Sierra Vintners Pull it All Together at Nevada City Tasting Event

As a big booster of wines from the Sierra and its Foothills. I was delighted to go to the recent Sierra Vintners event held in Nevada City. Almost twenty wineries from Nevada and Placer County participated. Tasting tables were set up in a number of retail shops, hotels and restaurants – all within a short walk of one another. Brilliant. I suggest you get on the mailing list for an alert for future events: go to

Marilyn Szabo pours Primitivo
 First stop was the tasting of Szabo wines. The 2008 Syrah is produced from estate grown grapes from their 40-acre vineyard at 2100 feet elevation that sits almost exactly halfway between Grass Valley and Nevada City, with views that include the Pacific Coastal Range and the Sutter and Sierra Buttes. The wine has taste and aroma of raspberry, vanilla and black tea. The tannins to my taste were relatively high, which is not unusual for Syrah. There’s a bit of smokiness or teriyaki on the back palate too. $23/bottle, 14.6 percent alcohol.

Frankly, I thought that the Szabo Primitivo was one of the best Foothill wines I’ve tasted in a long time. Primitivo and Zinfandel are closely related; in fact the two varieties have identical isozyme fingerprints. This 2008 Primitivo is redolent of plum, chili and allspice. $19/ bottle, 14.3 percent alcohol. Winery owners Marilyn and Sandor Szabo have done a great job; their first vintage was just in 2006.

There’s some thought that Primitivo is a Croatian grape relative, but there’s not enough room in this column to go into that. However, this leads me to talk a bit about the intriguing wines of Rob and Marilyn Chrisman, owners of Avanguardia, on Jones Bar Road in Nevada City. Avanguardia specializes in hand-crafted artisan blends. Over 20 Italian, Russian, and French grapes and University of California varietal crosses are estate grown, many of which rootstocks were imported especially for them. They poured their Cristallo, a white wine blend where the dominant grape is the Georgian Rkatsiteli, a grape of high quality that is widely planted in eastern Europe but wines made from Rkatsiteli are seldom exported. At Avanguardia, it’s combined ( at about 70-90%) with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Melon de Bourgogne. Melon is the sole variety in the Loire wine known as Muscadet, sometimes referred to as the quintessential “oyster wine”. This is a delicious wine, dry, crisp, taut, and relatively full-bodied; and the fruit flavors are of apples and pears. $14/bottle. 12.5 percent alcohol.

If you want an interesting discussion about the history of wine along with some lovely wines to taste, then you will want to go visit Sierra Knolls Vineyards just south of Grass Valley near Lake of the Pines. and chat with John Chase, one of the owners. John is an interesting guy, also keen on alternative energy topics, and Sierra Knolls was one of the first 100% solar powered wineries in the Foothills. They are guided in their winemaking by Mike Foster from Nevada City Winery, and feature handcrafted small lot wines. Their 2006 Sangiovese is a terrific Italian varietal, with a nice spiciness. At $16 a bottle, 13.5 percent alcohol, you might want to stock up.

Bent Metal's Scott Brown
pours his great Viognier

David Winn of Coufos Cellars
pours Buffo Blanc, Rhone blend

Other notable wines
I tasted:

  • Naggiar Vineyards 2009 Mistero, a blend of 60% zinfandel, 30% sangiovese, 10% syrah, nicely fruit-forward. $22/bottle, 14.5 percent alcohol.

  • Coufos Cellars Buffo Blanc 2008, a white Rhone varietal blend of 40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne and 20% Viognier. Tropical fruits, spice at the end. $17/bottle, 14.5 percent alcohol.

  • Bent Metal Winery’s 2009 Viognier, fruit forward with a great mouthfeel and smooth finish. $21/bottle, 15.2 percent alcohol.

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© 2011 Barbara Keck

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 "Wine Adventures" in August 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

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