During the Gold Rush, when the Italian immigrants came west across the plains and through the rugged mountainous section of the Sierras they named the Desolation Wilderness, their arrival on the gently sloping foothills of Amador County must have seemed a bit like coming home to the old country. Green in the winter, and shining golden in the summer, this section of California is not unlike areas of Northern Tuscany or Piedmont.
It’s no wonder then, that in addition to settling down to prospect for gold, open up restaurants and stores, and set up family farms that some of those immigrants planted grape varieties they were familiar with, like Barbera.
Most of the Italian varietals grown in the area today don’t date from that far back (though the area does play host to more than a few century-old Zinfandel vines) but the fact that the appellation continues to be a source for excellent Italian varietals is no doubt due to the success of those early vines and winemakers.
Following on their success, Jeff Runquist Wines, named after the owner and winemaker, has been producing Sangiovese, Barbera, and Primitivo, as well as other varietals in the area since 1996. Runquist graduated from UC Davis in 1980 and immediately went to work in the industry. He has served as the winemaker for Montevina Winery in Amador County, the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery in St. Helena and The J. Lohr Winery in San Jose and Paso Robles. After some time off to receive a business degree, in the early Nineties, Jeff was handed a dream project: carte blanche to build and manage a state-of-the-art winery for McManis Family Vineyards in San Joaquin County. As part of his compensation, he is allowed to produce his own wines at the facility, which he began doing as soon as construction was complete.
This wine comes from the Dick Cooper vineyard just off of Shenandoah Schoolhouse Road. The vineyard was planted in the early 80’s by Dick Cooper who has been growing wines in the region ever since he or anyone else can remember. His family have been farmers in Amador county for generations, growing walnuts and prunes in addition to grapes. The Barbera vines in this vineyard are head trained and spur pruned, resulting in very small yields of fruit. Dick allows Runquist to select the portion of the vineyard he is to receive each fall.
The grapes for this wine were picked extremely ripe (27.6 degrees brix). Says Runquist “In hindsight, I may have pushed to ripeness envelop a bit with the 2003 wine but its stylistic identity is so in keeping with the Amador Terrior I had to deliver on it.” I don’t think he’s overdone it (the wine clocks in at 14.7% alcohol but doesn’t taste like it) but you’ll have to be the judge. It is 100% Barbera aged in 50% new American oak, 32% new French oak, and 18% neutral oak (French and American). 558 Cases produced.
A medium garnet in color, this wine has an intoxicating nose of coconut and chocolate covered cherries. In the mouth it is rich and lush with a gorgeously silky mouthfeel and primary flavors of bright cherry, black raspberry, and vanilla. The wine has a nice acidity which supports the very round fruit, and inconspicuous tannins which carry the wine to a decent finish with notes of cedar and chocolate. The word hedonistic comes to mind when drinking and thinking about this wine, and despite lacking in some complexity that would drive it higher in score, this is a wine that is nearly impossible not to love even without it being a phenomenal value, which it is.
Because of the lush fruit, I suggest pairing this wine as a contrast to something savory and salty, perhaps with an herbal component, like this rosemary garlic pork rib roast with roasted carrots and onions.
Overall Score: 9/9.5
How Much?: $18
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.