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Under The Radar California Wines

On a recent visit to Sacramento we visited with Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers. Darrell is the driving force behind Corti Brothers. Corti Brothers is a grocery store, but not like any other. Darrell has spent his life traveling the world finding the finest in foods, spirits, and wine. He is certainly one of the most knowledgeable persons in the world on these subjects. Shopping at Corti Brothers is like going on a treasure hunt with treasures lurking in every nook and cranny. If you’re in the Sacramento area I highly recommend that you visit the Corti Brothers store and you can also visit online @ CortiBros.biz. Be sure to get on the mailing list to get Darrell’s newsletter. Always an interesting read, it is filled with information and offers a wide variety of wine and spirits and foods for sale.

I asked Darrell to select a number of wines that he had in stock. Darrell specializes in wines that are produced in the area around Sacramento which is a relatively unknown wine producing region in California. I was looking for unusual varieties and/or wines and we wound up with a varied selection of wine types and wine regions. Darrell prefers balanced wines that are not excessively alcoholic or extracted. In fact, he famously proclaimed some time ago that he would buy no table wines over 14.5% alcohol for his store. And over the last few years, he has made very few exceptions to this rule.

Following are notes on these “under the radar” California wines along with some background information. Be adventurous. Probably most of these wines you’ve never heard of but, without question, there are many that are worthy of your attention.

Ehrhardt Estates
The Ehrhardt family were very early settlers in the Sacramento River Delta. In 1902 they sold some of their best acreage to John Herzog. In 1960, John Herzog’s grandson’s planted the first vineyards in the Clarksburg appellation. The winery was established in 2002 and specializes in the production of Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc which are two varietals that do especially well in this appellation.

Ehrhardt Estates 2003 Petite Sirah Clarksburg
This Petite Sirah is very dark in color with a jammy, blackberry perfume tinged with vanilla and spice. Rich and full with spicy, vanilla tinged, jammy blackberry fruit, the wine is quite tannic and requires some time to soften — Recommended Plus. $21.99  1-n-half-yellow-stars

Ehrhardt Estates 2001 Chenin Blanc Clarksburg
Golden in color, this is a delicious Chenin Blanc in an off-dry style. It has a honied, spicy, hazelnut-tinged perfume and similar flavors on the palate with balanced sweetness – Outstanding. $9.99 Best Buy 3-yellow-stars

Sunseri Wine Company New Clairvaux Vineyard Tehama County

Located at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, this winery is run by a community of Cistercian Monks (Trappists)  in Vina, California, the site of Leland Stanford’s great Vina ranch. Father Paul Mark Schwan, Abbot, and Aimee Sunseri, fifth-generation California winemaker, have combined vision and passion for wine and history and are making gorgeous wines.

Sunseri Wine Company 2007 Petite Sirah Poor Souls Block New Clairvaux Vineyard Tehama County
This is a really nice, balanced Petite Sirah.  Dark in color, it has a deep grapy, blackberry perfume with spicy, vanilla nuances. There is lots of spicy vanilla-tinged blackberry fruit wrapped around the soft underlying tannin. Flavorful and drinkable now, it should develop further with additional bottle age — Highly Recommended Plus. $17.99  2-n-half-yellow-stars

Sunseri Wine Company 2005 Abbot’s Reserve
The Abbot’s Reserve is made in honor of father Thomas X. Davis, Abbot of New Clairvaux, who led the community for 36 years. This 2005 was made from 48% Petite Sirah from St. James Vineyard in Vina and 52% Cabernet from Napa. It is a gorgeous wine with a dark color and a deep, complex plummy, faintly smoky, spicy, cedary, earthy perfume with just a touch of mint. There are similar flavors on the palate with a lush, balanced roundness and a long finish — Outstanding.  $35.99 3-yellow-stars

LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards
The Langes are a fifth generation farming family. During the 1870s, the Langes’ great-grandparents emigrated from Germany to Lodi. The family acquired their first grape ranch in 1916. Today the winery and vineyards are run by twins Randy and Brad Lange. This wine is 65% Petite Sirah and 35% Petit Verdot. Some of the Petit Verdot for this wine came from the winery’s River Ranch Vineyard in Acampo, California. The combination of these two grape varieties makes for an intensely fruity and balanced wine.

LangeTwins 2008 Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot Lodi

Dark in color, it has a deep perfume of olalliberry and cassis with vanilla tinges. Soft and rounded with intense olalliberry and cassis flavors, this is a big wine, but not heavy. It is terrific now but will probably age beautifully. Bravo! — Outstanding. $14.99 Best Buy 3-yellow-stars

Bogle Vineyards

Six generations of the Bogle family have been involved in farming.  In 1968, Warren and Christopher Bogle planted the first 20 acres of vines in Clarksburg, California.  Today, Bogle Vineyards farms over 1,200 acres of wine grapes in the Delta region and produces a large selection of value brand wines.

