El Dorado Wines Pioneer – Sierra Vista Winery

Viewing the Sierras from the other side is a must-do for lovers of Lake Tahoe. The mountains, gorgeous from lake-side, are equally beautiful from the wineries in the regions of the Sierra Foothills. The shaded picnic area of Sierra Vista Winery near Placerville gives an almost-mystical view of the mountains, made even more pleasurable as you sip the wines produced by John and Barbara MacCready.

The MacCready’s pioneered the re-emergence of El Dorado as a premium wine region. In 1972, they bought this property on the eastern highlands of California and put their energy into mountain viticulture. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon to begin with, feeling that the climate was similar to that of the Northern Rhone Valley of France. Now they produce more than 7000 cases a year of 30 wines.

Of John MacCready’s white wines, we liked the 2008 Viognier, El Dorado Estate. It won a Double Gold ribbon in recent Amador County competitions. Its aroma of buttercup, honeysuckle flowed through to the taste, where tone of citrus and grapefruit arose too. A nice minerality, 14.1% alcohol. Only 250 cases produced. John said it pairs well with lobster thermidor, one of Barbara MacReady’s specialty dishes. $18/bottle.

Of the 2007 Roussane, 100 cases were produced. These grapes do well on the west side of the Sierra Vista Vineyards, which vineyards have no fewer than four microclimates. Producing a Roussane was a bit risky, but John MacCready had tasted it 10 years ago and really liked the wine and so took the chance. He believes it has the potential to replace a lot of barrel-fermented Chardonnays. This Roussane won a Double Gold ribbon in the San Diego competition. There’s a flowery aroma of wild rose, and a limey minerality that gives a full round mouthfeel. Flavor of strawberry was dominant to my palate, but there are definitely tones of peach, apricot too. 13.9% alcohol. Pair with chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, and also note that it stands up well to spicier foods. $17.50/bottle.

The 2008 Fume Blanc won a Double Gold ribbon and was declared the best white wine at the recent Calaveras competition. Only 490 cases produced of this sauvignon blanc-based wine. Malolactic fermentation toned down the early acidity of early results, but this wine still has a nice clarity and bite to it. It is a bit sweet, very fruit-forward, tones of peach, with a long and silky smooth finish. 13.5% alcohol. $15/bottle.

Of the red wines, I was thunderstruck with their 2006 Fleur de Montagne, an Eldorado Estate wine. MacCready produced only 400 cases of this wonderful blend, and calls it “Flower of the Mountain”. It is a look-alike Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a much lower price. Cinsault grapes – only 5% of the blend – add a delightful touch. Other components are 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre. Smooth smooth and smoother, with black cherry, a bit of pepper, a hint of clove. 13.7% alcohol, $23/bottle. This wine has won 3 Gold Medals. Said John MacCready: “If I had to say that I had a favorite wine from my list, this would be it.” Grab it while it is available!

The 2006 Mourvedre is another blend of Rhone grapes, and will appeal to Petit Sirah drinkers! Aroma starts with cherry, there is a bit of smoke. Pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, hearty stews and soups. 13.7% alcohol. $22/bottle.

The 2006 Red Rock Ridge Syrah is very juicy, taste of blackberry and a hint of tobacco. Medium tannins made this very drinkable now, but it will also age nicely for the next 5 to 12 years. Only 400 cases produced. 13.9% alcohol. $28/bottle.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a big wine, with deep dark fruit and aroma and taste of black cherry, plum, currant, vanilla, and a hint of cedar. It is terrific with red meat dishes and other hearty foods – or standing alone on a wintery evening! Drink now, through 2020. 13.4% alcohol, $22/bottle.

Sierra Vista Winery is at 4560 Cabernet Way in Placerville, CA, only 45 miles west of Lake Tahoe Open daily 10 to 5. Telephone 530 622 7221.

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

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