The early April sun just warms the crisp air and flecks across Clear Lake. Clouds puff across the sky, touching Mt. Konocti and sliding their way across Mt. Hannah. Orchards, pastures, and horse corrals with white fences edge Highland Springs Road as it winds its way towards the Mayacamas Mountains. There, nestled between vineyards, stands the small tasting room of Olof Cellars. Cindi Olof, co-owner of the winery, stands inside, a mask and gloves on, filling up a case of wine.
Right now, Olof is offering a special—a case of their wine for $100. “It’s an incredible deal,” Cindi says, adjusting her mask. “That’s $8 a bottle for a $35 a bottle of wine.” She pauses for a second, thinking. “Or $125 a bottle in Napa.” She continues packing the case, trying to fit the different sized bottles in one single-sized case. The 2010 Nebbiolo pokes out the top, unwilling to conform.
Olof produces high-quality, aged, estate wines. No big batches, no 10,000 case runs. Every wine they create tastes of the love and attention given to each grape as it grows, is harvested, fermented, aged, and bottled. That care alone sets their wines apart. However, they also have the unique Lake County terroir, that intangible gift given to every vineyard in the county by the volcanic beneficence of Mt. Konocti.
While their 2014 wines are not in the $100 case deal, they deserve some special attention. Take their 2014 Malbera, for example. “The Malbec is a French grape, and the Barbera’s Italian,” Cindi explains as she wipes the counter down with a disinfectant wipe. “This blend is proof that the French and Italians can get along, at least in a bottle.” She smiles, or at least she would be smiling if she wasn’t hidden behind the facemask. The wine is robust, fruit-forward in the bouquet, with bright notes of cherry. Then, with the first sip, the tension comes out. The acidic notes of the Malbec immediately hit the palate, then the Barbera’s fruit-forward notes start talking. Sweet vs. acidic, warm fruit notes with tannin. Then, as the taste settles, the flavors come together and end in balance. It’s like a long discussion over a bottle of wine that ends in laughter.
Or the 2014 Signature, a Nebbiolo/Barbera blend. The bouquet’s minerality, earthiness, and subtle floral notes feel like the poppies growing along the edge of Olof’s vineyards. It’s got a substantial, rich, mouthfeel, and just the right blend of tannins from the Nebbiolo.
Cindi gets excited when she starts talking about Nebbiolo. Odds are, you haven’t heard of the Nebbiolo grape; it’s not a common variety. Nebbiolo, with roots dating back to the 13th century, is a notoriously tricky wine to grow and not grown much outside of its native Italy; it’s referred to by some as the “little rascal.”
“It’s amazing,” Cindi says. “Nebbiolo has so many variations. The grapes grown at the bottom of the vineyard have a different taste than those at the top.” It’s possible to have Nebbiolos that taste peppery, leathery, fruity, and anise-forward. Some sit in the glass amber-red, some nearly transparent. Different years can produce completely different wines. It’s a complex, unique wine that deserves attention.
And now is an excellent time to give it a few hours of your time. If you are curious, it’s currently possible to have a flight night at home and enjoy several years of Nebbiolo. Olof’s newest, the 2014 Noblemen, sits in the glass with a palpable glow. With a gentle, easy bouquet, mineral notes, and hints of stone fruit, it tempts the mouth. Nebbiolos are known for their tannins, but the 2014 doesn’t overplay its hand; the flavor holds in the mouth and finishes easy, smooth and gentle. Pair that with a 2009, 2010, and 2012 Nebbiolo, all on special, and you’ll have everything you need for a flight night. But these wines deserve an excellent dinner to go with them.
“Nebbiolo is a food wine,” Cindi says. “It’s meant to be served with more than a charcuterie tray.” If you’ve got four bottles of Nebbiolo open, you might as well serve one heck of a meal to go with it. Nebbiolo is a bigger wine but incredibly versatile. It’s designed in particular for quality Italian food, from pizza to your grandma’s gravy to veal cutlets. The Italian grapes love to be eaten with their food, and a mouthwatering pasta with a thick, reduced heirloom tomato sauce and red-wine reduction will complement it delightfully. But it will go equally well with barbecue, pot roasts, and burgers. Then, try your dish with the 2009 Nebbiolo, or the 2010, or the 2012, and see what happens. It’s an experiment in the joys of flavor.
“But you can chill Nebbiolo,” Cindi adds, adjusting her mask one more time. “It’s good cold, too.” And when Nebbiolo is chilled, it can pair with chicken, ham, and pork. It’s particularly good with Thai food; a Massaman Curry or Thai Rama Chicken tastes incredible with Nebbiolo. The multiple notes of the wine work to cut the fats of the peanuts, and the spices balance well.
And for dessert, Cindi suggests her Vegan Chocolate Mousse, which she recommends with Olof’s Barbera, but goes well with any of their wines. It is a perfect way to end an evening filled with good food and wine.
Olof wines need at least a half-hour to breathe, so open a bottle, and while it’s decanting, spend some time in the kitchen creating something beautiful. Put on some of your favorite music, open the windows and doors to let the bright spring air in, and prepare yourself for an evening to remember. Sure, we’re all stuck at home now, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up good food, good wine, and the delight that comes with a perfect pairing.
Right now, the tasting room is closed, but it’s still possible to get some of Olof’s tasty wines. You can reach them through their website or by phone at (707)-391-7947. Currently, they are offering a $100 case special on certain wines and free delivery anywhere in Lake County.
Olof Cellars is located at 5615 Highland Springs Rd, Lakeport, CA, or online at olofcellars.com.