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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived February 17, 2014
Originally Published January 25, 2014

Italian Varietals in America –
Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese

Part 1 of a 3-Part Series  (See Part 2)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill
 

In Italy, wine is the family-friendly beverage that accompanies meals.  American winemakers are crafting Italian varietal wines for the same purpose, though traditional Old World wines are a bit more versatile in this regard.  My next three columns evaluate these varietals from the Northwest along with those same wines crafted in California and Italy.  To accompany delectable Italian varietals, you need some seafood or chicken (for the whites, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and others) and some meaty pasta for the reds (Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto and others).  Chef Ted makes a mean Bolognese for the reds and his version of Shrimp Saganaki for the whites. 

Over the years, American winemaking has evolved to treat Italian red varietals with a gentler hand, revealing their true varietal profile.  There are still powerful versions being made with more than ample oak and alcohol content, and my reviews will guide you to choose your cuisine according to the wine style. 

Pinot Grigio 

Tsillan Cellars
2012 Pinot Grigio, Estate
Lake Chelan AVA
$19.00

Tsillan Cellars Winery was established in 2000 and opened its doors in 2004 on the south shore of Washington’s Lake Chelan.  The name “Tsillan” is derived from a native word for deep water, interpreted by a 19th century explorer.  Tsillan is pronounced “Chelan.”  This 2012 Pinot Grigio offers delightful notes of apple and stone fruits with balancing mineral flavors and crisp acidity.  It is a very nice pairing with lighter foods. 

Columbia Crest
2012 Pinot Gris, Grand Estates
Columbia Valley
$12.00

Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca sources fruit from vineyard sites throughout the Columbia Valley to craft this flavorful wine, including grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills vineyards near the winery.  The wine offers bright aromas of citrus and apple with notes of tropical fruits and spice.  The palate shows flavors of stone fruits and pear with a finish of crisp citrus to balance the wine to accompany foods. 

Locati Cellars
2012 Pinot Grigio
Walla Walla Valley
$16.00

The Locati family brings a touch of the winemaking traditions of Italy to their vineyard and winery on the Washington border in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  Grapes for this rich and complex Pinot Grigio were sourced from the Breezy Slope Vineyard near Milton-Freewater, Oregon.  Look for aromas and flavors of pineapple, tangerine and pear with notes of Meyer lemon.  A touch of residual sugar balances the crisp acidity on the palate. 

Lake Chelan Winery
2012 Pinot Grigio
Lake Chelan AVA
$22.00

“The beautiful Lake Chelan Valley has always been known for growing the best apples in the world.  The same growing conditions are now producing premium wine grapes.”  This introduction to the Lake Chelan Winery wine listing page only hints about the transformation that is spreading throughout the valley, creating a world-class wine touring destination.  The pioneer of this evolution is Lake Chelan Winery whose owners planted the first commercial vineyards in the Chelan Valley in 1998.  The LCW Pinot Grigio offers bright aromas of pear, peach, vanilla and spice leading to a flavorful palate with a touch of residual sugar balancing crisp acidity. 

Hogue Cellars
2012 Pinot Grigio
Columbia Valley
$10.00

From pairing with oysters to chicken to chips and dip, Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio is a reliable, go-to white wine that doesn’t break the bank.  You’ll find this tasty sipper on sale at your favorite grocery store or wine mega-store.  Look for pear and apple on the nose and palate with a hint of citrus on the off-dry finish. 

Columbia Crest
H3 2010 Pinot Gris
Horse Heaven Hills
$15.00

The Horse Heaven Hills AVA runs along the ridge on the north side of the Columbia River where it separates the states of Washington and Oregon.  The undulating hills on the Washington (north) side of the river provide ample sites for south- and southwest-facing vineyards.  Columbia Crest celebrates the rich heritage of the Horse Heaven Hills with their H3 brand of terroir-expressive wines.  The H3 Pinot Gris was blended with 3.5% Pinot Blanc, yielding a wine with aromas and flavors of apple, melon and pear with notes of lemon and floral perfume. 

