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Lunch-ing with Terra d’Oro’s Winemaker
A California vineyard makes a stop in Milwaukee. Check out the wines.

While I’ve met with winemakers as they’re entrenched in their element – whether it’s the barrel room or the vineyard – it’s a treat when they swing through the Midwest. Last Friday, I lunched with Terra d’Oro’s Winery’s winemaker Chris Leamy. We flew through a flight of his mostly estate wines (all but two are grown on 500 acres in Amador County, California) at Zarletti and I loved how the Italian red-wine varietals were a perfect match with tomatoes, olives, goat cheese, pesto and other Mediterranean flavors. Based in Amador County since the 1970s, where the Gold Rush once swept through this Sierra Nevada region – “It’s been up and coming since 1880,” jokes Leamy – it’s off the beaten paths of Sonoma and Napa. When making these wines, Leamy ponders where he’d drink them (for example, an outdoor picnic or formal dinner?) and with what foods. Game meats and Italian cuisine are ideal matches with Terra d’Oro wines.

Here’s a summary of the wines we uncorked.

2011 Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio (Santa Barbara County, California, $16) does not source fruit from Amador County. Instead, it’s purchase from a Santa Barbara County vineyard where coastal influences help the grape flourish. This complex style of Pinot Grigio wraps up with a creamy lemon finish and features great depth.

2011 Terra d’Oro Moscato (Amador County, California, $16) is more layered than most Moscatos, lending itself to a perfumed nose that leads effortlessly into honeysuckle and rose-petal notes. Consider drinking this with a fruit-based dessert.

2010 Terra d’Oro Barbera (Amador County, California, $18) features nicely balanced acidity with soft tannins and a cherry-cola character with slight smoky flavors. Serving it slightly chilled is the way to go.

2009 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel (Amador County, California, $18) is a lush style of Zinfandel marked by cloves, cinnamon and allspice with dense plum notes.

2010 Terra d’Oro Home Vineyard Zinfandel (Amador County, California, $26) presents a juicy, fruit-forward profile laced with raspberries, currants, green peppers and spice, plus a trace of mocha on the finish.

2010 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel (Amador County, California, $30) is made from vines dating back to 1881, resulting in dense, brambly dark-fruit flavors accented by spicy notes (cardamom and cloves).

Vietnamese food and wine is one of those nouveau pairings in the wine world. But it’s so much fun to play around with. You’ve got spice and an intriguing combination of four more flavors: sour, bitter, salty and sweet. Hue, a Vietnamese restaurant in Bay View, slashes the prices of its wine bottles in half each Sunday night, which is the perfect time to see how, say, Altos Los Hormigas Malbec (Argentina) stacks up to Phơ, or Cristalino Cava Brut (Spain) to rice-paper rolls. The most expensive bottle is $36 and the least expensive $20, so this is truly a good deal.

Valentine’s Day is a sweet day, that we know, but you know what is even sweeter? Truffles (a high-end mushroom) paired with a glass of wine. Glorioso’s Italian Market recruited a world-renowned truffles expert – Vittorio Giordano, vice president of Urbani Truffles USA – to walk you through your first truffle indulgence. (Or, if you’ve already succumbed to truffles, you can’t resist them, right?) Tastings of dishes featuring truffles, including seared steak with black truffles and truffled mashed potatoes, are matched with an Italian wine. Tastings ($25 each including a $10 in-store credit) are today at 1:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. To sign up, call Glorioso’s at 414-272-0540 or reserve a spot online.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Zin is the ideal winter wine. It’s bold, fruit-forward and hearty, with fleshy layers in a full body. For a good value, turn to 2010 Hobo Wine Company Branham Vineyard Zinfandel (Rockpile, Sonoma County, California, $30), from an up-and-coming Zin region. Concentrated, briary dark-fruit notes and soft, well-integrated tannins result in a claret style. This Zin is blended with 5% Petite Sirah, with those lush notes helping this wine serve as a dessert pairing, especially if there is chocolate involved. (www.hobowines.com)

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