June 26, 2006
Tasting reds in the heat

Later that morning, I found myself wondering: Who’s goofier, the Amador Vintners – a trade group promoting the local wine industry– or me? This was the weekend when the group had scheduled “Summer Solstice Wine Daze,” a series of open houses with entertainment and food at nearly 30 wineries.

Amador County’s wine reputation rests on red wines, primarily zinfandel, sangiovese, barbera and syrah. You can enjoy one of those wines during the summer when you’re grilling something like tri-tip or burgers, but do you really want a steady diet of them when the weather forecast calls for temperatures to peak at more than 100 degrees?

Nevertheless, there we were, picking up our glasses at the old schoolhouse in the Shenandoah Valley. It wasn’t yet noon and already the temperature was 93 degrees.

A couple of wineries recognized that this wasn’t the most accommodating of weekends to taste red wines, so they came up with cool options.
The folks at Cooper Wines, for one, not only were pouring their soothingly sweet and floral orange muscat, they were serving cups of it that had been chilled into a refreshing sorbetto.

And at Vino Noceto, tasters gathered under a mammoth oak tree, where the edges of the lower branches were hung with a cooling misting system. There, owners Jim and Suzy Gullet were pouring one of the more fitting wines of the day, their 2005 Rosato di Sanviovese, a dry yet fruity rosé version of their signature varietal.

We’d actually stopped at Vino Noceto figuring they’d be pouring for sure their slightly sweet and spritzy muscat-based Frivolo, a wine that begs to be consumed on 100-degree days because of its gentle fruitiness, invigorating fizz and low alcohol (7.5 percent).

Alas, Frivolo is a big success for the Gullet family, and there isn’t enough muscat being cultivated on surrounding hills to meet demand; their 2005 version, all 300 cases, quickly sold out. Nearby grower Frank Alviso is budding over some other varieties to muscat to help them increase production, but they aren’t yet online.

On the way back to Sutter Creek, however, we found a bottle of Frivolo in a Plymouth market. Later that evening, as the day finally started to cool ever so slightly, we pulled the cork from the bottle out on the lawn and watched the stars gather. Though the day started badly with the discovery that the Chatterbox Cafe was closed, it ended just fine.

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