Sangiovese 

Whidbey Island Winery
2011 Sangiovese
Rattlesnake Hills AVA
$20.00

My tasters were very impressed with the Old World character of winemaker Greg Osenbach’s Sangiovese.  Direct comparison with several Italian Chiantis showed the same respect for Sangiovese’s delicate fruit, and a lighter alcohol and oak profile.  Superb balance between fruit and acidity made the wine a sure winner when pairing with food.  Aromas and flavors of black cherry, strawberry, pepper, anise and earthy cocoa are lovely. 

Novelty Hill Winery
2011 Sangiovese
Stillwater Creek Vineyard
$28.00

Winemaker Mike Januik blended 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in this flavorful wine, expanding the aroma and flavor spectrum to include notes of herbs and complex black fruits.  The underlying Sangiovese character comes through, wrapped delicately in notes of toasty oak and vanilla.  Fine acid balance and silky tannins invite serving with meats from the grill. 

 

Coyote Canyon Winery
2010 Sangiovese
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$25.00

Here’s another tasty wine that has benefited from the addition of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Crafted from grapes grown by the Andrews family at their Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, the wine displays excellent balance and complex aromas and flavors of black fruits, spicy oak, black pepper and intriguing hints of smoky, meaty bacon.  It is a great accompaniment to rich pastas, meats from the grill and other savory fare. 

 

Leonetti Cellar
2010 Sangiovese
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$65.00

This is one of the most difficult wines to buy in Washington, unless you have waited your turn to be included on the Leonetti Cellar “list.”  Each year, the winery sends out an offering to members of their mailing list, enabling the receiver to purchase an allocation of Leonetti’s highly lauded wines.  Sangiovese is the smallest production of the mix, and only a half dozen bottles are released to each interested customer.  This year’s Sangiovese is blended with 11% Syrah (adds color and backbone) and was aged for 22 months in new French oak puncheons.  The wine is rich with aromas and flavors of black cherry, black currant, earthy mineral, cocoa and barrel spice. 

Tamarack Cellars
2010 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
$25.00

Ron Coleman sourced his Sangiovese fruit from the Candy Mountain Vineyard in the Columbia Valley AVA near Red Mountain and the Blue Mountain Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  The wine was aged in 33% new French oak and older French oak.  This Sangiovese shows the Italian profile with notes of delicate strawberry and red cherry fruit mingling with notes of toasty, spicy oak.  The palate is medium bodied with flavors of cherry, baking spice and hints of blueberry.  Serve with your most flavorful meaty pasta sauces over fresh pappardelle pasta. 

Camaraderie Cellars
2010 Sangiovese
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$28.00

Camaraderie Cellars is surrounded by the ancient forests of Olympic National Park in the Northwest corner of Washington State, about ten minutes west of downtown Port Angeles.  Owners Don and Vicki Corson welcome visitors on weekends during the summer to enjoy their fine wines and perhaps picnic in the beautiful sculpture garden.  Don crafted his rich and flavorful Sangiovese from grapes grown at Six Prong Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and blended in 10% Merlot to add some middle palate.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry and currant with enticing notes of vanilla and spice with just a hint of toasty oak. 

Walla Walla Vintners
2011 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
$25.00

Walla Walla Vintners Sangiovese is a nod to co-owner Gordy Venneri’s Italian roots and has been part of the winery’s varietal lineup for years.  The current vintage includes 10% Syrah and 7% Malbec in the blend to “provide color, harmony and complexity.”  This wine is in the rich style of modern Washington wines, showing deep color, intense flavor extraction and ample toasty oak – a style that pairs well with meats from the grill.  It offers aromas and flavors of ripe blackcurrant, cherry candy, spicy oak and hints of coconut and vanilla. 

Locati Cellars
2009 Sangiovese
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$28.00

The Locati family has been farming in the Walla Walla Valley for more than 100 years with their vineyards located near the Oregon border town of Milton-Freewater.  This wine is crafted from grapes grown at their Mission Hills Vineyard near the Whitman Mission west of Walla Walla.  The 2009 Sangiovese is a delicious companion to your Italian-inspired menu whether it be rich, meaty pasta or seafood crafted in a tomato sauce (like Chef Ted’s version of Shrimp Saganaki).  Aromas of red cherry, mineral and plum lead to a tangy palate of red fruits and a finish of toasty oak. 

