Down home, country wine
The initial call to Long Creek Winery went along the lines of:
“Hi, any chance we could come over for a tasting?”
“We only do ’em on Saturday.”
“Okay, but I’m only in town today and wanted to write about the winery…”
“Only on Saturday.”
The call to Quilici Vineyards was a little more fruitful:
“Hi there, are you open for tastings today?”
“Yeah. What you got?”
Oroville, CA being my hometown, I’m used to the “folksy” approach of people in the Central Valley. Still, I have to admit that the Long Creek interaction was a bit surprising given that in this town, there are only three wineries in total and chances are, anyone reading this will not have heard of them unless they live there. While the area (about 150km north of Sacramento) had a large Italian population some time ago, it has not been well known as a wine producing area. Even still, it is part of the rather massive Sierra Foothills AVA although at some point, they want to branch off and form a smaller one.
All that background aside, we headed up to Quilici to taste what they’re making. They produce about 12,000 bottles a year from 5,000 vines and only single varietal vintages of each of the grapes they grow, which are currently: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Syrah. All the wines receive the same aging regimen of two years in American and used French oak barrels and they’re unfiltered.
Overall, everything was surprisingly good. Most of the winemakers in Oroville (there is a third one called Grey Fox Vineyards) are semi-professional. None of them come from an extensive background of winemaking, but even still, they’re producing wines that are not only just “drinkable” but actually “enjoyable”.
Out of the wines that Gary (at Quilici) is making, our favorites were probably the Zinfandel and the Syrah. Both filled out their bodies well and were all-around pleasant to drink. These aren’t terribly low alcohol wines though with the Zin at a bit over 15% and the Syrah at a whopping 16.3%. This is rather typical of grapes in this region though as the summers are intensely hot (usually between 33-40C from June through August) and so you end up with high sugar grapes.
The main problem we found with the wines comes about in the aging regimen. As they all receive the same dose of oak and are from the same field, they all have very similar noses and taste characteristics. They’re pleasing aromas, but they don’t allow the grapes to come out as much as I’d like and on some levels, I’d be interested to see what a batch of the grapes would taste like from solely stainless aging.
All of this said, they’re interesting wines that have the peculiarity of reaching their peak after 12 hours of decanting across the board. So, just keep all of this in mind if you find yourself face to face with an Oroville wine at some point and remember that it may actually be rather good despite the obscurity.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Terroir Sense Fronteres - Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache · 13% · 250EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR