Rhône Roam #1: El Dorado AVA Wines for a #CAWineMonth Late Summer Fishy Feast with Friends and Music


When is a


not a


When it’s a wine made from a Rhône grape grown anywhere other than the Rhône region in France!

This seems obvious to me now following a webinar all about the wines of the Rhône where they made this point.

Just like the only wine you can call Champagne is from Champagne. Everything else is simply sparkling wine.

The words “sparkling wine” is an easy replacement for Champagne. But I haven’t found a reasonable term that covers those grapes we commonly associate with the Rhône Valley of France. Earlier this year I called wines from Tablas Creek “Rhône Inspired” but that’s not satisfying to me as a wine word smith.

What is satisfying? These four wines from the El Dorado AVA using grapes from the Rhône River Valley in France.

Because those of us in the US can’t really roam to the Rhône this year, we can roam the Rhône via wine– and we can sample wine made from wines that roamed from the Rhône!

Why do Rhône wines do so well in El Dorado County?

While Zinfandel was one of the earliest grapes to be widely planted, today Rhône varietals are being planted more and more in the El Dorado AVA. The northern Rhône region in France is more continental than maritime, meaning there’s less influence from the sea, and if you think about it, so is El Dorado County. The Rhône River which flows from glaciers in the Alps is an important influence there while El Dorado is flanked by two major rivers coming from high Sierra snows, the Middle Fork of the American River, and on the south by the South Fork of the Cosumnes River. With elevations from 1200-3500′, the vineyards in the El Dorado AVA are cooled by evening mountain breezes.

According to Wikipedia, “El Dorado is a sub-appellation of the 2,600,000-acre Sierra Foothills AVA — one of the largest appellations in California — which includes portions of the counties of Yuba, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa.”

Never heard of wine from El Dorado?

In the 1870s it was second only to Los Angeles County for wine production. In 1983, it was designated an AVA. Today, there’s over 2,000 acres planted in vines and 50 wineries. I visited briefly in September 2017, staying at a lovely and relaxing, rural Bed and Breakfast and visiting several wineries.

With fires raging across the west in September of 2020, unsurprisingly, there was one last week in El Dorado county but in the higher mountains. (The fire called El Dorado that erupted after a gender reveal party is not in this part of the state). Fortunately, the sloped vineyards mitigate smoke issues: dense cold air flows downslope from the Sierras and moves in under the layer of smoky air to push it out further so that it doesn’t collect at the level of the vines and the ripening grapes. So far, vineyard samples being tested for smoke taint have come back below detection levels.

Other than this concern, harvest is going well and about half of the grapes are in. Harvest typically begins later in El Dorado County than in Sonoma and Napa, but because of the cool higher elevation air, the season is longer giving the grapes extended hang-time for flavor development.  So far, yields are about average with good acids, says Lee Hodo on behalf of the El Dorado AVA:

“We tend to get more “red fruit” than “dark fruit” in our reds and as controversial as the subject is, our winemakers will always use the term minerality to describe the white wines from here.”

This week, we’ll be sharing Rhône wines that roamed to the US:

We’ve certainly been on a Rhône Roam this summer: in July we wrote about Acquiesce which specializes in white grapes from the Rhone, Go Ahead, Give In, Acquiesce To These Rhône Whites from Lodi CA then white Rhône grapes on the central coast, plus earlier this year we wrote about St Joseph’s, a famous region in the northern Rhône for Syrah.

Menu and Wines

  • 2014 Chalet Fleur de Lys Estate Viognier, LaJoie Vineyard
    paired with seared scallops with orange beurre blanc
    paired with grilled peaches and smoked trout
  • 2018  Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery Grenache
    paired with cheese and meats
  • 2017 Miraflores Estate Syrah
    paired with grilled salmon and rice
  • 2017 Miraflores Late Harvest Viognier
    paired with elderberry and blackberry gallette with cream cheese and lemon curd

My family, Sue, and I were joined in this meal by Musikaravan — a pair of violinists Etienne Gara and YuEn Kim, who are traveling the west playing in vineyards and farms.

2014 Chalet Fleur de Lys Estate Viognier, LaJoie Vineyard, El Dorado AVA
ABV 16.2%
SRP $27; Sue bought this wine on a visit

Fleur de Lys means “Flowers of the King” says Sue who visited this winery on a snowy February day a few years ago when she bought this wine.

