Terra d'Oro mines Zinfandels in the land of gold

Jeff Meyers makes inspired Zinfandels at Terra d'Oro in Amador County. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

Jeff Meyers, shown here at Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse in Dearborn, makes inspired Zinfandels at Terra d’Oro Winery in California’s Amador County. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

If a winemaker mirrors the personality of his wines, then Jeff Meyers, the top guy at California’s Terra d’Oro in Amador County, has to be pretty intense and complex, smart and approachable — just like his Zinfandels.

As vice-president and general manager at Terra d’Oro, Meyers makes Zinfandels that have acidity for structure, finely hewn tannins for finesse, and fruit that’s intense — not soft or jamlike. These are smart, robust Zins that wrap the palate in dark berries, white pepper, dark plums and sweet clove.

Meyers was hired straight out of enology school at UC-Davis in 1981 at Terra d’Oro, then called Montevina, and was elevated to general manager in 1986. He is known for his vineyard trials to determine how vines best perform in the county. Some would say his fingerprints are all over Amador’s Italian varietals.

“Amador Zins have a focused style,” Meyers says at our tasting at Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse in Dearborn.

“”The terroir, the structure, the aromatics are different. The shallow soils have decomposed iron in them for minerality.  This is what Amador Zins are all about,” he explains.

The term “Shenandoah spice” is commonly used to describe a quality found in Amador Zinfandels: Meyers defines it as “clove, anise, allspice — warm baking spices.”

The Terra d’Oro Winery — land of gold — belongs to the Trinchero family, creator of Sutter Home and many other labels. The winery gets its name from the California Gold Rush days because the heart of the Motherlode — the famous 120-mile-long vein of gold — was in Amador County.

The climate is different from Napa and Sonoma, Meyers says: The spring is usually long, cold and wet; the summer is hot in the daytime, cool at night, and short — it’s well-suited for Zinfandel and Sangiovese.

Terra d’Oro makes mostly Italian varietals, though after years of debate, Meyers planted Petite Sirah, which the wine club snaps up. And his eyes are on a future “GSM” — Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre — for a Rhone-style wine.

We tasted two of Terra d’Oro’s Zins — three if you count the Port — the 2010 Terra d’Oro Amador County Zinfandel, $19, and the 2010 Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel, $30.bottleAmador[1]

The Amador County Zin is Terra d’Oro’s flagship — savory, spicy, juicy fruit — blueberries, plums, white pepper and cinnamon with rounded mouthfeel and integrated tannins.

The Deaver Vineyard Zin is made off 130-plus -year-old vines planted by Italian immigrants during the Gold Rush. The grapes are from a 20-acre site with shallow, rocky soils.

Because of their age, the vines produce less fruit and the juice is highly concentrated and complex. The wine is aged 16 months in French and American oak. It’s like a baked cobbler of blueberries, plums and cinnamon. Tannins are briary and the brown cooking spice notes add more complexity. It’s a bold, beefy wine with power and restraint.

Terra d’Oro does not put “Old Vines” on the Deaver label because anybody can use it — there are no restrictions.

We tasted the 2010 Barbera, $19, which lifted the eyebrows of the restaurant’s sommelier Kat Hawkins. with its berry-cherry-cola flavors, toasty oak notes, balance and length on the finish. It was followed by a spot-on Sangiovese aged 14 months in American oak. Think raspberries, candied cherry and red currants. white pepper and brown baking spices.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio off Trinchero property in Santa Barbara where the climate is cooled by the ocean has intense varietal character with notes of pineapple, apricot, green herbs and flowers.

On the sweeter side, the 2011 Moscato, $14, is amazing with its tingly flavors in the mouth — the acidity, the richness and the subtle dryness. It’s actually made of 70 percent juice fermented dry with the remainder not fermented and added back.

The Zinfandel Port is a classic with its berried fruit, brown sugar, and dark chocolate personality.

Meyers is no stranger to Michigan. He has been visiting restaurants all over the state for many years to promote his wines.

Michigan is one of the top markets in the country for this brand — thanks to his many connections here. He knows our state like he lives here, though he regrets not setting foot on Mackinac Island, “but I sell wines there,” he says with a smile.

Where to find Terra d’Oro: Woods Fine Wine, Grosse Pointe Woods; Cost Plus Wine Warehouse, Eastern Market Detroit; Holiday Market, Royal Oak. Restaurants  include Palio and the Chop House in Ann Arbor; Ristorante Lino, Rochester Hills.

You can contact Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.