Penman Springs

The small family owned and operated Penman Springs is one of the last wineries still offering a complimentary tasting of their wines as long as you buy something. And buying something there is not difficult. Deciding which ones of the well-crafted wines to buy takes a bit of time but sip their wines on their inviting patio just outside their tasting room and savor the views of colorful vines in every direction on their 40-acre property.

They began with a white table wine called Dry Humour, letting you know it is not a sweet wine, although Alsatian in style. Instead, its soft pear flavor and thick lemon curd mouthfeel have bright acidity that’s refreshing and easy to serve with any cuisine. Then, a slightly sweet Ozzie has more tart acidity with flavors of apricot and orange blossoms with a slight fizz that wakes up your taste buds. Then, a rose of Petite Sirah and Syrah grapes has a big bold round structure of strawberry and mixed berries with an exhilarating burst of watermelon.

But I revered the reds for their character. A mix of spices on the nose of their Merlot was inviting but its bright acidity, silky tannins, and tart cherry with a hint of plum rounded out the experience. One of the last few Cabernet Sauvignon’s below twenty bucks a bottle had a nice plush leather feeling with a good balance of black cherry fruit and spices, which is probably why it won Best In Class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. But they finished the flight with a favorite for its lengthy cocoa and blueberry finish. Their Petite Sirah had the rich dark body of ripe plum and layers of spice with tannins that were softened by this region’s terroir (sun, soil, and surroundings). This wine showed off the potential of this grape in this region and was a wonderful representation of a velvety luscious red for your favorite meaty meal.

LDT Pinot Noir

If you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably all Pinot’ed out. Sales for this historically mediocre grape leaped so fast and so high over a decade ago that haven’t settled down since. So, restaurants have filled their wine lists with this pale weak juice just to meet the stupefying demand.

Well, LDT doesn’t do anything weak and the proof is in their Pinot Noir. They blend grapes from Santa Lucia Highlands and Russian River to create a dark plum black cherry flavor with plenty of green herbs like sage and layers of spices. The first sniff makes you think of a roaring fire yet the beautiful balance of vibrant acidity and hearty warmth coax you to stop, sit, and savor. This wine dresses up any hearty feast but can still be the playful part of any picnic. It is a welcome reminder of the full potential of Pinot but priced to take business away from the rest.


Open in a new modern industrial tasting room a few doors down from Il Cortile, Symbiosis Wines pours “the Grenachiest Grenache” and other luscious hand crafted wines. Their Tempranillo has many layers of vibrant acidity with big full plum and licorice flavors that open like a flower and remain robust for days longer than most wines. We’ve tested. This is probably because they are currently pouring older vintages like 2010 due to longer cellar aging.

The winemaker, Glenna, would be proud to tell you why she believes in aging wines longer. They are open late so you can stop by before dinner or sip while you’re waiting for a table. Get the scoop on these luscious wines and other green wine making practices directly from the winemaker as she pours every tasting. Isn’t that why you visit wine country?!

Gary Kramer Guitar Cellars

Sounds like a unique blend but the sultry sounds of a strumming guitar do pair nicely with a relaxing springtime sipper like Albarino. Theirs is a strong vibrant white wine with flavors and richness that match creme brulee with lemon curd and a hint of early banana peel. In Gary Kramer’s tasting room, it is more like a guitar museum where you can lounge in the presence of famed and fancy guitars with their big bold Tempranillo. This red is so full of ripe plum, dark cherry, and toasted vanilla that it may make you want to walk to the square for a plate of succulent short ribs or steak but that’s what a good Tempranillo is supposed to do. Enjoy!



A family business can mean many different things. In most cases, it means a family started the business and hired others as the business grew. But they still call themselves a family business because the same family owns it. Even when a large company buys a winery, they still call themselves a family business, saying it’s just owned by a different family now. PFFFT. Rasmussen Vineyards & Winery is an actual family business, owned and operated by the members in their family.

Still that’s not the reason you should visit this tasting room. The reason to go is that supporting your local family farmers has never been more delicious. They will pour one luscious balanced wine after another. Their entire flight of wines to taste were all well-crafted each in a way that elevated the grape’s qualities.

You finish the flight with one of the most uniquely different dessertees. If you like the Thin Mint cookies from Girl Scouts, try their late harvest Merlot. It has an addictive chocolate eucalyptus character. No tasting fee! No phone either… this is not their day job.

B & E Vineyard

If you’re going to venture off the beaten path, and you know you should, why not experience the wines made by a true country girl. Patti Bello, the owner and winemaker at B & E Vineyard is not only a cowgirl with cutting skills, she is an expert at cultivating balanced yet complex flavors in red wines.

