California Nebbiolo? Yes! Madroña and Soquel Vineyards

Barolo and Barbaresco are two of the most iconic Italian wines. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, the vines  grow in Piemonte, in the hills of northern Italy, and the wines are famous for being pale in color yet powerful on the palate. But California Nebbiolo? It’s a lot less common and a lot less known: Nebbiolo is only 1% of all of the Italian grape vines in California and Italian grapes are only 1% of the grape vines grown in California (ENOFYLZ). Nebbiolo isn’t common in its home country of Italy either. Even though it was mentioned by name centuries ago in 1266, Nebbiolo is described as a non-migrating grape because it has stayed where it was born with no other genetic relationship varieties in other areas of Italy or in other countries. In a recent webinar about Nebbiolo, I learned that its parentage is quite obscure, and in fact that they think those vines went extinct. Read more about Aldo Clerico Barolo here (paired with bagna cauda plus duck legs on polenta) and Riva Leone Barbaresco here (paired with bolognese). 

Fortunately Nebbiolo was brought to California by Italian immigrants in the 19th century. From what I’ve tasted of Nebbiolo made from grapes grown on the West Coast, it needs to leave the cradle and explore the world more! 

Menu

  • Cheese, pate, toasted hazelnuts
  • Eggplant parmesan
  • Green salad 

California Nebbiolo 

  • 2017 Madroña Nebbiolo El Dorado 
  • 2019 Soquel Vineyards Lago Lomita Nebbiolo

Madrona Nebbiolo

2017 Madroña Nebbiolo El Dorado 
ABV 14.5%
SRP $26
372 cases; wine sample for review 

Last fall, a PR person reached out to ask if I was interested in sampling some wines from El Dorado, including some rather unusual offerings which we wrote about in a series of posts. That was our introduction to Madroña, and I was thrilled when there was a followup invite to visit the region on a press trip. Impressed with their sustainability practices, quality and affordability, we submitted an entry for the winery for the next edition of Slow Wine Guide.

Located at 3000’ elevation in the Sierra foothills above Placerville, Madroña Vineyards is in the heart of Gold Country where the 2021 vintage was disrupted by the Caldor fire. From the original 32 acres, Madrona added 250 in 1993, with 35 in vine, and the rest woodland, with 10 more acres of vines in 2001. Three vineyard sites provide various soils with over 26 varietals including Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer. 

Founder Dick Bush worked as a metallurgical engineer and his wife taught school. In 1973, husband, wife, and children planted own-rooted vines on 32 acres surrounded by a diverse ecosystem including madrone trees. In 1979, they built the winery. In the 90’s, Paul Bush took over from his dad, and with wife Maggie, they grow fish friendly, organic grapes, make wine, and maintain the family values of environment, community, and education. 

Madroña Vineyards makes remarkably affordable, high quality wines with acidity, elegance, and grace for three labels: Madrona, Rucksack, and M-Series the latter which limits alcohols to 12.6 ABV. Yeast type depends on the grape and the vintage.  

From a vineyard planted in 1997, this Nebbiolo’s exotic aromas include violets, earth, spices, and raspberry delivered to the palate along with pine, plum, and plenty of tannins.

Color: Very pale, very translucent, garnet, with a copper rim. 

Aroma: Earth, violets, duff, raspberry, pine, baking spices, herbal, interesting and keeps you coming back for more. As the wine opens there is an aroma of custard. Let this hang out and develop in your glass while enjoying the changes the wine brings. 

Palate: Raspberry, pine resin, cloves, cleansing on the palate, light in body, big tannins for such a light bodied wine, watermelon rind

Pairing: OMG with our toasted hazelnuts, what a fun discovery, we were so amazed at how well the two went together. Bread and olive oil with the wine are beautiful together. I think that eggplant Parmesan is my favorite dish and if you can find a wine to go perfectly with the dish there is perfection. It is so, so good together. 

Soquel Vineyards Nebbiolo

2019 Soquel Vineyards Lago Lomita Nebbiolo
ABV 14.1% 
SRP $50 
214 cases; sample for my review 

We visited Soquel Vineyards because of this Nebbiolo which I wanted to write about for Slow Wine Guide. Unfortunately, the book ran out of room and I ran out of time to write about it as well. However, both Soquel Vineyards and Lago Lomita are sure to make the cut next year if I have anything to do with it and since I’ve ben asked to return as one of the field coordinators, well, I should think this will happen! The Lago Lomita vineyard at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains is making waves both for sustainable farming and for their stunning accommodations including a treehouse in the vineyard with views to the Pacific!

Lago Lomita treehouse

And when I do return, I look forward to sharing photos from the porch of the treehouse! 

This Nebbiolo is aged for 10 months in 100% French oak, Gamba; 50% new; 50% three years, but it is not  overly oaky in flavor. As a 2019, this wine is such a baby, and it should be lovely for another 20 years.  

Note: I’ll talk more about my visit to Soquel Vineyards in an upcoming post about their Pinot Noir paired with duck breast. Read about the Soquel Vineyard’s 2020 rose of Pinot Noir here; because of the sweeping fires in the region and the intense smoke, this may be the only wine they make from their estate fruit in this vintage.

Color: Translucent, with nice color,  raspberry with a coral rim.

Aroma: Raspberry, this wine on the nose could easily be confused with. a Pinot Noir, earthen, violets, mushroom, duff, cardamon, a wee bit of carnation, sandalwood, cedar. 

Palate: Smooth and easy to drink, wood, cedar, amber, mint and sage, chaparral, this is a baby of a wine, but opens up so nicely. The finish is so long lingering with such a lovely richness. 

Pairing: Roasted hazelnuts are a friend to this wine. We just tasted a plain roasted hazelnut with the wine and were pleasantly pleased. It was just alright with our truffle brie, but not fabulous, the finish when the two are paired works alright, but you are not wowed right away.  The pate and the wine were nice together. When the truffle brie and the pate are combined on a piece of bread it is a winner. Great with the Italian spices on our foccia. The greenness of the olive oil brings out greenness in the wine. Eggplant Parmesan went really nicely with the wine. The brightness of the tomato marinara brought out a beautiful brightness in the wine. 

Gwendolyn Alley and Paul Bargetto enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir at Soquel Vineyards in August 2021

Note: This is post #1150! And #121 for 2021!

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