Today, a shopping list for the best local high-value wines of the year, so far.
First, a few qualifications:
By "local" we mean wines made with grapes grown nearby – in the Sierra Foothills, the Delta, Lodi.
By "best" we mean that I especially like it; in addition, each won at least a gold medal in one of six wine competitions I’ve joined.
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By "high-value" we mean that none is priced more than $20, with one exception (wait for it).
Sobon Estate 2017 Amador County Viognier ($16): A lot of viognier made in California is rich, but not refreshing. This is both. It delivers all the honeysuckle, lavender, peach and spice expected of the varietal, but the body is streamlined and the acidity pointed, making it more uplifting than most versions. It was one of two candidates for best white wine at the Calaveras County Fair commercial wine competition. It didn’t win but got my vote for its clarity and balance.
Michael David Winery 2016 Lodi Chardonnay ($16): Here’s a chardonnay so fruity and lilting it invites gulping, but don’t. Savor it. The longer it sits in the glass the more it uncurls with seductive suggestions of assorted tropical and citric fruits. For its poise and steady representation of the variety it was voted best of its class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. (Best of class means it was the top wine in its price niche.)
Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 Clarksburg Dry Chenin Blanc ($15): Got the oysters shucked? Then get them on the table alongside a well-chilled bottle of this direct and stable chenin blanc. But don’t stop there. It also has the vigor and grace to go with fillets of petrale sole sautéed in olive oil with shallots and herbs. Best of its class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Coppermine 2015 Calaveras County Chatom Vineyard Semillon ($20): At the wine party, semillon is the wallflower – hanging back, quiet, shy – until the DJ picks just the right music, then it dances with verve and grace. In this instance, Rich Gilpin is the DJ, owner/winemaker of the Murphys wineries Lavender Ridge and Coppermine. He coaxes from semillon an unusually fragrant and balletic representative of the varietal, just the ticket for grilled shrimp, roasted halibut or seared scallops prepared cleanly. Gold at the Calaveras County Fair.
Milliaire 2017 California White Zinfandel ($10): White zinfandel doesn’t ask for respect. At its best, it simply wants to bring direct and refreshing fruit to the picnic table on a hot summer day. That’s this kind of white zinfandel – strawberries without the shortcake and whipped cream, but with a lilting sweetness and enough rejuvenating acidity for it to be paired with sandwiches of ham and cheese, curried chicken or tuna. Gold at the Calaveras County Fair.
Boeger 2017 El Dorado Primitivo Rose ($18): Out in front of Boeger Winery’s tasting room is an affectionately tended park with a soothing brook along one side and picnic tables scattered about the trees. No wine may be more perfect for the setting on a summer day than this pink primitivo – pretty, fruity, buoyant and snappy. Gold at the El Dorado County Fair commercial wine competition.
Ironstone Vineyards 2016 Lodi Cabernet Franc ($14): Cabernet sauvignon’s underappreciated cousin, cabernet franc nonetheless also can do the heavy lifting when the table is set with tri-tip or some other succulent cut of beef just off the grill. The Ironstone is an exceptional buy for its bright and deep color, suggestions of roses in its fruity fragrance, reinforcing but yielding tannic spine and juicy cherry fruit underscored with a welcome herbal thread. One of six cabernet francs our panel judged at the Calaveras County Fair, and the only gold-medal recipient, and a double gold at that, meaning all four judges concurred that it merited gold.
Ivory & Burt 2015 Lodi Zinfandel ($15): This is what Lodi zinfandel traditionally has been all about – deep and dusty coloring, inviting berry scent, forthright fruit flavor, polished tannins, inviting price and a roundness and framework to make it both versatile at the table and enjoyable all on its own on the porch of an evening with the Delta breeze rising. Ivory & Burt is a brand of Lodi’s Lange Twins Family Winery & Vineyards. Best of its class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Shenandoah Vineyards 2015 Amador County Cabernet Sauvignon ($20): Of the 10 cabernet sauvignons our panel judged at the El Dorado County Fair commercial wine competition, this was the most complex, herbal and spicy. It also stood out for its balance and vigor. Cabernet sauvignon of this caliber just isn’t supposed to be possible in the foothills, but the Sobon family has been pursuing this kind of clarity for decades and mastered it in 2015, not for the first time. Double gold and best of class. What’s more, we also awarded a double-gold medal to another cab from the family, the lingering Sobon Estate 2015 Amador County Home Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($18), which carried more oak than did the Shenandoah Vineyards.
Drytown Cellars 2016 Sierra Foothills Estate Syrah ($19): Here’s a syrah with all the stuffing and polish the grape is capable of yielding but which is so rarely found in California. If a sample were sent to Ancestry.com the resulting report would confirm it packs all the varietal’s traditional identifying genes: Dense color, layering, balance, suggestions of blueberries, cherries, flowers, bacon and pepper, and persistence. Judges set the bar high for syrah, so it is notable that the Drytown was voted the best overall wine at the Calaveras County Fair.
St. Amant Winery 2015 Amador County Bootleg Port ($18): Young and intense, the Bootleg nevertheless is ready to drink today, especially if it is paired with creamy chocolate. It is luscious with red-fruit flavors, spirited with spice, curious for its suggestion of walnuts, and vivid in its finishing acidity. Don’t want port in the summer? Tuck it away until this winter, or even for the next few; it is only going to improve with age. Best of its class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Terra d’Oro Amador County Zinfandel Port ($24): With patience and precision, the winemakers of Terra d’Oro for years have been seeking harmony above all else in their non-vintage zinfandel port. All that labor pays off in a port with exquisite balance. It is big and rich, but also graceful, even downright classic in its smoothness and stretch. Double-gold and best of its class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.