Sierra Foothill Wine Region- Hotbed of Wine Experimentation

Walking amongst the 14 El Dorado winery tasting stands in South Lake Tahoe, I hailed my friend and mentor, John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery, Placerville. Under a canopy on Ski Run Way in the early September sun, he poured his fine wines, wife Barbara at his side. Yes, he admitted modestly, he had a role in encouraging this first-ever "Sample the Sierra" event. But of course, that is typical of John, who after all was one of the pioneers of winemaking in the Sierra foothills.

You can read about John on other of my blogposts, but he deserves accolades for another great vintage of fine wines. The 2010 Viognier has a medium straw color with lovely fragrances of honeysuckle, rose petals and citrus blossoms. Tastes of peaches and apricots are balanced with a rich texture and a bright level of acidity. 13.7 per cent alcohol, $18 the bottle.

The Sierra foothill wine region is a hotbed of wine experimentation. For example, Brian Bumgarner of Bumgarner Winery, Camino, poured wonderful Barbera sourced from Placerville’s Stone Vineyard from a tap in a wooden box. Normally I am an all-natural cork gal, but I was surprised at how fresh this wine tasted. Because of the packaging format, however, you can only taste the Barbera in his tasting room on his Silver Fork label and packaged in a refillable 750 ml wine bottle. “Bring your clean bottles back and get a credit on your next purchase. This is sustainable wine making in practice at your local winery! “ Brian noted. Brian poured other nice wines, and these you can buy by the bottle. The Bumgarner 2008 Pinot Noir has an aroma of strawberry and rose petal, s nose redolent of strawberry with subtle rose petal. You can also get a bit of smokiness from this wine; remember those forest fires that put some haze in the region in 2008? 14.1 per cent alcohol, $27 the bottle.

Always a pleasure to meet a female winemaker, and Debbie Knutzon of Synapse Wines, Placerville, is a molecular biologist by background. This accounts for the Synapse Wines logo: a junction of two nerve cells – a metaphor for family and friends coming together. Debbie learned winemaking by shadowing an experienced local winemaker, none other than John MacCready! She poured what she notes is their flagship wine, the 2006 Kspace Resonance Syrah, a deep rich syrah with mild blackberry and spice flavors. It’s won many Gold Medal awards! 14.5 per cent alcohol, $28 the bottle.

Lava Cap, Placerville, poured its 2007 Merlot Reserve, which recently won the Best of Class award in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s a medium-tannin wine, with structured ripe cherry notes, green apple, chocolate, and a nice clean balance to it. 14.8 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Shadow Ranch Winery, Fair Play, poured its 2008 Zinfandel. With a deep ruby color, and aroma of raspberry and cherry, this wine has a medium-full body, a nice tangy acidity and good depth. The finish has a hint of spice and a nice tannic structure. 14.5 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Jodar Vineyards & Winery, Placerville, poured its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Aroma of black cherry and plum with toasty oak, vanilla and spice. Brown spice of clove, colarm, cedar on the finish. 13.7% alcohol, $22 the bottle.

Other El Dorado wineries pouring were Crystal Basin Cellars, Colibri Ridge Winery & Vineyard, Latcham Vineyards, Gold Hill Winery, DK Cellars, David Girard Vineyards, Madrona Vineyards, and Auriga Wine.

A great event, and I plan to go every year! Watch for it at or

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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 September 2011.

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

Art and Wine Go Together

Andy Skaff at Wolfdale's,
enjoying wine, showing
his plein air works
Art and wine just seem to go together. I see art in tasting rooms and wine festivals everywhere. My son Martin is the proud curator of an original Andy Skaff, and so naturally we attended the reception for plein air painter Andy Skaff at Wolfdale’s Restaurant in Tahoe City recently. While there, I tasted through Wolfdale’s nice wine-by-the-glass offerings, and asked Skaff why he thought art and wine were so integrally linked.

Andy paints outdoors
in his Tahoma studio
at Lake Tahoe
“There’s clearly a lifestyle connection ,” he said. “Consumers who appreciate a glass of wine also are consumers who appreciate the arts. I like to show my paintings in an atmosphere of fine wine and food, because just like wines are flavorful and nuanced, my paintings are pungent and saturated with color.” He paints with intent and concentration every day, and often has a glass of wine at 5 o’clock. “If I’m still painting then, it’s fine. If I am drinking a glass of hearty red wine, it will put me in a winter or fall frame of mind. If a pinot grigio, then I think of a hot summer day.”

