Witch Creek Winery 2015
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.
A brooding, rustic and dark red originating from the Madiran region in Southwest, France, Tannat is named for its naturally high level of tannins.
The vines ended up in the hands of Basque settlers who are responsible for bringing the variety to Uruguay in the early 19th century—similar to Malbec’s journey to Argentina, which actually happened after Tannat’s trans-Atlantic journey, and by a Frenchman. Today the grape has become much more important in Uruguay, where it thrives in its warmer South American climate, making a wine still deep in color and bold in tannins but with riper, more forward fruit complemented by sweet autumn spice and roasting coffee aromas. Producers have more freedom here to blend the firm Tannat with softer varieties like Pinot noir or Merlot.
From its home in Madiran, Tannat produces bold, inky and granular wines, concentrated in black and blue fruit with aromas of wet earth, dried herbs and graphite. They’re often composed of 100% Tannat but the law allows no less than 60%; the remainder of the blend can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and an indigenous grape called Fer.
Try Tannat with a big juicy steak, a rich Pasta Bolognese or any strong cheese.