Bogle Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel Old Vine California

This is an intensely fruity, jammy Zinfandel at an inexpensive price. It is deep in color with a jammy blackberry fruit perfume and similar flavors on the palate with briary, spicy nuances. Soft and rounded this is a wine for early consumption – Recommended. $9.99  1-yellow-star

Cameron Hughes Wines

Cameron Hughes is an international negociant who partners with wineries around the world for premium wines to sell at affordable prices, The Flying Winemaker is one of his brands. This is a terrific Zinfandel at a very affordable price.

Cameron Hughes 2007 Zinfandel Flying Winemaker Ancient Vines Lodi

Dark in color, the wine has a gorgeous briary, blackberry perfume with hints of spice and vanilla. With lots of rich, supple blackberry fruit, it shows spice and vanilla as well and is delicious now – Highly Recommended Plus. $11.99 Best Buy  2-n-half-yellow-stars

Van Ruiten Family Vineyards

Dutch immigrant, John Van Ruiten settled in Lodi and bought his first vineyard in the 1950s, The family farmed the vineyards for some 50 years and sold the grapes to others. In 1999, they produced their first wine. Today, three generations of the family work together to manage the winery and close to 1,000 acres of vineyard.


Van Ruiten Family Vineyards 2005 Carignane Ancient Vine Reserve James Ranch Vineyard Lodi

This is a lovely lighter-styled wine with a relatively low 12% alcohol. It has a nice color with an amber edge and a lovely spicy, berry perfume. Soft and rounded on the palate, it has spicy, berry flavors with a faintly smoky, earthy nuance. This is a lovely wine for early consumption – Highly Recommended.  $26.99  2-yellow-stars

Onus Wines

Since 1904 the Peterson Family has farmed vineyards northwest of Lodi, California. The name Onus means “A responsibility that involves considerable difficulty or necessitates  rather strenuous effort.” This wine represents four generations of experience and commitment to the vine. Produced in a limited quantity of 400 cases it is very impressive.

Onus 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi Appellation

Very dark in color with a deep perfume of cedar, spice, cassis and olalliberry, the wine is very rich, lush, and supple. It has tremendous olallieberry, cassis-like fruit tinged with cedar that is balanced by soft tannins. This is a terrific “under the radar” Cabernet – Outstanding. $26.99 3-yellow-stars

Jeff Runquist Wines

This Amador County Winery produces 14 limited production varietals. The two wines reviewed here are very impressive.

Jeff Runquist Wines 2008 Zinfandel “Z” Massoni Ranch Amador County

Made from century old vines, this is a delicious Zinfandel. Dark in color it has a stunning perfume of blackberry and spice with a briary nuance. Brimming with blackberry fruit and showing briary, spicy nuances, it is intensely flavorful and beautifully balanced – Outstanding. $25.99 3-yellow-stars

Jeff Runquist 2008 Petite Sirah Salman Vineyard Clarksburg

This is a very rich Petite Sirah with a very dark color and a deep spicy, blackberry perfume. It has lots of rich blackberry fruit tinged with vanilla and spice and is tannic on the finish. It will benefit from some additional age – Highly Recommended. $27.99 2-yellow-stars


This small family winery was founded by Dennis and Peter Hoey. It is located in Santa Cruz. The first wine was produced in 2005. The grapes for this Grenache came from the Alta Mesa area of Sacramento.

Odonata 2008 Grenache Alta Mesa

With a nice amber tinged color, there is a lovely, spicy berry perfume followed by a rounded, raspberry fruit flavor tinged with spice. Balanced and very tasty, this is a lovely wine with early appeal – Highly Recommended.  $22.99 2-yellow-stars

Odonata 2007 Malbec St. Olof Vineyard North Coast

Dark in color, this Malbec shows a faintly earthy and smoky perfume with blackberry fruit. It is flavorful with spicy blackberry fruit and a tannic finish – Recommended. $27.99 1-yellow-star

Watts Winery

The Watts family has been growing grapes for four generations.  Their vineyards enjoy a special microclimate near the Mokelumne River in the Lodi area.  They made their first wine in 1999, an Old Vine Zinfandel.  The Dos Amores is a Bordeaux blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 35% Cabernet Franc.


Watts 2003 Dos Amores Lodi

Very dark in color, it has a deep perfume of cassis, berry, spice and vanilla. On the palate, it has lots of berry fruit tinged with spice and vanilla and a faint peppery nuance. There is lots of structure underneath the fruit and the finish is long with some tannin. It would be best to give this one some additional age – Highly Recommended.  $22.49 2-yellow-stars

Nello Olivo

Nello Olivo wines are produced by Rancho Olivo Vineyards which grow old world varietals in the Sierra Foothills of California.  Quantities are very small with less than 100 cases of each varietal made annually.

Nello Olivo 2006 Sangiovese El Dorado County

This is a nice crisp, fruity wine with early appeal. It has a nice color and a lovely berry, cherry perfume. On the palate, there is bright cherry fruit with good backbone, and a crisp finish – Recommended. $19.99 1-yellow-star


Nello Olivo 2006 Barbera El Dorado County

With a deep color, this Barbera has a nice woodsy perfume with a hint of spice, It is flavorful and rounded with berry fruit and balanced tannin – Recommended. $23.69 1-yellow-star