El Dorado County, a tragically obscure grape growing region east of Sacramento in California, is not an area that I would dub “Riesling Country.” Known generally as a grape that thrives in cooler climate areas (think Germany, Alsace in northern France, southern Australia, Washington State), Riesling would basically be caught dead in a frickin’ hot area like El Dorado. El Dorado, where the gold rush started… where Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and countless hot-loving Italian varieties roam. (Read more about Riesling)
But I sure love being shocked. Madrona Vineyards, who grows Riesling on their estate at more temperate elevation of 3,000 feet above the valley floor, shocked me. And a few other wine writers recently at a blind tasting.
Owners Maggie and Paul Bush’s Riesling vines have been planted since 1974, developing ample personality so that when a rare cooler California vintage like 2010 rolls along, the vineyard manager intimately knows how to tend to them. Most wineries, Madrona included, allowed long hangtime to their grapes that year to fully ripen as well as develop acids.
And develop acids it did. The 2010 Madrona (mega) Dry Riesling sings with crisp, salvacious acidity, and even a touch of fizziness on the tongue — it left my mouth tantalizingly tingly. With lemon-lime and green apple, it reminded me of Portugal’s Vinho Verde at first but then a fresh, almost tropical softness arrived, bringing soothing pineapple and peaches. Captivating and elegant like a Kate Spade handbag, this zingy little Riesling might hang with the big boys in the El Dorado ‘hood but comes out clean, steely and refreshing in the end. Complete with a low alcohol content of 13.6%, this is a very impressive effort. Shame they didn’t make more than 328 cases.
Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Occasion: A sample sent from the winery, tasted blind
Availability: On restaurant wine lists and retailers in northern California and on the Madrona Wine website
Food pairing: An appetizer wine with Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese, Thai food like Spicy Shrimp with Fennel or even Dilled Pork Stroganoff