Amador Four Fires: Ablaze With Wine & Food

Photo Credit: Ray Anderson

Photo Credit: Ray Anderson

Amador Four Fires: Ablaze With Wine & Food by: Laura Ness

Featuring wines from the four major regions that make Amador county a magnet for winegrowers and wine lovers, Amador Four Fires is a new event to celebrate the varietals of Iberia, the Rhone, Italy and “Heritage California,” which include Zinfandel, Primitivo and Mission, the stalwart pioneering grapes of California.

Amador County WineThe event, held for the first time on the first Saturday of May at the historic Plymouth Fairgrounds, was a fundraiser for the iconic facility that has seen many a rodeo, 4H competition and good old fashioned fair over its longstanding tenure.

It is one of the best places to hold a serious wine and food event, as it is replete with plentiful parking, huge shade trees, abundant seating, excellent restrooms and well provisioned buildings for seminars. About 2200 attended the inaugural, and by all accounts, it was a hair-on-fire success.

Amador County WineEach of the four regions had its own themed tent, sporting flags of the country/state being featured within. Outside each tent were fires a blazing with meats of all kinds slowly roasting and smoking, filling the air with pungent and intoxicating aromas. There was chicken, beef, lamb, pork, paella and peach cobbler, all cooked on open fires, accompanied by side dishes like lentils, potato salad Lyonnaise, polenta and tasty sauces. The chefs outdid themselves and there was food aplenty: I feel sorry for vegetarians, however.

UphillPrimitivoBottleShotwGlassMost of the area’s wineries appeared in at least three of the wine tents, so it was a stretch from a personnel perspective, but gave them multiple points of contact with visitors. It was great to taste Tempranillos and Syrahs from different producers back to back, especially when you could sample three or four producers who had sourced from the same vineyard, like Shake Ridge. Consequently, we discovered many new wines and rediscovered wineries we’d written off long ago, but have changed winemakers or owners and are now worth revisiting.

Amador Wine Highlights

Iberian Icons

2014 Drytown Cellars Verdelho: Made by the legendary Allan Kreutzer, this wine was easily the Queen of the show, voted the highest ranking wine at the pre-show vetting, and hands down brilliant, with aromas and flavors of honeydew and Tuscan melons, ripe nectarines and juicy guava.

2010 Yorba Tempranillo: Another brilliant effort from the Yorba team and Anne Kraemer’s impeccable Shake Ridge Vineyard. Great depth and intensity without heaviness.

2010 Uphill Vineyards Tempranillo: They were pouring both a 2010 and 2012, and both were around 13.5% or less. Both were good food wines, with the 2010 an acid queen of fresh cranberry and the 2012 a bit more fruit forward, with firm palate attack that would make short work of spicy paella.

Italian Stallions

2014 Uphill Vineyards Rosato de Primitivo: Pale as first dawn light, this charmer was clean as a whistle, fresh as lavender, bright as buttercups in the sunshine and simply delicious. At 12.8%, it was rose on purpose and definitely the best of the day.

2013 Terra D’Oro/Montevina Teroldego: This was probably the only Teroldego at the event, and it was a youthful, adept rendering of this inky dark fruity wine that hails from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. It’s an ancient grape supposedly related to Pinot Noir, which is no surprise, as it offers vibrant flavors of tart cherry chutney, rhubarb pie, tarragon and pine.

2012 Drytown Cellars Sangiovese: Fragrant with tart pie cherries, rose bushes and cinnamon stick, this easy to love wine bursts with flavors of cherry-strawberry gelato, cherry pie and cherry ice cream. Not sweet, just shy of mouthwatering.

Rhone Rockettes

2012 Wilderotter Roussanne: Simply a brilliant example of this oft ill-made Rhone white that tends to be waxy and overhoneyed. Not this one! Instead, it exhibited complex floral aromatics, just the right amount of stonefruit, mint and white pepper, along with a delightful mouthfeel and everlastingly pleasant finish. A true champ.

2012 Shenandoah Vineyards Carignane: Zippy, snappy, just slightly vegetal in that charmingly Carignatic way, this wine is a sucker for food, and throw in some sheep cheese, and it seems to sing.

2009 Yorba Syrah, Shake Ridge: Bouyantly blackberry, this thoroughbred of a wine has perfect rhythm and a smooth, energetic gait. Hints of sage, anise, salami and tarragon make it a memorable mountain grown Syrah.

Heritage Heroes

2012 La Chertosa Shake Ridge Zinfandel: Made by Sam Sebastiani, this was amazing in its intensity of fruit and magnificent balance. Fluid acidity and deftly wound texture made this memorable.

2012 Dillian Reserve Primitivo: Smooth, yet vibrant, classic yet edgy, this Primitivo fired on all cylinders.

2012 Fiddletown Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel: Everything you love about old vine Zin, this one is pure blackberry, boysenberry heaven, with a silky texture and eternally friendly finish that reminds you of a Golden Retriever that keeps putting his paw on your arm.

2011 Nine Gables Estate Mission: Hats off to this punchy, high acid red-fruited beauty with root veggie notes (think roasted beets and rutabaga mash) that reminded me a tad of Carignane. A solid food wine that would pair with pulled pork and tangy coleslaw.

2012 Scott Harvey 1869 Zinfandel: A party for the nose, this Zin from one of the oldest Zin vineyards in North America, planted in 1869, is hugely packed with perfume. Zingy, lovely and lithe, it’s not in any way a jam queen, but instead, a graceful sip of a long and lovely history.

Amador County WineKudos to all the chefs for the abundant array of tantalizing comestibles, with special thanks going to Carolyn Kumpe and Crystal Breazale from Slow Food Gold Country and to Chef Darius Somary of The National Hotel for their pairings with the Heritage California tent; Mark and Tracey Berkner of Taste Restaurant for the outstanding grilled lamb, lentils and potato salad Lyonnaise for pairing with the Rhones; Beth Sogaard of Beth Sogaard Catering for her seafood and chorizo paella for the Iberian tent and to Chef David Alvarez of Hotel Sutter for the off-the-hook slow spit-roasted pork accompanied by intense berry compote, crispy polenta and roasted chicken cacciatore. I’d give him the nod of “Chef of the Day,” as his food was by far the most flavorful and memorable, although the National Hotel’s filet mignon with grilled shrimp and couscous salad was PDG.

Amador County WineBig Horse & Little Cattle Ranch provided a delicious smelling all day cooking demo of open fire peach cobbler. There was a huge silent auction, beer tasting, cider sampling, olive oil tasting and a dessert tent with ports, late harvests and chocolate. Plus there was a wine booth, along with many cooking demos and excellent seminars. Pretty much a perfect event in every way and one that truly demonstrated that Amador is one hot wine property right now. Don’t miss Four Fires next May.


Laura NessLaura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at

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