Wine tasting in Lake County

Sometimes it seems like grapes for wine are grown in every region in California. Recently, I have discovered the wines of the Gold Country and Paso Robles, and early this week, I discovered those of the Lake County (or to be more precise, those on the eastern side of Clearlake). While I was surprised at how good the little-known Gold Country wines were, and disappointed at how mediocre the much-better-known Paso Robles wines were – I was unprepared for how much I’d dislike many of the wines from Lake County. No wonder I haven’t come across them in other venues. In all, I went to five wineries in the region, the wines of the larger one were generally good, but the other ones left much to be desired. All the wineries we went had a $5 tasting fee – which only in the case of Ceago was justifiable.


We visited our first winery in the Lake County, the same day we went wine tasting in the Alexander Valley. Ceago, located at the lake and accessible via road and boat, is one of the most beautiful wineries I have visited. Indeed, it seems out of place in an area that in general does not look particularly refined.

The winery is located in a large Mediterranean/Mission style villa, with patios (some shaded) and picnic tables, and a great view of the lake. It has lavender gardens (the place smells wonderful) and soft Latin music playing throughout the complex. In addition to tasting wine, you can order it by the glass and enjoy yourself on the patios. However, it was way too hot to do so when we visited.

The winery is not very big, it only produces about 8,000 cases a year, using a process called biodynamics. It’s a little too complicated to explain (though the server did so), but you can learn about it in their website. The tasting room is dark and cool, and quite nice. There is a tasting fee of $5 for 5 wines, the fee is waived with purchase.

I started with the 2005 Cabernet del Lato ($32) which was strong and hearty, with light tannins and medium acidity. It was a bit flat, though quite good. Not oaky in the least, however. The 2003 Sauvignon Clone 337 ($38) was a bit bolder and had more acidity, but was still smooth. Mike liked it. The 2005 Cabernet del Lago ($35) was light and chocolaty. I liked the 2007 Muscat Canelli del Lago ($24). It was very light in color and body, sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Finally, the 2007 Late Harvest Semillon ($18 for a 1/2 bottle) was heavier and more well-rounded, both flowery and honey-like, though it had some bitter undertones.

In all, I liked the wines, loved the winery and would recommend you visit it.

The next day we went to Shannon Ridge winery, located in the “town” of Clearlake Oaks, where we’d stayed. The tasting room is rather modest, and features a few picnic tables in the back, but it wouldn’t be my choice for a picnic. The server was very nice, on the other hand, and the wines weren’t too bad. There is a $5 tasting fee and I only tasted the white wines – it was hot.
The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) was a nice, it had flavors of melon and tropical fruit and some acidity. It was easy to drink. The 2007 Chardonnay ($24) was very oaky but it lacked in flavor. The 2007 Viognier ($18) was very, very light, though it had a somewhat fruity finish. Finally, the 2006 Viognier ($18) was peachy, with a sweet beginning that quickly faded away.
In all, my conclusion was that the wines lacked body.

Terrill Cellars is located in the town of Lower Lake, a small town but with more charm than either Clearlake or Clearlake Oaks. It’s in a new development called “Tuscan Village”, which is somehow cute. The tasting room itself consists of a counter in their wood barrel room, which has its charms. The server was very nice. There is a $5 tasting fee.

Terrill Cellars used to produce about 2,500 cases a year. It has now incorporated other lines, upping its production to 5,000. What we found is that while the other lines are fine, Terril wines themselves leave much to be desired.

We started with the 2002 Chardonnay ($10), which had a light gold color and absolutely no flavor. The 2002 Syrah ($18) wasn’t as bad, but tasted like cheap wine.

The 2004 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (one of the other lines – $28) was fruity and well rounded, nice, but overpriced. The 2002 Terrill Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) had a smooth start but went nowhere, it was drinkable, though.The 2004 Guervero Family Cabernet Franc ($28), meanwhile, was balanced and I liked it, but it was also overpriced for what it was. Finally, the 2005 Merlot Blush ($11), a dessert wine, had a peach color and was slightly sweet, but was mostly empty. In all, I found the wines to taste cheap, lack flavor and be overpriced.

ployezOur next stop was Ployez. The winery is owned an operated by a French winemaker that has been in the US for several decades. He is originally from Champagne, and while I was disappointed with all their still wines, the sparkling wine was very good. The winery itself looks like a cabin and had a very affable French intern overseeing the tasting room. The tasting fee was $3, and the pours were too generous giving the quality of the wine.

We started with the 1999 Gamay Beaujolais ($12), which had a brandish flavor but nothing else. The Sunset Zinfandel ($15) wasn’t bad, a little over ripe but drinkable. Meanwhile, the 2003 Hidden Oak Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) was overripe and brandish, I hated it so much I had to pour it out. Mike thought it was fine, though, (but he wouldn’t finish my glass). Finally, we tasted the Sparkling Brut ($20). This was excellent, oaky, with almondy undertones and bold bubbles. I wish I had bought a bottle.

Finally, we headed to Langtry, a pretty winery which is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere (about half way between Middletown and St. Helena). It occupies a large wooden building, and there are very nice views, as well as the ubiquitous picnic tables. There is a $5 tasting fee, you chose 5 wines from a list that includes Langtry and other label wines. I decided that as I was in the Lake County, I wanted to limit myself to Lake County wines.

I started with the 2006 Langry Genevive Chardonnay ($35), which was pretty much empty. There was no fruit, no sweetness, no oak, nothing. I can’t imagine how they can justify the price. Next on the list was the 2005 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon ($18). This was smooth, with a medium body and light tannins. The 2005 Langry Meritage Red ($40) was nice, it had a medium body with a bit of fruit. It wasn’t very challenging, however. Still, you can buy it at BevMo. The 2005 Langtry Tephra Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) was kind of blah, it had tannins and body, but lacked flavor. Mike, on the other hand, liked it – he thought it was fruity and strong. Finally, the 2006 Lake County Moscato ($20), available only at the winery, was nice on a warm day. It wasn’t overly sweet, and in moderate amounts it could serve as a sipping wine.

And that was it. After Langtry we headed back home via Napa (where we didn’t wine taste at all).

I think I’m done wine tasting for a while, though I’m planning on drinking the wine I did buy 🙂

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