(This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2008 edition of Touring & Tasting).
The Sierra Foothills span seven counties and boast an enviably easy drive from the mountains and sea. Wine lovers from San Francisco and Sacramento happily make the drive to the region on weekends to explore its boutique wineries, fertile orchards, antique shops, delightful restaurants, quaint bed and breakfasts, and spectacular scenery. Formerly a hotbed for gold mines, the region’s grapevines, orchards, and farms bask above the Central Valley’s winter fogs and below the snows of the High Sierras. Come harvest time, there is much gold to be reaped and savored from these bountiful hills. Here are just a few ways to enjoy the fruits of the Sierra Foothills at home, and suggestions of wines that also grow there, to accompany them.
Golden Butternut Squash Soup
Suggested Wine: Pinot Gris
For the broth
1 butternut squash, peeled, cubed (approx. 3 cups)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
5 cups chicken stock
2 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Cut squash into 1-inch cubes. Melt butter in large pot. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender. Remove squash with slotted spoon and puree in a blender. Return blended squash to pot. Stir and season with nutmeg, cayenne, salt, pepper, or jalapeno cream (blend of 1 minced jalapeno, 1⁄2 cup heavy cream, and 1⁄4 cup sour cream).
Suggested Wine: Tempranillo
1 lb Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups beef broth
1⁄2 cup Tempranillo or Syrah
1⁄2 cup water
2 cups stewed tomatoes
8 oz tomato sauce
1 cup sliced carrots
1⁄2 tsp dried basil
1⁄2 tsp dried oregano
8 oz fresh tortellini pasta
2 green bell peppers, seeded and cubed
1 1⁄2 cups sliced zucchini
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese to taste
Remove casings from sausage. Brown sausage and cook until crumbly. Remove meat from pan. Reserve one tablespoon of drippings. Cook onion and garlic in the reserved drippings until tender. Add broth, wine, water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, carrots, basil, oregano, and the cooked sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30 minutes. Add tortellini, green peppers, zucchini, and parsley. Simmer another 25 minutes, covered, for fresh tortellini, or 45 minutes, covered, for frozen tortellini. Top with fresh Parmesan cheese.
Placerville Pear Tart
Suggested Wine: Late Harvest Riesling
1⁄2 cup whole-grain pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1⁄8 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 Tbsp ice water
4 Tbsp low-fat buttermilk
3 medium pears
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
1⁄8 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp honey
1⁄2 tsp boiling water
Crust: In a medium bowl whisk together the whole-grain pastry flour, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar and salt. Add the butter and using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until you get a pebbly, course texture. In a small bowl combine the ice water and buttermilk. Using a fork, gradually mix the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Pat the dough into a 4-inch round and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Filling: Peel the pears, core, them and cut into 1⁄4-inch slices. In a large bowl toss the pear slices with the lemon juice and vanilla. Sprinkle in the brown sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon and toss until the pears are evenly coated. Set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a large circle about 9 inches in diameter. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draping the dough over the rolling pin, transfer dough to the prepared baking sheet. If the dough breaks, at all patch it up with your fingers.
Arrange the pears in a mound in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the border over the filling. It will only cover the pears partially and does not need to be even.
Bake the tart for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, keeping the tart in the oven all the while, and bake for another 40 minutes until the pears are tender and the crust is golden brown.
Glaze: In a small bowl stir together the honey and boiling water to make a glaze. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and brush the honey glaze all over the top of the fruit and crust. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Cut into 6 wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
Apple Hill Cake
Suggested Wine: Muscat
Butter, for greasing pan
2 cups sugar
11⁄2 cups vegetable oil
1⁄4 c orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups peeled, cored, and finely chopped apples
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 tsp baking soda
1⁄2 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease a tube pan.
Cake: In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar, oil, orange juice, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract. Mix well. Fold in apples, coconut, and pecans. Pour batter into greased pan and bake until tester comes out clean (about 60 to 75 minutes).
Glaze: Just before the cake is done, melt butter in a large saucepan, stir in the sugar, baking soda, and buttermilk, and bring to a good rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Pour the sauce over the hot cake in the pan as soon as it’s removed from the oven. Let stand one hour, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
Along with picks and shovels, people brought grapevines to the Sierra Foothills in the mid-1800s. Warm, sun-drenched days followed by cool, crisp nights yield grapes of remarkable intensity. And intense grapes produce wines with magnificent flavor profiles: pure gold.
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Glory and Gold in the Sierra Foothills
The foothill range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was dubbed “Gold Country” during the great California Gold Rush more than 150 years ago. The region is still referred to that way—and maybe for good reason. Here, the vineyards, located between 1,500 and 3,000 feet, are planted in well-drained, rich soils. Warm, sun-drenched days followed by cool, crisp nights yield grapes of remarkable intensity. And intense grapes produce wines with magnificent flavor profiles: pure gold.
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Rediscovering Gold in the Sierra Foothills
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What Sierra Foothills Winemakers Enjoy Most About Their Craft
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Spelunking and Tasting in the Sierra Foothills
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