On a recent visit to Amador County, my first stop was the historic Terra d’Oro. I went there honestly not knowing the significance of the place and expecting it to be the most “commercial” of my tastings that day. Luckily, I had a head start on fellow tasters that day, as I strolled into the winery at 10:30am on a Monday. I pretty much had the place to myself, which could have been awkward I suppose, if it hadn’t been for the knowledgeable staff who shared, not just wine, but stories as well.
About the Wine: Ok, I’m not going to do a whole exposé on Amador County (actually I am — but that article is T/K), but I will give you the low-down on how and why this is a historic winery.
The history of Amador County goes back to the Gold Rush days when European immigrants flocked to the Sierra Mountains to seek their shiny fortunes. What they didn’t expect was to find the fertile foothills were perfect for growing a most familiar crop — grapes. The climate in Amador is quite similar to that found in southern Europe, and those minors were basically captive consumers, so the scene and setting was perfect for producing wine.
As we know, that era didn’t last forever and, shortly thereafter, Prohibition laws kicked in. This forced the nearly 100 wineries of Amador to shut their doors. Until Napa happened. Many wine lovers are at least vaguely familiar with Napa’s rise to power in the 1970s. It was at this same time — perhaps because grape growers wanted to see what else they could grow and where else they could grow it — that Amador also had its comeback. Terra d’Oro (then under the Montevino label) was the first post-Prohibition winery in Amador. And their claim to fame — Zinfandel.
The 2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel is made from 100% Zinfandel grapes from a selection of winery-owned vineyards in Amador County. The grapes are hand picked and cold-soaked for up to three days, then move to a tank for gentle pressing. The wine is aged in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 14 months.
Flavor Profile: A royal purple is encompassed by an aura of a popper’s rouge, as if mimicking the rise and fall of California’s Gold Rush — the desert winds blowing sand over a deserted ghost town. The visual dustiness parallels the dusty earthiness on the nose, but if you swirl and sniff again, you can sense the potential this land has to offer — there’s an underlining note of greenery like the smallest buds of fresh herbs.
Take a generous sip of this wine and let it sit and settle. If Amador is known for its Mediterranean-like climate, then Terra d’Oro Zin is its cuisine. An eclectic mix of savory flavors take over the palate — black olives, mushrooms, hints of taro root. If I was to name a fruit, I’d say simply, black grapes. But then there’s this flavor that sticks with you like a thick line from beginning to end. You’ll struggle to name it, I sure did. Truffle oil. There is a distinct, thick line of truffle oil that completely ties the tasting together. With the proper food pairing, it’s this truffle element that enhances a smooth, somewhat slick texture on the tongue.
Tannins are medium-high, but are balanced perfectly with a delicate acidity and the undeniable earthiness that dominates the nose and palate.
Food Pairing: After my visit to Amador where, outside of Zinfandel, Italian wines seem to rule the land, I could not get the idea of a super saucy dish out of my head. I just started craving tomato-herby amazingness. So, I paired my 2014 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel with a fettuccine tutto mare.
Perfect pairing? I’d say so. While the wine on its own is absolutely enjoyable, pairing the 2014 Tera d’Oro Zinfandel with a sauce-induced pasta brought out a jamminess in the wine. Yes, that earthiness will remain with you — that truffle oil is not going anywhere — but you’ll be delighted with a bit more fruits (think dark fruits here like those black grapes, blackberries, maybe even a water-plumped prune or date). It’ll also open up the mouthfeel, making more room for you to bite, sip, bite or sip, bite, sip — however you like to experiment with your food and wine pairing.
More Info: I bought this wine at the winery (Price: $18). If you go, or if you’re looking to do a comparative tasting at home, I encourage you to also try the Old Vine Zinfandel from Deaver Vineyards. This vineyard, planted in 1881, is one of the original locations of Zinfandel plantings in Amador County and has contributed to the vines, as parent cuttings, of several other vineyards in the area. Basically, this is some Old Vine Zinfandel. For me, it was interesting to taste the difference between the two wines — and I have to say for 130 plus years, this Zin has aged gracefully.
Of course for more information about Terra d’Oro, their history, wines, and to purchase online, visit the Terra d’Oro website.
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