The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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68  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2014 S tanding next to a gargantuan, own-rooted Mission vine in Amador County's Deaver Ranch, winemaker Marco Cappelli marvels, "It's a miracle that this vine- yard survives—Deaver family records show that these vines were planted in 1856!" Tracey Berkner is co-owner and Sommelier of Taste Restaurant in Plymouth, barely two miles from Deaver's Mission planting. Says Berkner, "I had been told that most of California's Mission vines were pulled out long ago. I was surprised to learn of their existence, and that I had been driving by them regularly for years. The old vines are amazing—each one twisted and curled, like stunning natural sculptures." Mission is a Vitis vinifera also known as Criolla, a Spanish term that refers to people (or vines) born in the New World but of European origin. Spanish Conquistadors planted it in Peru as early as the 1520s. By 1629, the grape was established as the exclusive wine grape of Mexico as well as present-day New Mexico, and the first written records of "Mission" grapes being cultivated in California, at Mission San Juan Capistrano, date back to 1779. Up until the 1850s, Mission—recently determined by DNA testing to be identical to the Canary Islands' Listán Prieto (aka Palomino Negro)—was the only wine grape cultivated on the West Coast. Mission vines yield black-skinned grapes of fairly feeble pigmentation, acidity and tannin. But the plant was vigorous enough to grow everywhere, producing red wines that could be distilled into brandy, and sweet wines fortified with that brandy. Cappelli produces a fortified style of dessert wine called Angelica from Mission grapes. According to him, "The grape's lower acidity is actually what gives the wine its broad, velvety feel and fantastically sweet flavors that are not at all cloying—reminis- cent of molasses, dried figs, caramel, nuts and toffee." To make his Angelica, Cappelli follows a "recipe" hand-written by Emile Vaché in 1891, calling for brandy (Cappelli uses a 190-proof spirit) added to crushed grapes just as they are about to ferment (not after!), aiming for 19–20% alcohol and 13–14% residual sugar. California missionaries preserved their wines in cow- or sheep-hide bags. Cappelli utilizes old, neutral barrels, fashioning non-vintaged Angelicas from wines aged four to eight years. Mission Angelica develops its intense complexity only after extended time in wood, something Cappelli first discovered by accident: He made his first barrels for Napa Valley's Swanson Vineyards in 1995, which were put aside and ignored. "We were not impressed," admits Cappelli; but seven years later he tasted it again and said, "Holy Moses, this stuff is delicious!" Although Cappelli left Swanson in 2004 to work as a consulting winemaker in El Dorado County, he still crafts Swanson's Angelica, which retails for $150/750 ml. Cappelli now bottles Mission Angelicas under his own Cappelli label, as well as for Deaver, Miraflores and Toogood, sourcing Mission from other ancient plantings in Amador County, Contra Costa and Lodi. "Marco's passion for this historic wine," says Berkner, "is infectious." Berkner, who features "dessert flights" at Taste, suggests "sweet and savory food pairings . . . everything from roasted pork to savory cheese- cake or tarte Tatin." One of Cappelli's favorite matches for Angelica is slow-braised short ribs with sweet-salty spices. All the more reason why this heritage American wine should be making a comeback! A Mission vine at Deaver Ranch, planted in 1856. Once and Future Angelica THE FIRST CALIFORNIA WINE MAKES A COMEBACK story and photos by Randy Caparoso Marco Cappelli and Tracey Berkner tasting just-fortified Mission must. The non-vintage Cappelli Angelica is made from wines four to eight years old.

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