Madroña Vineyards – Camino “New World Port”

Paring Port and Food

Paring wine and food, if done well, enhances the culinary experience.

Normally this is done at a wine dinner or special event where several wines are paired with several different dishes. However, Paul Bush, co-owner and winemaker at Madroña Vineyards, has come up with a different idea: celebrate a specific wine for a month, feature it in the tasting room of the winery and work with the local restaurants to pair it with a dish they create.

For the month of February a dessert wine, Madroña’s New World Port, is the featured wine and it will be followed by zinfandel in May, riesling in August and cabernet franc in November.

“The basic idea is to try and educate people about wine,” said Bush. “It is also an attempt to get people to not only try our local restaurants but to linger longer and enjoy their meals; it is the difference between eating and dining.

“I was surprised and very delighted with the response from the restaurants. They had a choice of both our 2002 and 2008 vintages. They are paring a dessert dish with one or the other or, in some cases both.”

Port (also known as Vinho do Porto and Porto) is a sweet, fortified dessert wine made from specific native Portugese grape varieties harvested from the steep mountain cliffs of the Duoro River Valley in northern Portugal.

It received its name from the seaport city of Oporto (also called Porto) at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product is brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe.

One of the many stories about the creation of port wines starts in the late 1600s when because of difficulties between England and most of the wine producing areas of Europe — usually France and Spain — they started purchasing wines from Portugal.

However, they did not travel well and often showed up at their destination spoiled. To overcome this problem, the Portugese winemakers started fortifying the wines with distilled grape spirits which stabilized the wine and solved the problem.

Another version of the story says that in the late 1600s an English wine importer sent two of his sons to the Douro Valley to look for wine. They happened upon a sweet, fortified wine being made at a monastery. They liked it and had it exported through Oporto to England.

Whichever version, if either, is correct, it doesn’t really matter, because the result was a wonderful wine.

Port wines are now intentionally fortified early in the fermentation process when they are young and strong, and still have sugars that have not been converted to alcohol. The process kills the yeast, completely stopping fermentation and raising the alcohol content to around 20 percent.

In America and other countries, wines labeled port have been made for years — in California since the Gold Rush — from any number of different grapes, some Portugese and some not. It actually became quite confusing to the consumer and did not make the port producers in Portugal happy.

In March of 2006, the United States signed the “Agreement between the United States and the European Community on Trade in Wine.” One of the provisions of this agreement covered the use of the port designation on wine produced outside of the Portugal. The law change disallows the use of the port designation on any new labels. Only those that are grand fathered may continue to use this designation on the labels.

There are more than 100 different grape varieties sanctioned for port production by the Port and Douro Wines Institute, although only five are widely cultivated and used.

There are a number of different kinds of port, but the ones usually found in the marketplace are called “normal ports,” tawny, barrel aged for over six years; ruby, barrel aged less than six years, and white port.

The Madroña New World Port is a ruby style port, made from different Portugese grape varieties, all of which are grown in the Madroña vineyards.

The 2008 vintage, for example, is made of seven of these varieties: Alvarahao, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Sousao, Bastardo, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarella. It has a alcohol content of just over 18 percent, residual sugar at 9.4 percent and a cellaring potential of 10 plus years.

El Dorado County restaurants featuring Madroña New World Port this February include:

Annabelle’s Chocolate Lounge (El Dorado) — Medley of specialty chocolates with both the 2002 and 2008 vintages.

Bricks (Placerville) — Bricklayer’s chocolate cake with the 2002 vintage.

Café Luna (Placerville) — Chocolate port puddle cake, chocolate crême brulée or chocolate truffles with both vintages.

Heyday Café (Placerville) — Chocolate decadence cake with macerated berries with both vintages.

Independent (Placerville) — Rhubard berry crisp with both vintages.

Joanie’s (Shingle Springs) — Triple layer chocolate decadence cake with the 2002 vintage.

Powell’s Steamer Company and Pub (Placerville) — Chocolate raspberry decadence cake or fromage chauffe with both vintages.

Sierra Nevada House (Coloma) — Death by chocolate with both vintages.

Snooty Frog (Cameron Park) — Chocolate mousse with the 2002 vintage.

Each day in February the Madroña Winery tasting room will be pouring one vintage of the New World Port, components of the 2011 vintage or a vertical tasting of several vintages with cheese and chocolate.

There will also be a special vertical tasting of the 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008 vintages of New World Port at Annabelle’s Chocolate Lounge in the town of El Dorado on Thursday, Feb. 9, from 5:30 until 6:30 p.m. Winemaker Paul Bush will take you through a tasting of these four vintages, with accompanying chocolates, so that you can discover the fruitness, the complexities, and ageworthiness of Port. Tickets are available at both the winery and Annabelle’s.

The 2008 vintage of Madroña’s New World port will be poured at the upcoming “A Chocolate Affair” at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 6 until 9:30 p.m. Tickets for this event, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Cameron Park/El Dorado Hills and Placerville, are available at 530-344-1476.

Madroña Vineyards is located at 2560 High Hill Road in Camino. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For more information about the restaurants, pairings and port facts call 530-644-5948 or visit

Windwalker Vineyards – Somerset

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

Ernest Hemingway




Congratulations Windwalker Winery

I have been keeping a close eye on commercial wine competition around California for the past 20 or so years. During that time more and more El Dorado County wineries have earned higher and higher awards as their quality not only increased, but stayed at those high levels.

As far back as I have been keeping track, our wineries have often scored as many high awards at the California State Fair as Napa and Sonoma, and have received a number of “Best of California Awards” for a specific varietal, the most recent being the 2007 Sangiovese from Nello Olivo Vineyards last year.

At other competitions such as the highly respected Orange County Fair, El Dorado County wines have always done well. In 2009 of the nearly 3100 wines entered, only 26 received the top award, a “4 Star Gold Medal.” Of these, two were from El Dorado County, the 2006 Fair Play, Sierra Moon Vineyards, Reserve Petite Sirah from MV Winery and the  2006 Estate Grown, Fair Play Zinfandel from Granite Springs Winery. Two out of 26 out of 3100, not bad.

Unfortunately, El Dorado County wines don’t aways get the best press outside of the county. After all, when “Two Buck Chuck” chardonnay won a big award a few years ago, it made for a more interesting story than how our wines did in a competition.

This year an El Dorado County winery, Windwalker Vineyard and Winery, may have helped prove the case to the media that our wines are as good or even better that others in California when their 2008 Shady Lady Amador County Primitivo received the coveted Best of Show Award for Red Wines at the California State Fair, a competition where 2800 wines competed. It also received 98 out of 100 points from the judges, a double gold medal, Best of Region Sierra Foothills Appellation award, Best of California award and Best of Class Sierra Foothills Appellation award.

A few newspapers and TV stations picked up the news of the award and, because of some confusion in the scoring sheets, some decided the winery was named Shady Lady and was in Amador County. Wrong! The wine is 2008 Windwalker “Shady Lady” Amador County Primitivo. The grapes came from Amador County, but that wine was made at Windwalker Vineyards and Winery on Perry Creek Road in Fair Play.

If you are wondering, a winery making wine from grapes grown other than on their own land is a common practice in the winemaking trade. Not only do El Dorado County wineries do that, a number of wineries in other regions of California use grapes grown in El Dorado County and make wonderful, world class wines. Maybe there is a varietal that just grows better somewhere else or maybe the winemaker just likes those grapes.

Congratulations James and Alanna Taff, owners of Windwalker, and winemaker Dominic Mantei for a job well done.