Thursday, August 30, 2012

Where to start? These 10 local wineries are all winners - Sacramento Bee

Want to taste some local wine but don't know where to start? It's not a bad problem to have if you're interested in sampling some vino, and perhaps we take for granted the abundance of good wine that's right in our backyard. From hearty petite sirah and zinfandel, to stylish Rhone whites and some of the country's best vermentino, you'll find all that without much travel time.

The greater Sacramento wine region continues to grow and gain the attention of national press, with Wine Enthusiast magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle each tasting recently through the Sierra foothills. Local wineries are also scoring big wins at competitions, with some of those wines coming from the burgeoning Placer and Nevada County wine country.

But again, where to start? Here are 10 suggestions that encompass the greater Sacramento area - and this is by no means an exhaustive list. We'd also love to add such local vintners as Sean Minor Wines and Stuart Spoto but opted to focus on wineries with public tasting rooms.

Now, let's go wine tasting:

Terre Rouge/Easton (10801 Dickson Rd., Plymouth; 209-245-4277. A stop at Terre Rouge/Easton is a must when wine tasting in Amador County. With winemaker Bill Easton at the helm, Terre Rogue specializes in Rhone varietals while Easton bottles multiple lines of zinfandel, along with barbera and others. Either way, the wines here are top notch. Wine Enthusiast magazine agrees, listing Terre Rouge 2009 Viognier and Easton 2009 Monarch Mine Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc in its Top 100 wines of 2011.

Bogle Winery (37783 County Road 144, Clarksburg; 916-744-1139. Bogle is not only the largest wine producer in the region, but also among the 15 largest in the nation. The Clarksburg winery maintains its family-run feel with a new generation of Bogles running the operations. The late Chris Bogle realized in the 1970s that Clarksburg was a sweet spot for petite sirah and chenin blanc, and the winery overall has done well to produce quality wines at affordable prices. Look for Friday events featuring food trucks and live music as well.

Bokisch Vineyards (Tasting room at CellarDoor, 21 North School St., Lodi; 209-334-4338. Popular Spanish varietals are the specialty of this Lodi winery, with bottlings of tempranillo, garnacha (a.k.a. grenache), monastrell (a.k.a. mourvèdre) and others. The much lauded Suisun Valley winery known as Scholium Project has also sourced verdelho, a white grape native to Portugal, at Bokisch's vineyards in a far northeastern corner of Lodi. Bokisch wines can be tasted at Lodi's CellarDoor.

Skinner Vineyards (8054 Fairplay Rd., Somerset; 530-620-2220. That first sip of Skinner's 2009 El Dorado Grenache was a mind-blower, so elegant and silky with its bright strawberry flavor. Credit winemaker Chris Pittenger, who once apprenticed at the storied Marcassin Vineyard, and his team for crafting some of the finest wines in the greater Sacramento area. Along with its Fair Play tasting room, which boasts some amazing views, you'll find Skinner's wines in some of the area's leading restaurants.

Sacramento's urban wineries: OK, we're cheating a little here and lumping two wineries together. But, we still love the fact that wineries can be visited easily via beach cruiser or a quick jaunt through the central city. Revolution Wines (2831 S St., Sacramento; 916-444-7711) recently expanded its food program and in 2008 won double-gold at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition for a port-style wine. Rail Bridge Cellars (tasting room at 921 11th St., Sacramento; 916-492-2530., meanwhile, boasts one amazing view of Sacramento from its Penthouse Lounge Tasting Room and now features 10 wines in its lineup. Rail Bridge also recently kicked off a successful blues and jazz series and has more entertainment coming soon.

Casque Wines (3273 Swetzer Rd., Loomis; 916-652-2250. This Loomis winery makes only about 1,200 cases of wine annually, but they've become a kind of pride of Placer County. Casque Wines has built a solid reputation, both with local wine enthusiasts and judges around the state, for its Bordeaux- and Rhone-styled wines. From gold medal-winning cabernet franc to a blend of viognier, roussanne and other white Rhone varietals bottled as Calotte Blanc, these wines are a highlight of our local wine country.

Lucas Winery (18196 Davis Rd., Lodi; 209-368-2006. Zinfandel remains one of the go-to grapes for local winemakers, with expressions of zinfandel ranging from high-octane fruit bombs to styles that show off peppery flavors and cherry fruit. Lucas Winery of Lodi makes some of the best zinfandel around these parts, focusing on wines with moderate alcohol levels and food-friendly flavor profiles. Lucas Winery charges $10 for tasting - a little steep for Lodi - but it's worth it. The fee also includes a keepsake glass and private tour.

Berryessa Gap (tasting room at 15 Main St., Winters; 530-795-3201. Though not as established as other wine regions around the area, let's not forget Yolo. Berryessa Gap of Winters makes an especially tasty tempranillo, and recently won four gold medals at the Rhone Varietal World Wine Championships. The winery also focuses on grape varietals that are closely associated with California's history, including durif (a.k.a. petite sirah) and zinfandel.

Todd Taylor Wines (35265 Willow Ave., Clarksburg; 916-744-1120. A trip around the region's wine country wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Old Sugar Mill, the Clarksburg facility that hosts tasting rooms for eight local wineries. Perhaps our favorite in the bunch is Todd Taylor, which sources its grapes from around Northern California. Look for full-bodied and flavorful expressions of Amador zinfandel and a berrydriven Clarksburg tempranillo.

Jeff Runquist Wines (10776 Shenandoah Rd, Plymouth; 209-245-6282. This winery's become a veritable powerhouse at competitions. Proprietor Jeff Runquist has previously been named Winemaker of the Year by the San Francisco International Wine Competition, won best of show red at the California State Commercial Wine Competition and was named "golden winery," among many other accolades. Drop by his Amador County tasting room, with a lineup that includes zinfandel, his renowned barbera, cabernet franc and much more, and you'll see why Runquist is the toast of Northern California's wine world.

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