California Wine Country: The Sierra Foothills Article -
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California Wine Country: The Sierra Foothills

Take a tour of America's foremost wine-making state--and find out what foods pair best with California wines.

Let's take a look at some of California's most important wine regions--and the grapes that grow there.

The Sierra Foothills AVA (What's an AVA?) runs like a narrow band between the too-hot valley and the equally inhospitable higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Looking for great recipes to go along with your California wines? Check out our pairings at the bottom of the page.

The first wine grapes planted in the Sierra Foothills were destined to slake the thirst of Gold Rush-era miners. Today, Zinfandel grapes are the mother lode here. They are by far the most widely planted varietal, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The wine-making counties of El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras and Mariposa all extend into the Sierra Foothills. Erosion formed the granite soils here, which test the vines, forcing their roots deep into the soil to pick up nutrients and coercing them into producing grapes with concentrated flavors. The Sierra Foothills AVA is divided into five sub-appellations: Shenandoah Valley, El Dorado, Fair Play, Fiddletown and North Yuba.

Major grape varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Barbera.
Notable sub-appellations: Shenandoah Valley, El Dorado, Fair Play, Fiddletown and North Yuba


    A California original, Zinfandel is an amazing food wine. It goes with just about everything that Americans love to eat: ribs, pizzas, burgers, chili, roasted meats, pasta with red sauce and much more. For a classic California experience, try Zin with a grilled burger topped with Monterey Jack cheese! It's also a good pair with ethnic cuisines, particularly moderately spicy Mexican meat dishes and tandoori chicken or lamb.

    Sauvignon Blanc

    Another highly food-friendly white wine, California Sauvignon Blanc excels with seafood, pesto (try cilantro pesto), chicken and moderately spicy dishes. Its bright acidity and herbal aromas make it a good choice with salads (try tossing some goat cheese on there). Sauvignon Blanc is one of the few wines that can endure asparagus and raw tomatoes. It also likes dishes with herbs, particularly cilantro and parsley.


    California makes delicious use of the Barbera grape, whose original home is the Piedmont region of Italy. Like Chianti, it's a great match with many Italian-American dishes: anything from lasagna and pepperoni pizza to pastas with mushroom, pesto or red sauces. But it's also a terrific match with roasted or grilled meats. And you can't beat it paired up with a bacon cheeseburger.

    Oct. 21, 2010 12:36 pm
    Zinfandel s not a CA original. It was brought to CA by Baron Haraszthy(spelling?)a long time ago from Europe without labels and it was thought to come from Hungary, but DNA testing shows it is an Italian grape; the Primativa. Probably a very old vaiety.
    Jun. 20, 2012 8:53 am
    My parents came from Italy when they were adults. My children live in the Sierra foothills wine region. My humble opinion is this: The wines are improving but still have a significant way to go before they will be the wine of choice. I was surprIsed to see Ironstone wines sold in Singapore. Interestingly, I believe the stumbling block with sales there exists in the US as well: ineffective marketing.
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