Saturday, April 28, 2007

Butte County: The Next Bordeaux?

A couple of columns back, I said something to the effect that a lot of locally produced wines suck. Yeah, "suck." That wasn't a very nice thing to say, but at least it wasn't stupid or racist like what Don Imus said. As a result, unlike Don Imus, I got to keep my job.

I'm thinking that's a mixed blessing, because I felt really guilty after I wrote that, and I convinced myself that I should try more local wines and do a column on them. Of course, if they, "under perform", I'm bound (by whatever oath journalists take) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And then I'll even more persona non grata with local wine makers than I am already.

I'm sure some of you are scratching your heads quizzically and saying, "Butte County has wineries? When did that happen?" Well, I'm not sure who opened the first winery in Butte County, but there are in fact several, some practically in Chico.

"But this isn't wine country," you say. Well, that's not really true. Sutter Home, jug wine producer extraordinaire, has several thousands of acres of vineyards in the Sacramento Valley.

"But that's my point. The valley is only capable of producing plonk." I disagree, and anyway, many of the local producers are up in the foothills where the climate is cooler. If you go father south, the Sierra foothills near Placerville and Angels Camp are full of wineries making outstanding wines. And anyway, who's the wine expert here? Oh, right. I am. So shut up! Sheesh!

Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyard 2005 Mestizo

The Bertagna's that make this wine are apparently related to, but not same as, City Councilman Steve Bertagna. Regardless of that (and the rather politically incorrect moniker of this wine), the Mestizo is an extremely drinkable blend of petite sirah, barbera and sangiovese. In many ways, this wine is similar to a nice Chianti. It's relatively light in color, with a tangy, bright, oaky nose. The sangiovese really comes through on the tongue; lightish and tart, but surprisingly smooth and well made. It was an incredible match with pizza. I was very pleasantly surprised with this wine and can genuinely recommend it to anyone. $13 at Vino 100. 3 stars.

Quilici Vineyards 2003 Barbera

Very light in color and surprisingly very cloudy - not a good sign. Strong aromas of oak and smoke, a bit spicy with a hint of cellar funk. Not a bad start. On the palate, however, the true character of this wine emerged with an overpowering tart astringency, a chemcially undertone and a very sour finish. Reminded me a lot of some of the horrible wines we had in Lodi. Sorry, but I just can't recommend this wine. $11 at Vino 100. 1 star.

Grey Fox 2003 Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon

When I was first getting into wine, the Grey Fox winery was the first winery that I visited, so you'd think I have fond memories and a strong bias. But I wasn't particularly impressed with anything I tasted other than their syrah port (which was pretty darned tasty). However, I did buy several bottles of their 2003 cab, which I put away for a rainy day.

Well, it was raining, and I got out this bottle. Very typically cab-like on the nose - dark fruit, earthy, mildly spicy, with hints of mocha. Off to a good start!

On the palate it was a bit disappointing. The hint of dark fruits was faint and fading, like memories of summer, while the tannins were strong, dry and assertive. Not a particularly promising combination, since you need big fruit in a wine in order to outlast big tannins. In this wine, the fruit was already fading, while the tannins were still going strong. Drink now, I'd say. Having said all that, this is not a poorly made wine. It's not over oaked (like so many wines from small wineries). Overall, this wine is well made - it just needs more fruit to combat the strong tannins. I'd be interested in seeing what subsequent vintages are like. 2.5 stars.

New Clairvaux 2006 St. James Block Viognier

Wow, what a wonderful wine! I'm constantly impressed with the wines coming out of New Clairvaux, and the viognier is no exception. Not a strongly fruity wine, but with hints of lemongrass on the nose that evolve into more typical floral notes. On the palate, a very dry, full-bodied and complex white wine. Very impressive and highly recommended. Available at Vino 100 or the winery. If you really want a nice local wine, this is one to drink. 3.5 stars.


You know, I think I know why the homework thing isn't working. I never ask anyone to turn their homework in. Well, that's going to change. This week's homework is to try a local wine, and you have one week from right now to send an email to the Beat about your local wine experience. Good? Bad? Ugly? If I don't get a response from you, you flunk wine class.

As to where to find local wines, Vino 100 has the best selection of local wines in town, or you can head out to the wineries and do your tasting there. Here's a few that you can check out:

New Clairvaux (
Grey Fox (
Odyssey Vineyards
Quilici Vineyards (
LaRocca Vineyards (
Long Creek Winery (

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