Great Cal-Ital from Gold Rush Country: Sobon Estates

minersWhen I think of California’s Gold Rush Country, up there in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I think of crusty old miners swilling cheap liquor from a jug. I believe they were a hard-drinking lot; not the kind to be enjoying elegant Italian varietals.

So I was knocked out recently when I came across two killer Cal-Itals from Amador County. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Cal-Ital” refers to Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, or Arneis, for example) planted in California soil. It’s like an “Old World meets New World” kind of thing. Cal-Itals can be hard to find if you don’t live in California, so those of us in the hinterland are thrilled to discover good ones.

I just tasted Sobon Estates Amador County Barbera 2010 and Sobon Estates Amador County Sangiovese 2009. They made me want to play the accordion and  sing “When the moon hits-a your eye like-a that big pizza pie…”

Let’s look at the Barbera first. This grape is best known as Barbera d’Alba, produced in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy. There, it makes a medium-bodied red with low tannins, high acidity and cherry/blackberry flavors. Italian immigrants (maybe some of those gold miners?) brought Barbera to northern California, and the grape thrived in the warm, dry climate. They were so happy that the grapes did a little Tarantella!

Second-generation winemaker Paul Sobon does great things with Barbera. He’s created a wine that expresses California opulence with Italian structure and acidity. When I poured this wine, the deep purple/red, almost opaque color suggested a very extracted wine. The nose was compelling with dark berry fruit, cedar, and maybe a hint of chocolate. On the palate, intense black cherry and blackberry led the way, with some spice and tobacco elbowing their way in. Then came the kicker — the bright acidity that shouted “food wine!!”

You have to explain this concept to many Americans. Those who grew up drinking wine like a cocktail — i.e. without any food to accompany it — aren’t used to the acidity that makes European wines so great with food, and food so great with European wines. You have to force these people to grab a piece of cheese, or anything with a red sauce, and enjoy it alongside their wine. Then they have the OMG moment…

So speaking of OMG moments, let’s go to Paul Sobon’s Amador County Sangiovese. This is the grape that made Chianti famous, and you may know that Chianti is a region in Tuscany, Italy. Chianti’s reds can range from bright and fruity to bold and full-bodied, but they always have good acidity.

I opened Paul’s wine with a plate of Chicken Parmesan, and I had my own OMG moment. This Cal-Ital is more fun and fruity than the Barbera, with a bunch of soft cherry/berry fruit, spice notes and mocha adding complexity. There was a surprising richness and velvety mouth-feel — but then again, I was enjoying this with the kind of food that could tame the classic acidity. The tasting notes revealed that the winemaker added a dollop of Zinfandel and a pinch of Petite Sirah, which added more “Cal” to the Cal-Ital.

All Sobon wines are produced from sustainably farmed grapes, and the winery uses solar generated power, composting, natural pest control and other sustainable practices. That’s good — I like to be able to recommend a wine that’s environmentally friendly, as well as darn good. Cheers!



  • Share/Bookmark

Leave a Reply


Wine Accessories

Switch to our mobile site