Miraflores Winery: The Road to El Dorado

My coworker Jenna has been recommending the Sierra Foothills non-stop since we started this project. We just hadn’t managed to make it out there, and I thought there was no way it could be as great as Jenna said.

I hereby renounce any doubts I had. Jenna, you were right. Ah, the Sierra Foothills, where the views are amazing, the wine is spectacular and the tastings are free! I had began to feel jaded about the wine tasting experience and less interested in wine, but this trip reminded me why we started this project in the first place – as an excuse to drink great wines and visit beautiful places we otherwise might not go.

Sure, "beautiful" works.

I’d mentioned that our trip to the Southern California wineries was not very thoroughly planned.  This trip was even more spontaneous; we didn’t even decide we were going to Placerville until about 24 hours before we arrived at our hotel room. We’d actually intended to go to Mendocino after our Thanksgiving dinner in San Francisco, but a three hour windy drive in the dark sounded less than optimal. We looked for a wine region that was a little closer to San Francisco and a whole lot cheaper than Napa, and poof, there the Sierra Foothills were!

How We Found Miraflores Winery

Where to start our tastings? Fortunately, The Wine Travelers have a post called “Placerville Wineries – Three not to be missed.” We figured we’d start with some of those and rely on recommendations from the people we met to get us through the rest of our trip.

Joe glowed about Miraflores Winery in his post, saying that “we found the wines here to match any wines we have tasted in all of California. Yes, that includes the Napa Valley.” It couldn’t be that good, could it?

Our Visit to Miraflores

Well, we haven’t been to Napa yet (that’s going to be our grand finale in mid-December), but we can safely say that Joe was not lying. Every aspect of Miraflores, from the stellar wine to the great tasting room staff to the incredible decor and ambiance were all top-notch.

Miraflores Winery
Vampires would hate this tasting room.

Miraflores Winery: The Experience

The tasting room setting is beautiful. It’s perched on a hill but backed by even larger hills, some full of grapevines, others still thickly wooded. There’s an air of serenity and calm that is just wonderful.

These birds let us get right up to them!

Though the tasting room is a new build, it incorporates salvaged materials and antiques from all over the world, which give a sense of tradition and permanence. Massive wood beams that were once part of the Port of San Francisco run from wall to wall.

I think these beams exceed code requirements.

The sink is an old stone horse watering trough from France. (As in a watering trough made from stone, not a trough for stone horses.) The rusted iron doors are from the gold rush period in Placerville. Architecture journalists, write this one up!

I'm guessing that's custom.

Though there were no purse hooks at the tasting bar, there was a conveniently located shelf below the bar itself, which worked just as well. The shelf also held plenty of materials to guide us to other tasting rooms.

Julie, our tasting room associate, was fantastic. She was cheerful, positive and had a thorough knowledge of the wine at hand. (She also reminded me of Christine Baranski.)

Julie and Angie of Miraflores Winery
Julie, our awesome tasting room associate, and Angie, who is also an awesome tasting room associate (but not ours).

We’d said we weren’t going to buy any wines this day, but we walked out with several. I’m experiencing the opposite of buyer’s remorse, however; I’m regretting only the fact that we didn’t take home more.

The Wines

2010 Sierra Foothills Chardonnay: The scent made me think of vanilla blossoms (I don’t know if vanilla plants actually flower, but if they did, they’d smell like this). The flavor was crisp, with notes of tangerine pith. It’s the sort of wine that would be excellent for a summer day on the porch. For those at home keeping score, this wine is Appellation #34.

2010 Sierra Foothills Pinot Grigio: It smelled of honeysuckle and berries. The taste reminded me of very dry, very good mead. I find many Pinot Grigios too acidic; this wine did not fall into that trap.

2009 Sierra Foothills Barbera: The scent reminded me of a historic library; it was oaky, leathery and cozy and made me want to curl up with a weighty tome in a leather chair by the fire. The flavor ended on a strong sour raspberry-cherry note.

2006 El Dorado Zinfandel: This had a rich flavor with just enough oak to provide structure and the sort of smoothness that comes with age. (And ding! We just hit appellation #35.)

2007 El Dorado Zinfandel: There was a commonality that ran through the two Zinfandels that wasn’t just because they were from the same grape. At the same time, this Zin was very distinct from its older sibling, from the chocolatey fruity scent to the tart astringent taste.

2005 El Dorado Syrah: I noticed that pastilles aroma I often comment about, a sort of light dusted powdered sugar scent lingering over everything. The fruit was intense, with wood running through it in a way that didn’t quite work for me; it felt more like having wood chips in the middle of my wine than having an oak backbone holding up the fruit.

2006 El Dorado Syrah: I liked this a lot more than the ’05. It was still very astringent, but the wood tones played more nicely with the fruit.

2009 El Dorado Estate Methode Ancienne: This is a wine with a fascinating story. Every year, Miraflores invites their friends to physically foot-stomp the grapes for these wines. Wild local yeast is used in the fermentation process. This smelled of wooded blackberries. Mike found notes of cocoa and raisin in the aroma, while the flavor added elements of wood smoke, cedar and pepper. Just a slight tinge of Meyer lemon added to the mystery.

2006 El Dorado Petite Syrah: The scent for this wine was incredibly rich and deep. Mike got a hint of yeast on the nose. In the flavor he got hints of pepper floating over restrained fruit, with a nicely balance tannic finish.

2009 El Dorado Petite Syrah: This had an additional cherry note to the scent. I tasted more fruit in this than I did in the ’06. Mike’s super-sniffer was reminded of cake batter, plus a faint hint of coffee. The flavor put him in mind of plums, mellow but with just a touch of brightness. The finish was warmth, grape peel and soft tannins.

2008 Muscat Canelli: It smelled of honeysuckle and apple blossoms, a crispness rather than a sickly-sweetness. It walked a fine line, sweet enough to have with a fruit plate but dry enough to be perfect with a spicy Indian meal. I keep returning to this wine in my mind, even days later; it was one of my two favorites of the day. (And yet somehow, we did not go home with it. I can’t figure out how that happened.)

Principe NV Port:  Many ports just hammer you over the head with one-note sweetness. This one, on the other hand, had many layers. I tasted caramelized plums, sweet cherries and nougat at the finish.

2008 Botricelli: I’m a sucker for a good Sauternes. This is not a Sauternes, as it’s not from the Bordeaux region of France; however, it uses the combination of Semillon grapes and botrytis to create a flavor that holds its own against the best of the noted French dessert wine. It tasted like the Platonic ideal of what a Semillon should taste like. Julie gave us a small chunk of bleu cheese to try with the wine, and it transformed the flavor of the Botricelli, adding rich caramel notes.

In summary: my socks, they were blown clean off. By the end of our tasting, Mike and I were already plotting our next trip to Placerville just so we could visit Miraflores.

But would the rest of our tastings live up to this experience? Stay tuned…