By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
This is my ninth annual evaluation of wines made from Italian grape varieties – a comparison of those vinified in the Pacific Northwest and California with authentic Old-World selections from Italy.
Today, I take my first look at Sangiovese wines – the red grape of Tuscany – and how winemakers on U.S. shores have interpreted the wine known in the old country as “Chianti.” Like most European countries, Italy defines wine names by place of origin. Wines may only be called Chianti if the grapes came from the Chianti region of Tuscany – and the wine must be made primarily from Sangiovese. American winemakers and grape growers face no such restrictions, but may instead name the grape variety on the label. Domestically-grown Sangiovese has yet to produce a wine with the nuances and subtle character of Chianti from Tuscany. Members of my tasting panel did, however, applaud many U.S. wines for capturing the lighter and more food-friendly character of the Sangiovese grape.
I am also including the first of several reviews of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines.
Wind Rose Cellars
David Volmut and Jennifer States operate this lively winery and bistro in the Olympic Peninsula town of Sequim (pronounced “skwim”). Committed to crafting their wines from Italian varieties grown in Washington State, they have earned a loyal following. Wind Rose Cellars Sangiovese was the favorite domestic wine of my tasters. The wine offers true Sangiovese aromas of cherry and berry with herbs and spice. The palate brings full flavors of fruit and spice, and pairs well with meats and pasta.
Chuck Reininger’s Helix brand is dedicated to presenting wines made from grapes grown in areas other than the winery's Walla Walla Valley home. This Sangiovese comes from the large Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope of the Frenchman Hills – a very warm place in the summer. Clever grape growing and winemaking brought this juicy-yet-restrained Sangiovese offering Old-World nuances of strawberry, cherry, coffee and hints of oak.
Peter Dow originally opened his Cavatappi Winery in 1987 in the basement of Café Juanita, his Italian restaurant near Kirkland, Washington. He sold the restaurant in 2000, and the winery was moved to production facilities elsewhere. Today, he works with Precept Wines to create a handful of tasty Italian-style wines including this “riserva” style Sangiovese. Look for bright berry and pomegranate with notes of earthy mineral, herbs and olives.
This time of year, cold winds blow down the Columbia Gorge where Maryhill Winery is perched above the river near Goldendale. The winery beckons visitors with its cozy tasting room and flavorful wines for tasting in the Gorge, and now in its beautiful new tasting room in Spokane at Kendall Yards near the Spokane River and downtown. At either spot, you can pick up a bottle of this enticing Sangiovese with aromas of dried cherry, herbs and sage with notes of vanilla and toasty oak.
Whidbey Island Winery
Each year, Whidbey Island winemaker Greg Osenbach crafts his Sangiovese from grapes grown at vineyards in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills. He has long relationships with the growers and gets just the fruit he wants to create his rich and juicy Italian varietals. Enjoy dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors with notes of earthy mineral, leather and mocha.
This ripe and forward Sangiovese is crafted in the New-World style with big fruit and spicy notes of French oak. Tuscan Sangiovese clones 19 and 23 have been planted at the Stillwater Creek Vineyard to accommodate its location and climate. Look for ripe plum and black cherry flavors with notes of herbs and mineral and a powerful finish that stands up to your heartiest Italian fare.
The Icon Reserve wines from Waterbrook “represent the very best in Northwest modern style from winemaker John Freeman.” These wines are only available in the Waterbrook tasting room and are crafted using new and used American oak (for the Sangiovese) which adds notes of caramel, leather and spice which swirl through a fruity palate of berry, cherry and plum.
This Oregon winery is one of several Northwest properties that import grapes from well-respected California vineyards to create hearty red wines. Fruit from Lodi was brought in to create this rich and spicy Sangiovese that gives a first impression of a brambly Zinfandel, but later shows complex berry, cherry and smoky cedar notes that pair well with Italian-style meats and pastas.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio
This is the “entry level” or “daily sip” Pinot Gris from King Estate winery. They also craft more expensive versions of the variety, which offer added depth and complexity; we will look at some of those in future weeks. For now, unscrew the cap and enjoy a delightfully fresh “grigio”-style wine offering a fruit basket of citrus aromas and flavors caressed by hints of rose petal and mineral.
14 Hands winemaker Keith Kenison crafted this bright, light and tasty Pinot Grigio that will pair perfectly with your Italian seafood salad or accompany lighter appetizers and antipasti. Aromas of melon, green apple and citrus lead to a fresh palate showing flavors of crisp pear, honeysuckle and hints of tangy grapefruit.
I remember the old days when winemaker/restaurateur Peter Dow used to show his style by tooling around in his little Alfa Romeo – la vita bella! Peter now works with Precept Brands to craft lovely wines for your enjoyment like this crisp and flavorful Pinot Grigio. Almost like a Sauvignon Blanc, the wine offers citrus, fresh-cut grass, wet stone minerality and just hints of lime and pear. These cool months are perfect for oysters…so is this wine!
Eight Bells Winery
The seagoing salts from Eight Bells Winery crafted this Pinot Gris from grapes grown in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley! Another classy pretender for Sauvignon Blanc, look for grapefruit, fresh herbs, floral notes and green apple. This new vector for Pinot Gris is bound to be very popular. BTW, Eight Bells welcomes new partners Neal and Denise Ratti to join the family of talented winemakers.
Getting back to the Oregon model for Pinot Gris, Gary Horner made this wine to showcase the superior fruit from around the state that contributes to this complex and enticing offering. He finds, “fragrant white flowers, nectarine, melons and a hint of Key lime.” I’ll add spicy pear, white peach and honeysuckle to the mix and suggest an accompaniment of elegant chicken salad.
Wines from other areas:
My old-school tasting panel has been drinking Chianti since the 1970s, and wines like this are the reason why. Aromas and flavors of cherry and herbs are perfumed with the indescribable Italian complexity that put this wine at the very top of the day’s tasting list. Winemaker Piergiorgio Castellani should be proud – and I suggest a score of 93!
Here is another Chianti Classico Riserva that wowed my tasters. The Castello Banfi estate extends to 7,100 acres with one-third under vine. The Mariani family and their winemaker Ezio Rivella work with the soils and the vines to create the fruit that results in delicious, traditional wines. Look for notes of balsamico around a core of cherry, berry, tobacco, jam and dark Italian chocolate.
To find contact information for most of the wineries
in the above text,
February, 2018 Chuck Hill
February, 2018 Chuck Hill