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars
2011 Sangiovese
Wahluke Slope Vineyard
$20.00

Arbor Crest is one of Spokane, Washington’s pioneer wineries, founded in 1982 and boasting one of the state’s most beautiful and interesting tasting room venues.  The Riblet Mansion, overlooking the Spokane River Valley, offers visitors a chance to experience a unique bit of Spokane history along with dramatic views (visitors limited to those over 21).  The winery’s 2011 Sangiovese is crafted from fruit grown on the warm Wahluke Slope AVA and offers dark cherry and plum fruit with lots of toasty oak to accompany hearty meats from the grill. 

Helix by Reininger
2008 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
$28.00

Winemaker/owner Chuck Reininger came to Walla Walla through marriage to a Walla Walla native, leaving his early career as a mountaineering guide on Mount Rainier.  Winemaking has been his passion since 1997, and his wines continue to garner praise from critics and consumers alike.  The 2008 Sangiovese shows ripe cherry and plum aromas and flavors with earthy mineral, and notes of toasty cedar. 

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2010 Sangiovese
Wahluke Slope AVA
$15.00

Scientist and orchardist Mike Thiede has been farming on the Wahluke Slope for many years and expanded into wine grapes with two vineyards near his winery at Mattawa.  The 2010 Sangiovese was given extended barrel age in both French and American oak.  Look for ripe cherry and strawberry fruit mingling with toasty oak, vanilla and hints of cedar spice. 

Wines from other areas 

Torresella
2012 Pinot Grigio
Veneto IGT, Italy
$15.00

If this is a new wave of Italian white wine making, my tasters are all for it!  Many Italian Pinot Grigios are light and thin, designed as a thirst-quenching quaff for a warm day.  This wine makes a statement with aromas of pear, herbs and earthy mineral.  The palate offers similar flavors with a bracing acidity that is a delightful companion to savory fare of all types. 

Bella Sera
2012 Pinot Grigio
Veneto, Italy
$12.00

This tasty Pinot Grigio is perfectly balanced and shows the complexity possible with the Pinot Grigio grape.  Aromas of pear, Meyer lemon, spice and floral perfume lead to flavors of pear and melon with a crisp citrus finish and a hint of tannin grip to pair with rich white sauces or meats like chicken and veal.

Castello di Gabbiano
2012 Pinot Grigio
Venezia, Italy
$10.00

One can’t help but take a moment to marvel at the history of this property, beginning in the 12th century and spanning through the renaissance and into today’s era.  If you are so inclined, you can book a room at the Castle near Florence to complete the connection to the past.  In the meantime, enjoy the classic Pinot Grigio.  Aromas and flavors of pear, citrus and mineral make for a delicious food wine for seafood, sipping or socializing. 

DaVinci
2011 Chianti
DOCG, Italy
$12.00

This inexpensive Chianti offers great acid balance, bright strawberry/cherry fruit and enticing notes of tar and earth that have made Chianti (a blend of 80% or more Sangiovese with the balance of other red or white varietals) a dinner table favorite in America for decades. 

Cecchi
2011 Chianti Classico
DOCG, Italy
$13.00

Here is another affordable Chianti with a slightly different pedigree.  Chianti Classico is a more tightly defined geographic area in the Tuscan “Provincia del Chianti.”  Wines from this area may include the black rooster (gallo nero) logo on their label.  Tangy strawberry and cherry fruit mingles with notes of earthy mineral and hints of toast and floral perfume. 

Castillo di Gabbiano
2010 Chianti Classico Riserva
DOCG, Italy
$20.00

By Italian winemaking law, Chianti Classico Riserva differs from Chianti Classico in that it must be aged at the winery in barrel for at least 27 months – 20 months longer than for regular Chianti Classico.  This Chianti Riserva offers aromas and flavors of cherry and plum with classic notes of smoky mineral and hints of tar and black tea. 

Villa Banfi
2010 Chianti Classico Riserva
Italy
$18.00

Within the constricts of the DOCG wine law, this Chianti Classico Riserva includes Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.  Following fermentation, it is aged for two years in Slavonian oak barrels and an additional six months in bottle.  Aromas and flavors of spicy cherry and strawberry are joined by nuances of vanilla, anise and cocoa – a great pairing with any Tuscan menu.
 

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