High August Clouds

For Andy, the Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiandene DOCG Italy, brings to mind his work “High August Clouds.” “ A warm summer day, a nice bubbly wine, a good day doing hiking or painting or whatever you love to do … this is a wine I’d enjoy then,” he said. This Prosecco is a light sparkler, an extra dry wine from the Veneto region of northeast Italy. Prosecco grapes are blended with a small amount of Perera, Verdiso and Bianchetta grapes, all indigenous to the Veneto region. Straw yellow in color, bright flavors of pear, nectarine, vanilla and almond. A long satisfying finish. $9 a glass.

Late Summer Start
(Barbara Keck's fav!)
 The Campagrande 2010 Orvieto Classico DOC Italy matches the mood of Skaff’s “Late Summer Start”. In this work, there are yellow tones in the emergent leaves and the nearby meadow. “I remember a fresh green scent as I did this painting,” said Skaff. The wine itself is yellowish with green highlights, and aromas recall flowers, pineapple, banana. Fresh and fragrant, savory and soft, pleasurable and easy to drink. 12 percent alcohol. $8 a glass.

The best-selling red wines on Wolfdale’s wine by the glass list are two fruit-forward California wines.

River Blues III
Skaff’s work “River Blues III”, one of his favorite works of the last three months, is a perfect pairing with the Steven Vincent 2009 Pinot Noir. “This is a Pinot Noir painting. I use considerable deep burgundy in this work, and the reflections in the water on this part of the Truckee near River Ranch during late afternoon in the summer show high summer colors.” This Pinot Noir is a beautiful dark ruby color, with tastes of blackberry, clove, cinnamon. Beautifully balanced with 50/50 grapes from Sonoma and the Central Coast, resulting in soft tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol, $9 the glass.

October Morning Light
An all time favorite for many, The Prisoner from winemaker Orin Swift, has a predominance of Zinfandel. The taste and aroma bring to mind a winter theme, says Skaff, and so his “October Morning Light” work is evoked.

“This painting is the richest painting I have on display at Wolfdale’s; it is very pungent, back lit and intense.” The Prisoner is a deep ruby-hued wine, almost opaque, with aroma and taste of black current, cherry, cassis and dark blackberry. It’s a massive wine on so many scales…at 15.2 percent alcohol, this yummy blend is deceptively easy to drink, so go slow. $15 the glass.

Through January 2012, Andy Skaff’s art is on display (and for sale) at Wolfdale’s, 640 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City. (530) 583-5700. You can also see Skaff’s work on his website at

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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 September 2011.

Varied and Wonderful Choices at Wine on The Water at Incline's Hyatt Regency

Sineaan Wines
The Wine on the Water event at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe benefitted the Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe and gave the opportunity to taste wonderful wines and nibble on hallmark foods from some of Lake Tahoe’s best chefs. But I missed the effervescent presence of Hyatt’s renowned sommelier Kristi Snyder, who just arrived back from Pinot Camp in Oregon, so I guess I’ll hear about that some other time. The list of winery participants was a who’s who in great wines. So many lovely choices!

It was a sunny day and moderately hot there on the lawn near the Hyatt’s great Lone Eagle Grill restaurant, so starting with a sparkling wine was a good choice. The Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut is easy drinking. Some might call it an entry level sparkler, but it’s very flavorful and neither too dry nor too sweet. Aroma of apple and citrus, and citrus comes through in terms of flavor with a light toasty finish. Ste. Michelle is perhaps most famous for its Rieslings, but they have been making sparkling wine since the late 1970’s. This Brut clicks in at 11.5 percent alcohol, and retails for between $10-13 per bottle.

Keenan Winery from St. Helena is both solar powered and sustainably farmed, and in their last seven vintages, 38 of their wines were rated between 90-97 points by Robert Parker. Reilly Keenen, third generation, was spending his summer vacation from University of Oregon as the classic cellar-rat, which is the bottom of the rung in any winery and pretty much your best place to learn about winemaking from the ground up. He was happily pouring the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This nicely balanced wine was redolent of black fruit, and medium tannin on the finish. 14.3 percent alcohol $45/bottle. The 2009 Chardonnay sourced primarilyfrom Spring Mountain District vineyards had aroma of citrus, ripe pear and green apple, and taste of lush white peach with oak character. I enjoyed its crisp acidity and medium body. 1.39 percent alcohol, between $28-32/bottle.

The 2009 L’Ingenue from Elyse sources its fruit from Naggiar vineyards near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills. This is an exquisite white Rhone blend of 40% Roussane, 34% Marsanne, 20% Viognier and 6% Grenache Blanc. “Aromas of honeysuckle, lycee nuts, peaches and a hint of orange zest. Explosive fruit flavors,” notes the winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. $28/bottle.

