Oreana Winery un-Questionable Wine

Trader Joe’s came to the rescue once again this week with a great wine that pairs Imagewith anything. This week’s choice was Oreana Winery’s “?” Red Table Wine. The wine sells for $10 on the Oreana website, but Trader Joe’s has it for $5.99 (score!).

The first night I opened it, we were having a homemade pad Thai, and I have to admit, I have no idea what wine goes with pad Thai. However, the Oreana red worked perfectly, the somewhat peppery tannins playing well with the noodle dish.  Tonight I paired it with chicken cordon blue, and it again stood up well to the meal, this time bringing out notes of chocolate and berries. True, a real openophile would not pair a table red with a chicken dish that screams for a buttery chard, but hey, it was already open and I wanted to see how it would taste with the chicken.

This Santa Barbara wine is a silky blend of god-knows-what, created by a colossal mix-up by the winemaker. But he turned lemons into lemonade, as it were, and I thank him for that. This is a wonderful pour that will go with any dish, or stand alone.

I love when I find a hearty, dependable red that I can proudly serve to guests or just enjoy on my own while I’m playing around in the kitchen. I’ll be stocking up on Oreana ?. 

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Placer County wineries: Mt. Vernon

My freshman year in college, I met a fellow dorm-dweller named Ryan. He was from a little California town named Auburn and said that his family owned a vineyard. After graduation, he was going into the wine business with his dad… he said I thought he had to be crazy, or maybe exaggerating — there’s no wine in Auburn!

Oh, how little I knew! Ryan graduated and indeed worked the family winery with his dad. My husband’s family lives in Auburn, so over the years I’ve seen the little winery grow into a regional wine leader. Auburn now has many wineries, and one might argue that Mt. Vernon Winery was the catalyst in putting the region on the map.

Mt. Vernon Winery tasting room

A few weeks ago I went wine tasting in Auburn with a friend, and we finally tried Mt. Vernon’s — Ryan’s — wine. The tasting room is small but on gorgeous grounds in the lush Sierra Nevada foothills. We tried several wines, and I took home a bottle of Mountain Red, a blend of five grapes from the 2000 to 2002 vintages.

I opened that bottle tonight and now know why the winery has received much acclaim since its inception in the 1990s. The aroma is true-to-taste: chocolatey, oaky, a nice dose of cigar and a bright burst of fruit. The smoky, oaky taste would be overpowering if it were just a touch stronger, but Ryan and his dad worked their magic to keep the flavors in balance and present a well-crafted red that is begging to be paired with a hearty barbecued steak and mashed potatoes. I wouldn’t pair anything too spicy with this — spice would sour the smoke of the wine — but a brown-sugar barbecue sauce and a side of grilled asparagus would be Heaven with this wine.

Auburn — and Placer County — was actually one of the first wine-producing regions in California, established during the Gold Rush but abandoned during Prohibition. When Mt. Vernon burst onto the scene, it reestablished Placer County as a notable wine region. A well-mapped route links the dozen or so wineries in the region, and it’s now a viable competitor to the famous — and packed — Napa, 95 miles to the southwest.

I’ll never turn my nose up at Napa, but I might not make it that far when I can stop in Auburn along the way.

p.s. a great resource for all things Placer County wine is Carpe Vino, a delightful wine shop in downtown Auburn.

Zinopolis and leftovers

Yeah, baby! The value shopper strikes again! Tonight’s find is a 2007 Zinopolois California zin for only $10.99, on sale from $17. Not bad, eh? Didn’t I tell you a smart shopper can find great wines for $10? (and some change)

Zinopolis is one of my three favorite zins – CigarZin, 7 Deadly Zins and Zinopolis. Hey, wait a minute. Do I only like them for their names. It very well could be, actually. I love clever word play!

However, this zinfandel is much more delightful than just its name. It’s jammy without being heavy, spicy without being overpowering, and it’s just damn good. I’m always suspicious when great wines are discounted by so heavily; was 2007 a bad year for zinfandel grapes? Or did they simply have overstock they wanted to clear out of the store? I don’t know, but this is one time I’m not regretting my sale purchase and muttering “you get what you pay for.”  Ten-ninety-nine is a great price for this zin, and on a special occasion, I might even cough up the regular $17 price. (the sale was at Smith’s, a Kroger brand store)

Oh, and what wine review is complete without a food pairing? I am quite the master sommelier these days. This fine red wine paired perfectly with leftover veggie-beef chili and salad. The chili’s spice bounced well off the wine’s tannins, and the freezer burn was cooled masterfully by the wine’s fruity bouquet. A crisp green salad doused in ranch dressing brought the whole meal together. I highly recommend Zinopolis when raiding the freezer before payday.