There is excitement at Nello Olivo Wines around a special and very rare variety of wine grape called sagrantino.
Nello Olivo is the only vineyard in El Dorado County, and one of three in California to grow it.
This month, Nello Olivo’s first wine to include sagrantino in its blend is going to market — a 2010 Toscanello. It will be a unique addition to the blossoming El Dorado wine region’s offerings.
The local sagrantino story began in 2007 when Nello Olivo discovered the grape while on a trip to his ancestral Italian home in Todi, Umbria. Cousins in the small village of Massa Martana took Olivo to a famous wine festival in Montefalco where sagrantino is a local favorite.
Olivo immediately fell in love with the big, bold, deep red flavor of this ancient varietal and became determined to bring some home to plant in his Cameron Park vineyard.
Back in El Dorado County, Olivo quickly learned that importing foreign plants is a lengthy and complicated process and includes stringent repeated tests for unwanted viruses.
It would be expensive and, because more than one generation of plants must be tested, would take years to complete.
Fortunately for Olivo there had been some testing underway.
He learned that the University of California, Davis laboratories had some vines of an unknown variety that had been tested virus free one year earlier.
Subsequent genetic processing resulted in identifying the vines as Sagrantino de Montefalco.
Olivo purchased a few cuttings from the vines at the UC Davis nursery. These cuttings lived in the Olivo’s guest house refrigerator until planting season arrived.
A grafting expert was called in to cut back some existing merlot vines and to graft on the sagrantino cuttings. They flourished, producing material for the next year’s larger grafting.
Now 650 sagrantino plants thrive at Rancho Olivo Vineyards. This year they produced 3.5 tons of grapes, more than anticipated.
Thanks for that goes in part to Funder, a new vineyard dog now happily at work scaring off grape-loving raccoons, according to Olivo.
A 100 percent pure sagrantino wine will be released later on, but those interested can sample the Nello Olivo 2010 Toscanello at the Nello Olivo Tasting Room, 643 Bee St. in Placerville, in Sequoia’s old wine cellar. The tasting room is open Tuesday through Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sequoia’s Fall Wine Dinner on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. will feature the new Toscanello paired with an entrée of braised short ribs. Chef David Bagley has created four additional courses that will be paired with other Nello Olivo varietals.
The hors d’oeuvre of macadamia nut crusted shrimp cakes and citrus chutney will pair with the Viognier El Dorado, 2009. A smoked tomato soup pairs with Primitivo El Dorado, 2008 and the salad course of marinated mission figs, roasted red onion, goat cheese and watercress is matched with Barbera El Dorado, 2007
An intermezzo of strawberry and balsamic glaze sets up the braised short ribs and the dessert of crusted chocolate cream goes with Petite Sirah El Dorado, 2007