Another lovely Rhone blend from Elyse is the 2007 C’Est Si Bon, also sourced from Naggiar vineyards. This red blend is a fruit, berry-flavored wine, with low tannin and, I confess, very much my favorite style in a Rhone blend. The blend is 46% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, 4% Counoise and 1% Viognier. I am a pushover for Châteauneuf-du-Pape lookalikes, and the Counoise grape is the grape is a key component of many of these wines. Legend has it that Counoise was introduced from Spain into France and it was offered it Pope Urban V when the papacy was based in Avignon in the mid-14th century. This yummy wine from Elyse is 14.4 percent alcohol, $28/bottle.

Sineaan poured its 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir, sourced from 6 different famous Oregon pinot vineyards: Resonance, Able, Yates Conwill, Maresh, Wyeast and Schindler. This is a spicy, rich and very delicious Pinot Noir, dark, aromatic and with great natural acidity. 13.6 percent alcohol, $30/bottle.

Laird’s Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was the perfect end to a summer tasting, with its lovely pineapple flavor at the end of the palate. Aroma of apple, citrus and tropical fruits, and a hint of spearmint in the flavor too. 13.8 percent alcohol, $17/bottle.

The Hyatt Regency at Incline Village is located at 111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village, NV.  All proceeds from this event are donated to the Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe.

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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 September 2011.

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

Manzanita at Ritz Carlton Northstar- top of the Wine Adventure List!

The wine experience at Manzanita, the fine dining restaurant at Ritz-Carlton in Northstar, is one of the highlights of wine adventures in the Lake Tahoe area. The enthusiasm of sommelier Gail Oversteg is contagious, and the expertise of chef Joseph Ramos in preparing dishes that enhance the wine experience is almost unbeatable.

At a recent tasting hosted by Steven Holt, market director-public relations for the Ritz Carlton Hotels of Northern California, I was simply in awe of the expertise of both Gail and Joseph. I think that you will be too.

We began with a toast of champagne, specifically the Laurent-Perrier Brut, Tours-Sur-Marne. Champagne is always a great way to begin any celebration, and its relatively low alcohol content (in this case, 12 percent) leaves room for more sipping and dining without that overly buzzed feeling. This champagne offers a fresh and delicate nose, hints of citrus and white fruit. Chardonnay is the predominant grape. Based in the picturesque village of Tours-sur-Marne, this champagne house is ideally located at the intersection between Champagne’s three foremost sub-regions: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs. $24/glass, $95/bottle. Go ahead and celebrate! Oh by the way, it WAS my birthday.

A Portuguese Vinho Verde, Grinalda, is a white wine that paired perfectly with chef’s Dungeness Crab stuffed in squash blossoms topping a golden tomato gazpacho. Refreshing and light, this wine features taste of white peaches and pears, and is rich and crisp.11.5 percent alcohol, $9/glass, $36/bottle.

Hats off to the 2009 Penner-Ash Riesling from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I loved its gentle acidity, aroma of tropical fruit, spicy and all about green apple tartness. A perfect pairing with scallop cerviche. 11.5 alcohol, $10/glass, $40/bottle.

For the vegetarians among you, I don’t think you can beat the 2009 Erste & Neue St. Magdalener "Grobnerhof" Sudtirol Alto Adige. It has a lot of spice, very peppery in fact and yet a light tannic structure. Grape varieties used to produce this dark ruby red wine are Vernatsch and Lagrein. notes that the St. Magdalener 'Gröbnerhof' goes very well with light Mediterranean dishes and also with spicy Asian dishes. 13 percent alcohol, $9/glass, $26/bottle.

For you lovers of BIG California Chardonnay, try the 2009 Four Hearts, Hartford Court Chardonnay , Russian River Valley. “It has an opulent Burgundian style,” explained Gail as she poured it, “with layers of flavor, and a balancee acidity.” This winery sources grapes from four vineyards, thus the “Four Hearts” designation, and it is rich, weighty and mineral-driven.14.4 percent alcohol, $18/glass, $70/bottle.

Tasting this chardonnay engendered a discussion with Gail about the pendulum-swing of style preference in wine. She believes, and so do I, that the French style of wine-making, often referred to as Old World, is coming back in consumer preference. Less and less as I sit at various wine bars for an evening with friends do I see people ordering those big oakey showy California/New World style whites. Bravo!

But enough about dinner and appetizer wines; let’s go directly to desserts. After all, it was my birthday! Thank you Gail for pouring the 2009 Brachetto d’Acqui, Piemonte. At 5.5 percent alcohol, I could have the whole bottle! It was so tasty with the housemade coconut ice cream, that I was tempted. $14/glass, $32/375-ml bottle.

To finish, bread pudding, my personal favorite, was served with a glass of Porto, Niepoort Colheita 1995. Didn’t even ask about the alcohol. Birthday. $22/glass.

Manzanita is located in the Ritz Carlton Northstar, 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee, California 96161 USA Phone (530) 562-3000 for reservations or reserve on

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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/September 2011.

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