Color: Bright daffodil yellow

Nose: Honeysuckle, tuber rose, peach nectar, nectarine

Palate: Honeysuckle, bee pollen, very nice mouth feel up front.  asian pear comes across on the finish, the high alcohol comes through a bit hot on the finish. Not very high in acid, very smooth.

Pairing: Sue decided to pair this wine with seared scallops over greens with an orange beurre blanc sauce because Viognier usually has citrus notes, but can handle a rich sweet shellfish like scallops. The salt is really nice with the wine which was able to handle the richness of the scallops. Violinist  Etienne Gara loved this meal with the wine. He felt the wine had the shoulders to handle the richness of the food. The richness of the wine works so perfectly with the rich smoked trout and  grilled fruit in the salad. The food and wine balance each other so nicely.

These two dishes– the scallops with orange beurre blanc and the trout salad with grilled peaches — and this wine make a special meal! I look forward to doing this again!


 2018  Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery Grenache, El Dorado AVA
ABV 15.2%
SRP $28; sample for my review 

For a better pandemic experience, Sierra Vista offers a picnic area with Lawn Games like Corn Hole, Jenga, Connect Four, and  coming soon, Bocce` Ball Courts and League, Horse Shoe Pits as well as an Observation Tower and a Giant Adirondack Chair.

First planted in 1972, Sierra Vista grapes are planted on their own rootstock, and not grafted, which, their website says, “produce bolder more intense flavors while also staying true to their varietal without any influence from the grafted roots. Our vines are deeply rooted in perfect soil conditions of a decomposing volcanic soil.”

Color: Ruby heading toward garnet, nicely translucent, a bit on the ruddy side.

Nose: Roses, carnation, rose geranium, cigar box, spice

Palate: Bold tannins up front, acidity, the tannins should integrate this being a 2018, cherry, raspberry, mint, pennyroyal, very nice expression, this wine will only get better with age. Fun texture, silty and clay like, velvety, very nice.

Pairing: Cheese and sausage

2017 Miraflores Estate Syrah,  El Dorado AVA
ABV 14.5%
SRP $32; sample for my review

Founded in 1998, Dr. Victor Alvarez originally planted Syrah and Zinfandel. Today the 252 acre property is planted in 16 different grapes and the winery runs on solar energy. For the tasting room, he  collected pieces from his travels all over the world, including wooden beams salvaged from the Oakland Ferry Building torn down in 1936.

Color: Deep reddish purple, very deep, very dense, like a Santa Rosa plum

Nose: Blue fruit, black pepper, baking spices, for me it is all about the blueberry, for Sue the spice. So funny how our palate goes in different directions while tasting the same bottle. Cassis, so much perfume.

Palate: Tart blueberries, there is more pepper on the nose than on the palate, but it is there, it is very nicely integrated. We both felt that this was a nice representation of Syrah. We would both recommend this wine. While this wine is nice to drink now, it can lay down even longer. The nose is rewarding and then when it comes across the palate it is equally rewarding.

Pairing: I was a non-believer thinking that a Syrah and grilled salmon would go well together, but it did! Great pairing actually! Be sure to have fresh wild salmon; farmed would not go as well.

2017 Miraflores Late Harvest Viognier, El Dorado County
ABV 13.9%
SRP $29 (split); Sample for my review

Color:  Golden orange, amber

Nose: Fruit cooked in sugar, petrol, orange blossom, orange pith. cooked citrus, marmalade on toast,

Palate: This late harvest wine is spot on. A lovely balance between orange blossom, orange pith and fresh fruit. It is not heavy in alcohol, a lovely sipper for the end of the evening. The spice on the galette, the cinnamon and nutmeg work so fantastically with the wine.

Pairing: We chose to pair this wine with an elderberry, blackberry galette with a lemon creme base and a lemon curd topping. OMG what a fabulous pairing. the lemon and the tart bright fruit love the wine.The wine is all about the orange, when paired with a lemon citrus fruit dessert, the wine pulls it to  and orangey.

Sue: “This is one of my best pairings ever!”

The lemon rind and the lemon curd with the bright tart fruit over a rich creamy base with the wine doesn’t get any better than this. Great finish to a great meal enjoyed with a violin concert from Musikaravan on the deck where we enjoyed our meal.

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