The Wines of Amador County

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California’s Gold Rush of the 1850s included the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. As fortune seekers flocked to the Sierras to prospect for gold, small wineries also began to appear. But the decline of gold mining in the late 1800s, followed by the start of Prohibition, brought devastation to this small wine community. But, some of the vineyards planted during that era survived and today are once again fueling the wineries of Amador County.

With some forty wineries in the region, there are some excellent wines being produced. Wineries such as Amador Cellars, Sobon, Turley, Helwig, Terra d’Oro (Montevina), Dillian and Renwood are just a few of the wonderful wineries producing great wines, some of which are distributed to wine sellers for your enjoyment.

Amador County wineries are focused on producing red wines including Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, and Petite Sirah, but you’ll also find a few whites and rosé wines being produced.

My ah-ha wine moment came years ago when I experienced an Amador County varietal that I’d heard of before my visit to Northern California. Upon learning it was a Barbera from Amador Cellars, my eyes were opened to more than just California Cab. And while finding a variety of Barberas continues to be a challenge outside of this region, you’ll “strike gold” in Amador County.

I’ll be featured a few of my favorites on Instagram (@EverWonderWine) in the coming days. But, if you are in Northern California, near Sacramento or Lake Tahoe, it’s worth a visit to Amador County, and it neighboring El Dorado County wineries. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the wines of these regions. Cheers!

Barbera - A Wine Originally from Italy

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Last time we took a look at Barbera, a wine that hasn't gotten the respect it deserves. And, I mentioned that my first exposure to Barbera was a real eye-opening experience.

Unfortunately, in California, the Barbera grape has predominately been used in the production of mass-produced jug wines in the past. So, it's no surprise that Barbera has gotten a bad reputation.

But, that's changing. Regions throughout California are now producing some very nice Barbera wines, especially the Sierra Foothills, Amador County, Shenandoah Valley and El Dorado Counties in northern California.

But, Barbera has its origins in another famous wine region of the world - Italy.  Barbera is actually one of the most widely planted grapes in Italy. It is a common table wine in the Piedmont region, where it is often referred to as the "wine of the people" because it is plentiful and, yes, cheap.

Even in the famous Piedmont wine region of Italy, Barbera is overshadowed by the Nebbiolo and Dolcetto wines. But, Italian Barbera has a lot of very positive traits. So much so that it's even been referred to as the "poor man's Pinot Noir." That's because Barbera from Italy has traditionally been lighter in body with bright fruity flavors of cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Sound familiar? It should, because if you know Pinot Noir, you know that it too has those same red-fruit flavor profiles.

So, look for Barbera from Italy. You're likely to see it from various regions labelled as Barbera d' Asti, Barbera d' Alba and Barbera del Monferrato. But don't confuse these great Italian Barbera wines with Barbaresco. It may sound similar, but that's a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape.

Whether it's from Italy or California, or any other region of the world, give a Barbera a try. It's well worth it. Cheers!

 

Barbera: A Wine That Doesn't Get the Respect it Deserves

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Several years ago, while visiting northern California, I was served a glass of red wine from Amador County that made me do a double-take.  When I asked what is was, I was told but the varietal didn't mean anything to me. I ended up having another glass and again asking about it, but it just wasn't a varietal that I'd heard of before that point in time.  Finally, I asked one more time what I was being served and was told it was a Barbera. I had never heard of it, but I knew I really liked it.

Excited by learning about this varietal, I returned home from my trip and, at my first opportunity, headed out to a nicer wine seller in search of a Barbera. I looked up and down the aisles but wasn't able to find the Barbera.  There was a very knowable wine guy at the store, but he was busy helping another customer with a wine selection and talking extensively to the customer about the wines they were interested in purchasing. This was definitely the guy I wanted to talk to, knowing he'd help me find a great Barbera. After waiting for quite some time, the wine guy became available and it was my turn to have a conversation with him. I walked right up and asked "Do have any Barbera wine that you'd recommend?"  After a bit of an awkward pause, he uttered one word; "No."  I was somewhat put on my heals but asked if he sold any Barbera wine. Again, the one-word answer was "No."  I thanked him politely and walked away. Had I said something wrong?

Well, it turns out that Barbera has been widely planted in California for a long time, but in the past, it was solely used as a blending component in mass-produced jug wines. Hence, it hasn't had a very good reputation as a varietal and still doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves. 

But, all that changed with the Barbera planting in the Amador and El Dorado Counties in the Sierra Foothills of California. Today, they continue to produce nice Barbera varietal wines.  They are not widely distributed, so they are still hard to find.

So, if you haven't ever heard of, or tried, a Barbera varietal, keep your eyes out for one. And, if you are so lucky as to come across one from the Sierra Foothills of California or from anywhere, give it a try. You're likely to be surprised by this wonderful medium to full-bodied wine with great dark fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and plum, And, when aged in oak, it also develops even richer full-bodied fruit flavors with a hint of chocolate.

There is another wine region of the world that produces nice Barbera. And, we'll explore that region next time. Until then, Cheers!