Keplinger La Caldera 2013
As home to California’s highest altitude vineyards, El Dorado is also one of its oldest wine growing regions. When gold miners settled here in the late 1800s, many also planted vineyards and made wine to quench its local demand.
By 1870, El Dorado County, as part of the greater Sierra Foothills growing area, was among the largest wine producers in the state, behind only Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. The local wine industry enjoyed great success until just after the turn of the century when fortune-seekers moved elsewhere and its population diminished. With Prohibition, winemaking and grape growing was totally abandoned. But some of these vines still exist today and are the treasure chest of the Sierra Foothills as we know them.
El Dorado has a diverse terrain with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, creating countless mesoclimates for its vineyards. This diversity allows success with a wide range of grapes including whites like Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as for reds, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo, Barbera and especially, Zinfandel.
Soils tend to be fine-grained volcanic rock, shale and decomposed granite. Summer days are hot but nights are cool and the area typically gets ample precipitation in the form or rain or snow in the winter.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of sweet spice, red Rhône blends originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley. Grenache, supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre typically form the base of the blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. With some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in Priorat, Washington, Australia and California.
In the Glass
The taste profile of a Rhône blend will vary according to its individual components, as each variety brings something different to the glass. Grenache is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit and a plush texture. Syrah supplies dark fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy and earthy notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume and earthy flavor as well as structure and a healthy dose of color. New World examples tend to be fruit-forward in style, while those from the Old World will often have more earth, structure and herbal components on top of ripe red and blue fruit.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. These can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes, playing equally well with beef, pork, lamb or game. Braised beef cheeks, grilled steak or sausages, roasted pork and squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the red Rhône blend—for example, in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Shiraz is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add structure, tannin and a long finish. Grenache-based blends from Priorat often include Carignan (known locally as Cariñena) and Syrah, but also international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, anything goes, and it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah make an appearance.