The editor and I headed to the hills a few weeks ago for the 21st annual Passport Weekend in El Dorado County. This was our first visit, and it won't be our last. The region has more than 2,500 acres planted in more than 50 varieties of grapes. The vineyards range in elevations from 1,200 to 3,600 feet. The view of the snow-crested Sierra from Sierra Vista Winery is worth the drive alone. Because of the diversity of micro-climates, the region has the ability to produce excellent syrah, grenache, tempranillo, viognier, sangiovese, barbera and zinfandel.
I've attended many passport weekends, but this one made the "A" list. The wines were excellent, especially the rhone blends. The food pairings were perfect, the music lively and the people helpful and friendly. Several people I met were from Nevada. They visit El Dorado wineries often because the area is close, most wineries don't charge for tasting (yeah!), it's never crowded and you can actually talk to the owner-winemaker. It's what Napa used to be 40 years ago.
Most of the El Dorado wineries are located in three regions. Nine are north of Highway 50 (Boeger, Lava Cap, Madrona). South of Placerville there are six on Pleasant Valley Road (Sierra Vista, Holly's Hill, Miraflores). Farther south, in the Fair Play area, there are 15 wineries (Windwalker, Skinner, Fitzpatrick). Windwalker Winery's 2008 primitivo recently won the award for best red wine in California at the 2011 State Fair. Yes, El Dorado wines are that good. Before you head for the hills, go to www.eldoradowines.org for more information.
If you like merlot, I think you will enjoy this blind tasting. These three merlots won best of class awards at the S.F. Chronicle Tasting. The 2010 Turning Leaf won in the up to $9.99 price range, the McManis in the $10 to $14.99 and the 2009 J. Lohr in the $15 to $19.99. Invite your merlot-loving friends over for a blind tasting. Have them bring munchies and three wine glasses each and you provide the wine. Put the wine in bags and number them 1 to 3. Pour 2 ounces in each glass and then taste them. Swirl, sniff, sip, swallow and summarize. Ask the tasters to choose their favorite and rank the wines, five points for first, three for second and zero for third. Was your favorite the overall point winner? Do the results support the premise that if the wine costs more it must be better? Have a fun wine party and find out.
What's on our table
The 2008 Novella Synergy made by EOS Estate Winery in Paso Robles is a red blend of six varietals. The majority of the blend is zinfandel (45 percent), petite sirah (25 percent) and cabernet sauvignon (18 percent). The wine has raspberry and black cherry flavors with notes of cedar and spice. It is perfect for barbecues and would pair well with anything off the grill. Here's the deal. EOS Winery sold recently to the Foley Estates Group, and this brand was purchased by Grocery Outlet. The regular price was $11.99 and the local Grocery Outlet has it for $3.99. That's right, $3.99 for a Paso Robles red wine. Such a deal. Cheers!
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