Crazy Northern California weather this past year confused many plants but the strength of Bacchus in the Amador and El Dorado county wine areas prevailed. New wineries surfaced while many established operations flourished, making stand out wines. In Amador County, I’ve particularly enjoyed wines from a small producer with an unwavering focus on reds, Jeff Runquist Wines.
Jeff is no new-bee to the wine scene. He’s been making wine for some 32 years and continues to be the winemaker at McManis Winery. Prior to McManis, Jeff made wines at J. Lohr with locations in Paso Robles and San Jose. He began his career at Montevina Winery while completing a degree in Fermentation Science at the University of California Davis. Runquist Wines was opened in 2008 just outside of Plymouth, California.
As you drive up the road around the bend, you’ll see the Runquist “R”.
Terra cotta pots filled with flowers brimming over the top year around invite you to enter. Olive trees were planted this year, lining the winery to the north. A long tasting bar awaits you with a view of the barrel room behind. But first, you have to say hello to Pearl, the winery pooch, who won’t let you by without doing so!
The Runquist red wine line up includes Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. But, this is where you’ll come to have fun trying less common grape varieties like Carignane, Tannat, Tempranio, Barbera, Grenache, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Petit Syrah. With that said, I tried and came home with several recently but particularly relished two bottles with minestrone soup.
The hubby said, “Red or White with dinner tonight?” My head deep into soup making mode I replied, “I don’t care, just pick something.” With the house smelling like Mediterranean memories, he came back with a bottle of Sangiovese.
This simple minestrone has deeper, richer flavors than you’d think. I make it then let it hang out in the refrigerator a day or two which lets the flavors meld, develop and intensify.
Ladling only the soup’s vegetables and beans into warm bowls, I poured aromatic broth around them, stopping short enough for some to peek out. Their crown, topped with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano was followed by a drizzle of olive oil that on it’s own, would tickle your throat with fruitiness and spice. Each bowl was finished with a new favorite salt, Black Cleopatra from Smaromi Salts and Spices, a gracious sponsor of the recent Plate to Page Tuscany workshop I attended.
It’s a home run when a wine pairs famously with a dish. This was the case with that bottle of Runquist Sangiovese. It’s brightness, minerals and toasty flavors sung right along with the acidic tomatoes and potent garlic in the soup. A few days later we had leftover minestrone and popped a Runquist Barbera. With a ripe berry nose, hints of toast and minerals on the palate, soft tannins and a perky finish that begs you to take another sip, it was also a winner. Not sure which I liked better so I’ve asked for a bottle of each wine for Christmas!
Minestrone Soup (makes 4 servings)
2 pieces of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion
1 celery stalk
1 small carrot
1 small zucchini
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup cannellini beans (either from a can or ¼ cup that have soaked over night and simmered until tender)
14.5 oz can crushed or diced tomatoes with juice (no salt or low salt is best so you can season as you like)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
½ cup potato, small dice
parmigianno reggiano cheese, grated
Medium dice the above vegetables then set them aside.
Put about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot, your favorite one to make soup. Heat on medium and cook the bacon until it begins to brown. Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Don’t put the zucchini in yet.
Cook the vegetables until they get a little soft, 3 or 4 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, beans, oregano and basil.
Add stock, zucchini and potato. Stir and season with a good pinch of sea salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.
Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste soup and season as necessary, adding more salt, pepper or herbs.
To serve, ladle mostly vegetables into your bowl. Pour stock around them leaving some vegetables peeking out. Garnish with a heaping tablespoon of cheese, a drizzle of nice olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.
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