After visiting Montolivia Vineyards in Chicago Park I headed north-west on 174, a back roads scenic drive, to Nevada City to visit the Avanguardia Wines. Avanguardia Wines has two tasting locations, a tasting room in Grass Valley and at their winery in Nevada City. I wanted to see the vines and meet the owner/winemaker so I called the winery. According to their web site, if you don’t call first there might not be anybody available to pour the wines. When I arrived they were in the middle of a crush and pressing of grapes.
Avanguardia Wines is a small family business developed by Rob and Marilyn Chrisman that produces between 800 and 1,000 cases of wine per year. They moved to the high foothills of Tulare County in 1977 where Rob developed a small experimental vineyard. With degrees in Slavic Studies, he was self-taught in viticulture and oenology, but relied upon expertise in the field. He contacted University of California at Davis Foundation Plant Services and worked with them to import new varieties to the United States. According to U.C. Davis he was one of the first US vintners to import grape varieties from Italy previously unknown in the US.
In 1990, the Chrisman family moved to Nevada City, a small rural town in the sierra foothills at a 2,500 foot elevation with a population of under 4,000 people. Ten years later they established the winery focusing 100% on very unique proprietary blends many of which are made from Italian varieties.
While visiting Rob poured me a sample of the following wines, all of which were reasonably priced:
My first wine was the 2009 “Selvatico” - a proprietary Italian white blend of 50% Friulano, and various percentages of Peverella, Forastera, and Pinot Grigio. Peverella is from the Trentino area in north-central Italy and is grown in the foothills of the Alps, ideally adapting it to our Sierra Foothill environs. Forastera is an island grape in Italy and is responsible for at least half of the wine known as Ischia Bianco Superiore on the island of Ischia just south of Capri. On the nose I picked up aromas of dried peaches, apricots, orange peel and a slight tropical note. On the palate the wine is light-bodied, crisp and refreshing with a medium length finish. This wine is reasonably priced at $14 a bottle.
The second pour was the 2008 “Cristallo” - a proprietary white blend of 70% Rkatsiteli, Melon de Borgogne, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc. The dominant grape is the Georgian Rkatsiteli (pronounced “rkah-tsee-tely” which literally it means “red stem”), widely planted in eastern Europe. In Georgia, clay vessels were found with seeds of Rkatsiteli grapes which date back to 3000 B.C. Prior to the fall of the USSR, at one point was responsible for more the 18% of all Soviet wine production. This wine is REALLY unique and it is difficult to compare it with any other wine or accurately describe. On the nose it sort of has aromas of dried citrus fruit, pantone roll (like a fruit cake that you buy for Christmas), orange peel, dried flowers and a hint of nuttiness. On the palate, however, it is quite different than what you might anticipate from the nose as the nuttiness disappears and the fruit profile is more like fresh rather than dried fruits. It is medium bodied with medium acidity and it has a fairly long length. This wine was so unique that I neither liked nor disliked it as I was mostly intrigued by its enigmatic qualities. This wine sells for $14 a bottle.
The third wine was the 2008 “Due Fiori” - a proprietary white blend of 40% Semillon, 30-40% Flora, 20-25% Chenin Blanc, and the balance Orange Muscat (also known as Moscato Fior d’Arancio in Italy). The Flora grape is a cross of Gewürztraminer and Semillon made by Dr. Olmo of U.C. Davis in 1958, and the name means flower in Latin; the second flower in the wine name is the Moscato, hence the name Due Fiori (Two Flowers). As might be expected, this wine has a spicy floral nose with hints of orange peel. On the palate it is medium bodied, with medium acidity and it has a slightly creamy mouth feel with a hint of spice on the finish. This wine sells for $16 a bottle.
The fourth sample of wine was the 2011 “Cara Mia Rosato” – This is a proprietary Rosé blend. According to the web site this wine is made from Sangiovese and “other red grapes” but when I visited Rob said it was made from Tempranillo and Tannat. So, perhaps it is a blend of Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Tannat? I tasted a number of rosés over the summer and regardless of the grapes the most common characteristics are strawberries, cranberries, watermelon and sometimes they have some spice and perhaps a touch of sweetness. And this one is no different. It is a nice easy-going blush wine that sells for $16 a bottle.
The fifth wine and first red was The Lot 56 “Premiato” - a 2006/2007 vintage proprietary Italian blend of 2/3 Barbera, 1/3 Dolceto. This was my favorite wine in the line-up. It has an absolutely explosive nose of red currants, raspberries, fresh cherries, Christmas fruit cake and spice. On the palate it is fruit forward, medium bodied with supple tannins and a prolonged finish. A really nice wine for only $20, so I brought one home.
The sixth wine was the Cuvee 67 “Sangineto” - a 2006/2007 vintage “Super Tuscan” proprietary blend of 90% Sangiovese using three different clones, including the Brunello clone. The other 10% is Carmine which is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carignane. It was created by Dr. Harold Olmos, of the University of California, who designed it to be a Cabernet alternative for California’s ‘cool’ coastal regions. This wine has medium intensity aromas of black cherries, black currants and oak. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium (+) acidity and a medium length finish with more flavor on the return than on the initial attack. This wine sells for $20 a bottle.
My final wine was the 2009 “Ampio”- According to Rob this wine is 1/3 Carmine and 2/3 Refrosco. Refosco is an indigenous red variety from Friuli (NE Italy). This wine has deep violet color with the aroma and flavors of plums, black cherries, and black currants. On the palate it has medium (+) tannins, medium acidity and a slight tannic bitterness in the finish. This is not a sipping wine, it needs a steak to be thoroughly enjoyed. This wine sells for $18 a bottle
To visit or more information:
13028 Jones Bar Rd
Nevada City, CA 95959
Phone: 1-530-274-9482 Weekends, call first.
Grass Valley Tasting Room
209 West Main Street
Grass Valley, CA 95959
Phone: 1-530-274-9911 Open Daily.