Our Southern California Wine Council welcomed the holiday season by tasting and pairing four whites and four reds from the Livermore Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), just over an hour east of San Francisco. With a climate consisting of warm days and cool nights, the area has been conducive to wine grape growing since the late 1800s.
Omega Road Winery Gratia, 2019 ($23) was our first tasting. Omega Road Winery is run by father-daughter team Ken and Alexandra Henkelman. A flavorful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, with light touches of Chardonnay and Torrontés (an Argentinian aromatic wine grape), reflect the wine’s name Gratia, which is Latin for grace. A floral bouquet is followed by flavors of citrus and green apple, with a hint of vanilla from the Chardonnay. This wine paired beautifully with crackers and cream cheese crowned with shrimp cocktail.
Las Positas Vineyards Estate Verdelho, 2020 ($35) is made from the Verdelho white grape grown in Spain, but most famously grown on Portugal’s island of Madeira and used to make the eponymous fortified wine. Las Positas Vineyards has a wine philosophy that embraces Old World artistry to harmonize with New World character. This wine is a splendid example (and was one of my favorites) with its bright acidity, pear blossom aroma, and mango, pineapple, and ripe pear flavors, caressed lightly with honey. I paired this wine with pumpkin and pear soup topped with maple cream and prosciutto. The wine’s tropical fruitiness was complemented by the pear and maple cream and contrasted by the prosciutto’s saltiness.
Murrieta’s Well Sauvignon Blanc, 2020 ($50). Murrieta’s Well was established by Louis Mel in 1884 with grape cuttings from two prestigious vineyards in France — Château d”Yquem and Château Margaux. Ernest Wente purchased the property in 1940 to be part of the Wente Estate. This is a crisp wine with a balanced acidity and floral notes. Flavors of kiwi and lime greet the palate, followed by a finish of minerality. A sui generis pairing of a Julia Child dish of baked cucumbers, feta cheese, and dill enhanced both the wine’s tropical fruitiness and its minerality.
Garré Vineyard and Winery Reserve Chardonnay, 2019 ($42). Garré Winery is a family winery rooted in Italian heritage and traditions dating back to the early 1800s. Their reserve Chardonnay is lightly oaked with gentle aromas of toast and vanilla. The creaminess of the butternut squash ravioli and lobster ravioli pairing was a wonderful complement to the wine’s satin-like mouthfeel. The apple and pineapple flavors were enlivened by the sage butter sauce.
Omega Road Winery Petit Verdot, 2015 ($38). Originating in Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is often used as a blending grape because of its bold body, robust tannins, and deep purple color. Omega Road Winery uses this grape to produce a single varietal wine. With a bouquet of violets and flavors of black fruit — boysenberry, blackberry, and black cherry — this wine bounded up to salute, but not compete with, a pairing of blackened Italian sausage with coconut BBQ sauce.
Rosa Fierro Cellars Call Me A Cab, 2016 ($40) was decidedly Wine Council’s favorite tasting. Rosa Fierro Cellars was founded in 2014 by Rose Fierro, and the grapes for this wine (99-percent Cabernet, 1-percent Cabernet Franc) are hand-harvested from Thatcher Bay Vineyards. Five days before fermentation, the grapes are cold soaked with dry ice, and then aged in French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels for 32 months, which contributes to the wine’s delightful complexity. True to typicity (reflecting the varietal’s signature attributes), this full-bodied wine has earthy aromas of leather, pepper spice, and tobacco. Lush, assertive dark fruit flavors of cassis (black currant), blackberry, and black cherry, with notes of vanilla and chocolate were fully complemented by a pairing of Mediterranean spiced sliders of beef and lamb with sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary infused butter on sourdough bread.
Wood Family Vineyards Viva Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 (38) Airline pilot Rhonda Wood and her husband Michael’s love for wine enticed them to purchase a vineyard property in the mid 90s in Livermore Valley, establishing Wood Family Vineyards. Their Cab is a lovely ruby red in the glass, with earthy floral aromas. Balanced tannins and flavors of the varietal’s typical cassis (black currant) along with tart cranberry and ripe raspberry comfortably complemented the fraternal twin pairing of Mediterranean spiced sliders of beef and lamb with herbal compound butter served on olive loaf bread.
Darcie Kent Vineyards Firepit Petite Sirah, 2018 ($36). With a five-generation Swiss family heritage of winemaking, Darcie Kent founded her eponymous vineyard from her art studio in 1996. In 2013, Darcie and her husband purchased and renovated the former Cedar Mountain Estate Winery and Vineyard, producing wine with a sixth generation, her two daughters. Darcie designs the artistic wine labels, and the label was the first thing I noticed about this wine with its inviting red-flamed fire bursting from a brick firepit set in the forefront of a vineyard’s rolling hills. Notes of chocolate and blueberry on the nose introduce the concentrated flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and herbs. Along with intense but not overwhelming tannins, this wine was expertly paired with Moroccan Dukkha spiced turkey Italian sausage sliders with fennel blossom and fresh cranberry/apple sauce