Bordeaux varietals show off their vibrant flavors at this “Tasting Saloon” in the middle of rolling hills that feed their vines. A ’13 Merlot had bright cherry flavors with light berry influence. No overripe fruit here! The ’13 Rhythm blend has lush cherry, silky tannins, and lots of vanilla and spice integrated. Their ’13 Cabernet Sauvignon is a lovely wine with a deep dark cherry body and soft supple tannins that lead to a long velvet finish.

Other tasting room guests traveled from Santa Barbara just for a bottle of their ’09 Merlot, which was sold out, naturally. So, Patti opened an ’09 Rhythm blend, which contains some of this popular ’09 Merlot and it was as thick and rich as chocolate milk. Decadent rich plum and lush cherry flavors in this wine made it a great finish.

But that was not the final finish. A fortified Que Sera has the delightful richness to finish a feast yet no heavy sweetness. Not sure how they do that but this dessert wine is a find!

De Bortoli

It’s easy to drink locally. Supporting small businesses in your area can make you feel tremendous pride. But, being well traveled can make you appreciate likewise well traveled wines. De Bortoli produces an estate grown Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley in Australia that would even make you spoiled Californians enjoy this bounty and its luscious fruit.

This wine’s vivacious acidity is what you first notice and that’s enough to pair with your favorite seafood, spicy, and succulent side dishes. Yet, the slight minerality and layers of citrus with thick yet crisp pineapple make it bold enough for a rich risotto or the only wine that can take you through several courses.

Nello Olivo

Next time you are in El Dorado County or on your way to and from Tahoe, check out Nello Olivo for “the best Italian wines under the California sun” in an equally regal tasting room. Just 8 miles from Sutter Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848, you can make a few enriching discoveries of your own. A tasting room in Sequoia’s Historic Wine Cellar appears to be designed for wine with thick natural rock walls and a stone floor. You feel like you’re tasting in a wine cave.

Their wines are even more delightful. Many Italian varietals are featured with local favorites like Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their styles are befitting of each individual varietal. A Sangiovese has bright vibrant red fruit that makes you quickly return for another taste and each mouthful hits your palate differently as it evolves. A Merlot has a really nice balance of crisp acidity with a big bold red body. But the succulent and elegant Super Tuscan Style will be the one you want to take home for an equally succulent meal or sipping by a roaring fire. It gets its balance of ripe red acidity from Sangiovese with deep dark plum and blueberry from Barbera and Petite Sirah. Finally, a backbone with tremendous elegance and complexity with an array of spices are probably the result of the famed Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Serve this with your most elegant super supper.

Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery

A visit to Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery is an experience for the palate as well as the heart. While you enjoy these fine wines of strength and character, your soul is nourished by a heartwarming story of the family rescuing and attending to airmen who parachuted out of their B-26 Marauder when it crashed 200 yards from the family home in 1956. Pieces of the plane are on display in the tasting room and the family tells stories of how they were able to reunite 2 of the crash survivors who took different paths in the military and had not spoken for 53 years. Their stories are best on their website but a blend called The Crash commemorates the event.

Their flight begins with a nice crisp Viognier that grabs you in the back of your mouth. Lively apricot and pineapple that are succulently ripe make this wine easy to pair with spicy summer salads, Thai, and Indian dishes. The Crash has aromas of bell pepper, eucalyptus, and red cherry that continue on the palate. Layers of cherry, berry, and spice unfold as you swirl. They finish with a Petite Sirah that wows with lots of pepper and a hint of cocoa as you approach it. Bright blueberry flavors swirl in your mouth while spice and structure balance it. This is one elegant wine!


Our affections for Italians never fades and now we have a new favorite in Paso. Pelletiere is not only making some distinctive California wines using famed Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Lagrein, they’re doing it with such style and elegance, you’ll want to return.

Their Viognier starts with lively apricot and pineapple joined by a bit of white pepper and soft vanilla. Then, it finishes long with a nice thick body. Their rose of Sangiovese, Viognier, and Syrah has a vibrant blend of fruit flavors with a succulent body that can star at any picnic.

Their reds are full of character and an array or layers. A Sangiovese has wonderful waves of spice that meet you at different flavor pockets and play up all the flavors in any feast. Big berry on the nose and a crimson tide of flavors that evolve in your glass, tell you this is miles above your standard pizza wine. A hint of blue fruit and vanilla make you reminisce. Finally, you may want to save a varietal like Lagrein for cult followers but this one impresses all palates. This softly bruiting powerhouse is known for its tannins and acidity but neither overwhelms because they are balanced beautifully. Instead, what you feel is its blackberry, pomegranate, and blueberry bounty with a slight coffee taste on the long finish as you admire its deep purple.