Most so-called Cal-Italia wineries only make a select few Italian varietal wines; mostly Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and perhaps Barbera. But there are a few, however, that go the extra mile and produce a limited supply of other not-so-well-known Italian wines.
In search of a winery that produces unique Italian varietals this past weekend I traveled to the Sierra Vintners Wine Trail and the Placer County Wine Trail, two wine countries I had never visited. They’re located North-East of Sacramento and about 2.5 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.
My first stop was to Montolivia Vineyards located at an elevation of 2,300 feet in the pine tree covered hill country of Chicago Park near the town of Auburn. The winery isn’t in a “wine country” surrounded by neighboring wineries but a bit remote in a rural community. But it is definitely worth the drive!
Montolivia Vineyards specializes in producing Italian varietals such as Aglianico, Barbera, Dolcetto, Negroamaro, Pinot Grigio, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Teroldego as well as unique Italian blends. They’re a small family owned winery that produces only around 1,500 to 2,500 cases a year - that means they only produce around 200 cases of some of these varietals.
Montoliva Vineyard and Winery is located in the foothill community of Chicago Park, just below Grass Valley. When you visit more than likely the winemaker Mark Henry will be the one to pour the wines. He is extremely hospitable and informative so if you want to learn more about Italian varietals, this is the place to go! The winery is adjacent to his home, and his tasting room and patio looks out over his vineyard and neighboring farmland.
Mark began his beverage making career as a Brewmeister in Seattle in the 1990s. He later ventured into wine making with a desire to focus on Tuscan-oriented Italian wines, especially Sangiovese, in the old world style.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
My first wine was the 2011 Pinot Grigio – San Juan Ridge, Jack Rabbit Vineyards. Made from organically grown grapes, from fourteen year old vines. The vineyard is located in the North San Juan region of Nevada County, at 3,200 feet elevation. On the I picked up peaches and apricots and on the palate it has medium body, medium (+) acidity and a refreshing prolonged finish. A really nice wine for only $15.
The first red wine was the 2008 Aglianico – Sierra Foothills. There are VERY few wineries in California (such as Domenico) that produce this wine and some that do get their grapes from the same source. This wine displays red fruits, especially cranberries, and on the palate it has supple but firm tannins and medium (+) acidity. Mark only produced 60 cases of this wine and it wine sells for $24 a bottle.
The third pour was the 2008 Primativo – Sierra Foothills. Originating from Puglia Italy, it is a closely related cousin to Zinfandel so it has a lot of similarities to Zin and yet there are some very distinctive Italian qualities about it as well. This is a well-balanced wine with raspberries and spice on the nose, it is fruit driven but not overly jammy. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.
The fourth sample of wine was the 2009 “Sierra Bella” a proprietary blend of Sangiovese, Teroldego, Dolcetto, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera. This wine has a complex expressive nose of red and black berries with underlying earth tones. On the palate it has medium tannins and acidity and a pleasing finish. A really nice wine for only $15, so I brought one home.
The fifth pour was the 2009 Dolcetto – Sierra Foothills. The grapes for this wine come from the Due Vigna Vineyard in Georgetown. There aren’t very many wineries that produce this varietal whose name means “little sweet one.” But don’t let the name fool you, it isn’t a sweet wine but rather it is a wine that tends to be softer in tannins and easier to drink which makes is more approachable when it is young. The wine has a bouquet of blackberries, cherries, spice and sweet oak. On the palate it has soft and supple tannins and medium acidity. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.
The sixth sample of wine was the 2009 Barbera – Sierra Foothills. The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Viani Vineyard on Pilot Hill in Placer County. The wine exudes aromas of intense blackberries and black licorice. On the palate it has just a touch of sweetness giving it a delicious factor. This wine sells for $24 a bottle and I brought one home.
The seventh wine was the 2007 Sangiovese, The grapes for this wine come from Montoliva’s estate vineyard and the nearby Clavey Vineyard. This wine is darker and earthier than most Sangioveses I have tasted in the past and very old world in style. On the nose it has aromas of black cherries, dried tobacco leaves, dark chocolate and on the palate it has medium (+) tannins and acidity. This wine sells for $17 a bottle.
The eighth pour was the 2007 “Sinistra” a proprietary “Super Tuscan” blend of 35% Sangiovese, 35% Teroldego, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Aglianico. This wine is rich and opulent withlayers of red and black fruits, black cherries, currants, medium (+) tannins and acidity. Only 40 cases of this wine were produced. This wine sells for $30 a bottle and I brought a bottle home.
The ninth sample was the 2007 Teroldego, There are VERY few wineries in Italy that produce this wine and far fewer in California. In Italy, there is approximately 900 acres of Teroldego grown, almost grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy. In California there are about 100 acres grown. The wine is deep color ruby in color, has aromas of blackberries, a hint of spice, vivacious acidity and moderate tannin and. is somewhat similar to Zinfandel. This wine sells for $24 a bottle and I brought one home.
My final wine was the 2010 Late Harvest Barbera. This is sweet without being syrupy and has aromas intense and concentrated aromas and flavors of blackberry and boysenberry sorbet. This wine sells for $16.00 per 375ml bottle.
To visit or more information:
Montoliva Vineyards and Winery
15629 Mount Olive Road
Grass Valley, CA 95945