We recently ventured east again for a day trip to the Sierra Foothills to pick up some wine club membership shipments. We have memberships with both of the wineries that I’ll be discussing. We pay for these memberships ourselves. Our trip took us to four different wineries, all of which we enjoy, but these two stand out.
The Old Favorite
The “Old Favorite” visited is Narrow Gate Vineyards. Located in the Pleasant Valley area, it is tucked off the highway up a hill. Frank and Tina continue to produce both consistent and consistently improving wines. The wines were good when we first encountered them 7 or so years ago. The Narrow Gate wines have been getting better with each new release. This is a testament to the skills and dedication Frank puts into his work as vine grower and wine maker.
The stand out wines from this most recent visit were the very limited production rose and the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend. Theses wines are really good and are on a par with the Narrow Gate flagship Dunamis wines. They are ready to drink now, but could actually be put down for 5 years or so.
The New Favorite
The “New Favorite”, Mastroserio Winery, is located in the Fairplay AVA. Ruggero Mastroserio is the owner/winemaker at Mastroserio. His previous experience includes having been the winemaker for Latcham and Granite Springs. The Mastroserio signature wines he made for Latcham remain some of the best and most complex wines we have in our limited cellar.
Now that he has opened his own establishment, he is making a limited number of wines and focusing all his attention on making the best wines he can. I particularly enjoy his Fiano, a white varietal common in Italy, but very unique here in the USA. I like it. It falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Voignier in it’s flavor profile. I also enjoy Ruggero’s Cabernet Franc. The Cab Franc is one of my favorite single varietal wines in general. Ruggero has a very European approach to wine making, eschewing bold fruit and high alcohol for balanced wines with a slightly higher acid content than most California wines which makes them excellent food wines.
What Makes A Winery A Favorite?
There are many good wineries in California and in the Sierra Foothills. The wineries that are our favorites include two characteristics:
First, the wines suit our palates and are distinctive. When you drink a wine from any of our favorites, it will not taste like a commercially produced wine, nor will it try to mimic the flavors of a Napa wine. The winemakers are building on the strengths of the grapes grown in the Sierra Foothills and exploiting the terroir.
Second, the winemakers are passionate and friendly and make visiting their wineries a joy. That passion and hospitality gets transmitted to and through their staff so that even if the winemaker is not in the tasting room when you visit, you still feel a wonderful connection.
It is this combination of quality wine with quality people that move a winery up from a “good” winery to a “favorite” winery. If you’ve driven for two hours in 90 degree heat, you need to be rewarded both with great wine and an enjoyable experience. The wineries in the Sierra Foothills excel at providing this combination.