The Sierra foothills, with Tuscan, Spanish and south of France similarities, is becoming a premier region doing a lot of experimenting with grape types commonly found in Europe's lesser known regions.
For instance, vermentino is a grape and wine common to Italy's Island of Sardinia and to a lesser extent in Tuscany, but here it was at last week's Sierra foothill wine judging competition with entries from two Calaveras wineries.
Another Italian grape that showed up was aglianico, a dark red found near Naples in Italy.
While the entrée was from Amador County, I know of several foothill vineyards experimenting with this grape that will release their first vintages next year.
There are several vineyards in both the foothills and Lodi regions experimenting with albarino and verdelho, two common white wine grapes found in Spain and Portugal, respectively. The California versions are in limited production in most cases and some can be found at only the wineries.
All of the above wines show similarities to their European counterparts but are distinctively Californian with clean fruit flavors.
Experiment with tasting one from its home country alongside one of our local entries for an informative opportunity to see the differences.
Indian Rock 2006 Vermentino
Making less than 100 cases, this Calaveras County winery near Murphys has made its first release. The Indian Rock 2006 is a pleasant and crisp white with lemon and pineapple characteristics that makes it a good seafood or fish wine. Try it with fried calamari. Only available at the winery. About $18.
Montevina 2006 Aglianico
Montevina has been one of the Sierra foothills' biggest advocates of Italian varietals and has made an aglianico for several years. The 2006 is a red with plenty of spice and a coffee component. A good pizza wine. About $18.
Bokisch 2006 Albarino
This Lodi winery has been experimenting with a number of Spanish varietals, and its albarino is a good example. Pear aromas are followed by tropical fruit flavors. Not as crisp as the Spanish counterpart but shows a nice richness in the middle. Try with a favorite tapas or paella. About $14.
Wine picks are from Tom Bender, wine instructor at Columbia College and wine steward for O'Brien's Market, 4120 Dale Road, Modesto, 545-8100.