Wineaux: Wines to drink while waiting for Il Papa

By From page A7 | October 03, 2013

The new pope’s penchant for cold calling has encouraged me to wonder every time my phone rings if it might be Francis I on the other end.

He could, for instance, be calling to congratulate me on my recent marriage to a Pope or to thank me for the many enthusiastic words in the last few columns about Italian wines.

As the weeks go on, though, and the callers turn out to be machines alerting me to mortgage deals or utility bills, my hopes are fading. Perhaps it’s time to leave the Italian beauties alone for a while and write about local wines again.

And what could be more local than Route 3 Wines, located on County Road 95 with a tasting room at RootStock in Winters? Route 3 is a relatively recent addition to the Yolano region wine scene. The first vineyards were planted in 1988 by Joe Muller & Sons in what is now the Dunnigan Hills AVA. Eventually expanding to 270 acres of grapes, the Muller family started Route 3 Wines in 2007.

All of the grapes for their own wines come from the historic Hucke Ranch, named after the family who first owned and farmed the land. The Mullers named their winery Route 3 after the original rural postal route, liking “ the symbolism of the connection to our history and our commitment to the future of our farming.”

Route 3 makes nearly a dozen wines, and at RootStock you can taste whatever’s currently available. I had a chance to try four of them last week — the 2012 GdT, the 2010 Dry Rosé, the 2011 Grenache and the 2010 Merlot — and liked them all. My favorite was also the most expensive, the grenache, which retails for $18.50. Clean, spicy and herby, this wine is made from grapes grown on a hillside vineyard overlooking a pond surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

Learning that, I began to detect a trace of eucalyptus in the wine itself — perhaps only the power of suggestion, but nice nonetheless. Very versatile, this garnet-colored wine will pair well with all manner of early fall dishes, say a dish of butternut squash ravioli or a mushroom risotto.

The Route 3 Merlot is big and bright without being correspondingly high in alcohol (13.5 percent). Its berry and cherry flavors and mild tannins worked very well with my gnocci in sage-butter sauce, and it would also stand up to a steak or a lamb stew. I poured it for a couple of people who said they usually don’t drink merlot, and they liked it, too.

Less expensive ($12.50) and very low in alcohol (11.4 percent), the GdT is a delightful white. I’m not fond of the name, which sounds to me a bit like a pesticide (hardly doing justice to Route 3 Wine’s commitment to sustainable agriculture) but is actually short for Greco di Tufo, a native grape of Italy’s Campania. It’s also the name of the region that produces very prestigious whites from this grape and so “Greco di Tufo” is off-limits as a name for any wine produced outside of it, hence the “GdT.”

The grape is thought to have been brought to Italy by the Greeks (which explains the “Greco”), and “Tufo” refers to the type of rock on which one of the wine-producing villages (also “Tufo”) is built.

Confusing enough?

Fewer than 100 acres of Greco di Tufo are planted in California, so if you’re looking for an unusual wine gift, this bright, crisp, dry white with flavors of peach, citrus and honey would be perfect. Like the Grenache, it’s extremely food-friendly — it works well with all sorts of appetizers and cheeses as well as seafood and chicken dishes. I also like it on its own. It’s good chilled, but as it warms you get more of the nice mineral flavors.

You can buy Route 3 wine at Nugget and the Davis Food Co-op, as well as at RootStock, and you can order it at restaurants like The Porch and Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento and, in Davis, Monticello Seasonal Cuisine.

Greco di Tufo, even in its Californian incarnation, brings me back to the subject of Italian wines. I don’t want to ignore them completely — just in case Pope Francis is perusing today’s Enterprise. I’ve bought three wines from Italy recently — all $10 or under — at Nugget. One, the Santa Cristina Toscana, is on sale for just $6, and I hoped to like it enough to buy a case. I didn’t. It seemed kind of dull and oaky. The other two, though, have been quite excellent accompaniments to the fall fare I’ve just started cooking and eating, like winter squash lasagne.

The first is the Valle Reale Vigne Nuove 2011 — a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It’s a lively, youthful, medium-bodied red with lots of berry and cherry notes and tastes like the sort of wine you’d be served in a Roman trattoria. Just the thing to go with a good, hearty red sauce.

The second is the 2008 Cacciata Toscana from the Chianti Classico region. A blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cab, it’s very soft and silky. It doesn’t taste nearly so Italian as the Vigne Nuove — it’s a bolder wine, more in the California style, with some nice spice. Just a tad too much oak, but as you know, I’m on an anti-oak kick right now, so I suspect most folks would disagree.

In any case, it’s quite a drinkable wine and has the added attraction of a label with a beautiful etching of a wild boar ( “cacciata”). Why this animal? The wild boar will, apparently, only eat grapes when they’re perfectly ripe, so winemakers can follow their lead at harvest time. But the name is appropriate for another reason: the wine would go nicely with wild boar or other gamey meat.

Have you tried it, Papa Francesco? Let’s talk.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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