Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twisted Bud Break in the Sierra Foothills – Twisted Oak Winery

While the canopy vines and leaves are in full boom in the California Central Valley and fully on their way in Napa and Sonoma, in the colder regions of the Sierra Foothills during this time of year they’re still budding.

If you’re traveling up to Yosemite (where there is still snow on the ridges) as I was two weeks ago, after your visit you’ll want to continue on your journey up to the Sierra Foothills, to a host of wineries and take the twisted (and bumpy) road to Twisted Oak Winery. If you are driving a sports car, however, you might want to drive up the delivery truck entrance as the windy road through the vineyards is full of potholes (complimentary!) and crevices. But, if you do you’ll miss the comical road signs and the beautiful scenery.

Specializing in Spanish and Rhône varietals, TOW’s wines can be characterized as big, intense, concentrated, and fruit forward.
The tasting room is simple and rustic and the service was okay, but the server who is new to the wine biz would benefit from a little studying of wines. Frequently back roads winery tasting rooms are hosted by the wine maker or someone in the family and your get a lot of inside scoop on the wines. Unfortunately, this was not the case…
My first wine was the 2010 Calaveras County Verdelho. If you have never had a Verdelho, it is a Portuguese white grape varietal widely planted in Maderia since the 1400’s. Verdelho grapes are small, yellow-gold, thick-skinned, hard berries that are high in acidity. Although not widely known in North America, I have come across a number of California wineries in Lodi and the Sierra foothills that produce it. Fermented in 100% stainless steel with absolutely no time spent in oak, this wine has fresh lemon, pears, apricot, and granny smith apples on the nose and on the palate it is crisp and refreshing, with a relatively good body. It sells for $19 – a fair price.

My second white wine was the 2010 Calaveras County Viognier. Having spent time in 30% neutral oak, 70% stainless steel this wine is incredibly floral on the nose – almost sweet with what seemed like honey mixed with overripe apricots, orange blossoms, acacia and violets. The bouquet was so powerful in fact, it reminded me of a Muscat. Yet on the palate it is completely dry and well balanced in fruit and acidity. So while the nose may overwhelm you, the mouth feel and finish is quite pleasing. It sells for $19 and only 480 cases produced so I brought two bottles home.

My third tasting of the day was the 2008 Sierra Foothills “Ruben’s Blend” - a Rhône white wine varietal blend of 41% Marsanne, 45% Roussanne and 14% Grenache Blanc. Marsanne, Roussanne are well known Rhône varietals frequently blended with Viognier. Grenache Blanc is found in both Spanish and Rhône blends and it is a major component in the white wines of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône (slopes of the Rhône) AOCs. I don’t come across it very often in California so this is a rare find!

On the nose, I picked up lemon, fresh pear, white gardenia and some earthiness. Fermented started in stainless steel and then transferred to 50% new French Oak and 50% neutral oak while still on the lees, on the palate I detected subtle notes of honey and lemon zest with a creamy mouth-feel on the mid-palate and finish. This wine is well balanced from start to finish and it sells for $24.
My third wine, and first red, was the 2008 Calaveras County Torcido, an estate blend of 87% Grenache and 13% Petite Sirah. The Grenache was first fermented as uncrushed whole berries and then was pressed for the secondary fermentation. It spent 16 months in barrel (20% New French, 30% 1 year-old French and 50% neutral oak) and bottled 28 months after harvest. On the nose and palate I picked up raspberries, blackberries, clove and nutmeg. A bit steep at $32 a bottle.

My fourth tasting and second red wine knocked my socks off! The 2007 Calaveras County “The Spaniard” is absolutely fantabulous! Undoubtedly the flagship wine of Twisted Oak Winery, it is a blend of 64% Tempranillo (a well known low acid Spanish grape) and 20% Graciano [pronounced grah-see-YAH-noh], a low-yielding red wine grape that is grown primarily in Rioja and rarely found in California, and 16% Garnacha – the Spanish name for Grenache. This wine spent time in 60% new French oak, 15% new American oak, 25% 2 year old French oak.

On the nose and palate I picked up intense and jammy raspberries, blackberries, cherries, black pepper, new leather with a hint of cedar and earthy forest floor notes. The price is a bit steep at $49, but I brought a bottle home anyway.

My fifth tasting and third red wine was the 2007 Calaveras County Parcel 17. A Spanish varietal blend of 46% Monastrell (Mourvedre) from 36% Mazuelo (Carignane) and 18% Graciano, a truly rare and unique wine in California that is a “must taste” to expand your palate and break out of the Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel… rut. The wine spent time in 10% New French oak, 30%, New Eastern European oak, 60% Neutral oak. On the nose is it earthy, nutty and spicy intermixed with red and dark berries with just a hint of sweet oak and vanilla. On the palate it has firm tannins with a dry mouth feel with a lingering berry finish. A bit steep at $32 a bottle but it is worth taking one home to have something this unique to share with friends.

The sixth tasting and fourth red wine in the lineup was 2007 Calaveras County Petite Sirah. Aged in 40% new American oak 60% neutral oak, this is a very intense and concentrated wine with fine tannins, with an immediate attack on the palate of milk chocolate, ripe blackberries and lots of crushed black pepper, licorice and coffee. The wine sells for $24, a fair price but there many comparable wines under $20 on the market.

The seventh tasting and fifth red wine was the 2006 Calaveras County Grenache. This Grenache (also known as alicante, carignane rousse) is a blend of 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah and spent time in 20% new American oak and 80% neutral oak. A light to medium bodied wine with loads of finesse and subtle tannins, it has layers of strawberries, raspberries, red currant, cherry with black pepper, menthol, and licorice. On the palate the nose is confirmed with additional notes of minerality. It sells for a very fair price of $18 a bottle. 

My eighth tasting and sixth red wine was the 2006 Calaveras County Murgatroyd. This is a unique blend of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Mourvedre, 24% Tempranillo and 14% Grenache. It spent time in 15% new American oak 85% neutral oak.

Note: It may seem like I’ve been drinking a lot of wine, but I am only “tasting” very small portions over an hour’s time. The major challenge at this point isn’t intoxication but palate fatigue. With so many huge, intense and concentrated reds after a while it can be difficult to distinguish one from another as the previous wine still lingers in one’s nose and mouth.

On the nose and palate I picked up fresh plum and blueberry jam, raspberries, black and red cur­rants and a little vanilla extract. It sells for $24 and out of the big reds I thought it was the best priced so I brought two bottles home.

My final wine of the day was the 2006 Calaveras County Tempranillo. A blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 30% new American oak and 70% neutral oak. This wine is earthy on the nose with layers of blackberry, herbs, cloves, and cinnamon stick. On the palate the nose is confirmed with a fine balance of fruit, earth and natural acidity. I’d chalk this one up to being Twisted Oak’s second best red wine. It sells for $24 a bottle.

If you’re headed up to the foothills I highly recommend visiting Twisted Oak Winery (and Irish Vineyards near by) and if you do, tell them you read about them at California Wine Tasting Adventures and that Erik Wait sent you!

For more information:

Twisted Oak Winery
4280 Red Hill Road
Vallecito, CA 95251
(209) 736-9080

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