he really IS the Grapefather!
Looking back on the year, Bert and I had a ton of great meals between our subscription to Blue Apron, my incredible cookbook collection, and our El Dorado and Lake Tahoe restaurants. Hands down, the winner of the best meal of the year was the Winemaker's Dinner at our local Italian winery; Via Romano. And believe me, this was a tough call to make!
A new Apple Hill/Camino winery - Via Romano will be celebrating its one year anniversary on January 6th with an Open House featuring small bites and desserts. They are fast becoming a local hot spot with incredible Italian style wines, a beautiful patio, regular fun events, and a friendly atmosphere that exudes warmth from the moment you set foot in the tasting room.
This event, held on October 13th (two weeks before our annual Halloween party which explains the tardiness of this post), was held on a long well-appointed table in the center of the tasting room. Chef Giovanni, a local chef who hosts culinary excursions to Italy and has a restaurant located in the picturesque Italian Alps was the star of the show ( sharing the stage with the wines and Papa Romano himself, of course). Each of the six courses was paired with one of the hand-drafted, award winning wines created by Jon and Leanne, our winemakers.
The first course was a Farinata, a "light as air" chickpea crepe with onion and sage, paired with the 2015 Calaveras County Vermentino. The Vermentino is a rare Italian varietal hailing from Northern Sardinia in the province of Olbia Tempio. It features a nice floral nose, a "not-too-sweet" flavor and a hint of citrus with some mineral flavor with an overtone of nectarine, pine nuts, and nutmeg. It was a wonderful first course wine, and really unusual and fun. The crepe, cooked in Jon's new outdoor pizza oven, served to whet our appetite for more luscious foods, which Chef Giovanni explained to us course-by-course.
The next course was "Peperoni Ripieni con Tonno e Bagnet Verde" or red peppers stuffed with tuna and finished with a Piemontese parsley sauce. The pairing here was the 2016 Shenandoah Valley 'Lileana' Rose di Sangiovese. I usually don't like Roses, but this one was divine - with a soft velvety texture, light yet complex finish, and floral flavor with a hint of spice. The peppers were incredible and just as soft and delicate as the wine.
At this point, one of the other stars of the show - Papa Romano (the namesake for the "to-die-for" Super Tuscan red) raised his glass and proposed a toast by banging on the side of his glass. "A toast - TO ME!" My crazy husband followed this up with a cry of "Dilly Dilly" (adopted from the NFL Budweiser commercial ). We were enjoying a dinner with a big, wild and crazy Italian family, even though most of us just met each other that night - and it couldn't be better!
A course of handmade pasta filled with meat and greens was next, served with a wine that I was sad to hear was sold out - the 2014 Dolcetto. This was a BIG red with a "sweeter than your typical California red" flavor; full-bodied and rich with ripe cherry, strawberry and plum adding to its sweet goodness.
Next came a rolled beef course filled with proscuitto, cheese and herbs that had been slow-roasted in Barbera and a handmade tomato sauce. The sauce was incredible, like nothing I had ever tasted before with an explosion of herbal flavor and tomato goodness that had my taste buds dancing. The 2014 Fairplay Barbera perfectly complemented this dish - with bright acidity so characteristic of a great Italian wine. It was full of ripe berry flavors with a hint of cinnamon and licorice - definitely one of my favorite Barberas ever. The judges at the California State Fair thought so too - they awarded it a Silver Medal.
Chef Giovanni further titillated our senses by serving cheeses he had brought into the US from the Italian alps - YUM! They were served with what was hands down the best wine we had that night - the 2013 Sierra Foothills "Papa Romano Red" Super Tuscan. We loved this wine so much that we brought a bottle with us on our recent trip to Costa Rica where the sommerlier from Secrets Papagayo said that he would have sworn it came from Italy if we hadn't told him it was a California wine. Big, brash, and unapologetic just like Papa Romano himself (Bert was seated by him all night, they had a great time), this wine is a blend of a blend of 38% California, Shenandoah Valley Sangiovese, 38% El Dorado County Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Calaveras County Cabernet Franc, and 12% Fair Play Merlot. I taste rich black cherry, bright blackberry jam, pomegranate, rich spice, a hint of earth and TONS of forward fruit with a long, satisfying finish. We loved it with the cheeses, and had it again with a wonderful pork loin in Costa Rica.
The last course was a pot of chocolate creme with almond -hazelnut cookies paired with an aromatic Nocino and a luscious Moscato di Neroli - ALL of which were to die for and the perfect finale to one incredible evening. Dilly Dilly!
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.