Lake County Wines Delight with Unique Varietals

Even competing with the Giants game and the rain, we had a decent turn out last night for the “Wines of the Lake” tasting, featuring eight wines from Lake County.  The tasting was led by Pietro of Rosa d’Oro Winery and John McDermaid of McDermaid Family Wines.  They began with an overview of what makes Lake County unique; describing the higher altitude, the impact of Clear Lake on the vineyards, and the swings in temperature from the low 100F’s during the day to a drop of 50F overnight.  We also learned that Lake County has 5 AVA’s (American Viticulture Appellations).

The tasting commenced with four whites:  a riesling, a sauvignon blanc in a dry crisp style, a second sauvignon blanc with lees contact and barrel fermentation, and a muscat canelli.  Giana, the club chef, paired these wines with a spicy “green bean mango and prawn salad” from Mai Restaurant in Cotati.  Though all the wines worked well with this dish, the riesling and muscat with their fruiter profiles and slight residual sugar paired best with hot spiciness of the entrée.

We then moved into four reds:  a grenache, dolcetto, malbec, and a syrah.  Giana paired the grenache and dolcetto with a hearty black bean and beef chili which was perfect for the cold raining evening.  The malbec and syrah matched very well with the chocolate espresso salted toffee cake she made.

Favorite Wines of the Evening

As usual, we took a vote at the end of the tasting to determine top favorites.  It was a grand sweep for the reds, which garnered far more points that the whites.  Perhaps we had a red crowd at the tasting last night?  Anyway, the wine which received the most points was the 2007 Malbec from McDermaid Family Vineyards ($25; http://www.mcdermaidfamilyvineyard.com/).  This was an opaque black/purple color with boysenberry and anise notes, and big dusty tannins from the Red Hills AVA. 

The second highest scoring wine of the evening was the 2006 Syrah from Gregory Graham Wines ($20; http://www.ggwines.com/).  This was also an intense inky color with rich textured flavors of ripe berry, smoke and tar, and slightly sweet, fruity finish. It went especially well with the espresso cake.

The top scoring white wine was the 2008 Rosa d’Oro Muscat Canelli ($14, http://www.rosadorowine.com/).  This was highly perfumed with honeysuckle and orange blossom.  Its .7 R.S. was masked by a high cleansing acid.  A beautiful and well-made wine.

We ended the evening with our educational quiz about Lake County – based on the information that Pietro and John had provided.  Attendees who first answered the questions correctly were rewarded with a wonderful gift from Lake County.

Professor Picks: Harvest Fair Gold Medal Wines Less than $16

I love October in Sonoma County, because it means the Harvest Fair is here!  I’ve attended every year for the past 10 years to taste the top scoring wines.  In addition, I enjoy checking out the monster-size pumpkins, the decorated cakes, visiting all of the sheep, goats, cows, horses, and pig pens, listening to the music, and always catching the Grape Stomp before I leave.

Afterwards, I head to some of my favorite wine stores in Sonoma County, because they have great deals on the Harvest Fair medal winning wines.  The two stores I always hit are Bottle Barn and Olivers, because they have some of the best prices and great displays.  My strategy is to purchase a bottle of every Best of Class and Gold Medal wine under $16.  I then invite friends over for a BBQ and we try them out.  Each year I find a favorite wine and end up going back to buy a case or more.

This year’s best gold medal wine, in my humble opinion, for under $16 was the 2006 Leveroni Merlot from Sonoma Valley.  It is a plush mouthful of ripe blackberries and plums with velvety tannins, good acid, and a very long pleasing finish.  It tastes like a $60 merlot for only around $12 at our local stores.  I’d encourage you to give it a try.  As a former merlot drinker who succumbed to the seduction of pinot noir, this merlot has tempted me back to the roost.

Following is a table of the 14 wines below $16 that were either Best of Class or Gold medal winners.

Best of Class Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Sonoma County $14.00
Best of Class Leveroni Vineyards 2006 Merlot Sonoma Valley $16.00
Best of Class Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery 2008 Chardonnay Sonoma County $12.99
Best of Class Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay Russian River Valley $14.99
Best of Class Trecini 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley $14.99
Gold Healdsburg Ranches Winery 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $15.00
Gold Huntington 2008 Chardonnay Sonoma County $15.00
Gold Kenwood Vineyards 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma County $16.00
Gold Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma County $14.00
Gold Long Gamma Cellars 2007 Red Wine Sonoma County $12.00
Gold Pedroncelli Winery 2007 Syrah Alexander Valley $14.00
Gold Pedroncelli Winery 2009 Chardonnay Dry Creek Valley $12.00
Gold River Road Vyds & Winery 2009 Pinot Meunier Russian River Valley $16.00
Gold Valley Of The Moon Winery 2009 Pinot Blanc Sonoma County $15.00

Mystic of Red Wine Tasting with Robert Mondavi and Ravenswood Rescheduled to Spring 2011

They say “patience makes the heart grow fonder.”  If this is true, we will enjoy tasting these wines even more in the Spring.  This tasting had to be rescheduled due to some paperwork issues on the SSU campus.  We are disappointed, but look forward to inviting Constellation and all of their fabulous wines back to campus next semester.
  • Estancia Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 
  • Ruffino Ducale Chianti Classico – Sangiovese 2006 
  • Clos du Bois Sonoma Reserve Alexander Valley Merlot 2006  
  • Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
  • Hogue Genesis Columbia Valley Syrah 2007
  • Ravenswood Sonoma County Zinfandel 2007