By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
The tradition in Italy is that wine goes with meals and with family. American winemakers are crafting Italian varietal wines for the same purpose. 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 and this year added a tempting shrimp dish to accompany the white selections.
Our first tasting has revealed that winemakers are using less oak on their red wines and are crafting more food friendly, lighter styles. These may not garner high scores from some noted wine pundits, but will pair up better when you sip them with dinner.
The patriarch of the Locati family, Joe Locati, arrived in the Walla Walla Valley from Corsica, Italy in 1905, and the family has grown Walla Walla Sweet onions in the valley for more than 100 years. Locati Cellars was founded just a few years ago and recently opened their tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. Their 2011 Pinot Grigio offers light aromas of citrus and stone fruits leading to a palate of lemon, honeysuckle and pear.
This bright and flavorful Pinot Grigio is a great pairing for chicken and seafood, and is also tops for sipping in the warm weather to come. It is a perennial favorite with my tasters and is widely available. Look for aromas and flavors of pear, mineral, citrus, crisp apple and honeysuckle. As winemaker Charles Smith says, “Italian inspired, locally produced.”
Nicola’s Redmark is another immigration story dating from the turn of the 19th century. Descendants of Nicola Metrione now farm grapes in the White Bluffs area north of Pasco, Washington, and craft red and white wines in Walla Walla. This soft and appealing Pinot Grigio pairs well with a variety of lighter foods showing aromas and flavors of lemon, honey and pear with notes of mineral and earth.
The Sockeye brand of Washington wines has been around for many years and is currently owned and produced by Precept Wines. This flavorful blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Roussanne offers bright aromas of citrus and stone fruits with flavors of melon and tropical fruits added on the palate – crisp acidity makes for tasty pairing with seafood.
After tasting this wine and some others in this flight, one experienced taster exclaimed, “I never thought I would taste American Sangiovese wines that were this good!” Winemaker Brad Sherman traveled the world with his day job (an engineer) tasting wines from around Europe and shaping his palate preferences before embarking on an amateur winemaking career in 2000. His winemaking talent led to the founding of Michael Florentino Cellars which moved into its new Woodinville location in 2012. Very reminiscent of Chianti, look for aromas and flavors of cane berries, red cherry, cassis, toasty cedar and tarry earth – a great wine!
Leonetti Cellar is another winery that is using less intrusive oak aging in their Sangiovese, creating a flavorful and more continental style. Grapes for the wine come from Leonetti Mill Creek Upland estate vineyard and also from Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge Vineyards – all in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Aromas of earthy dried fruit, cranberry, vanilla and pencil shavings lead to a rich palate of dark fruits, graham cracker and coffee.
Brian Carter Cellars
Brian Carter has successfully staked his claim on being the master blender of Washington by crafting international-style blends of varietals grown in the Columbia Valley. Perhaps more than any other winemaker, he is creating wines that are truly Northwest originals for their quality and innovation. His Tuttarosso (Italian for “all red”) is comprised of 67% Sangiovese, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The nose is earthy and spicy with dark fruits and notes of smoky meats and leads to a juicy, rich palate with complex flavors of cassis, dark cherry, toast and earthy herbs. Tuttarosso is a great companion to rich sauces and red meats.
This is another brand created by Brad Sherman of Michael Florentino Cellars. Both of these lines specialize in non-mainstream varietals that have proved very popular with Northwest wine lovers. Currently available wines include Sangiovese, Malbec and Pinot Grigio in addition to other selections from Michael Florentino Cellars (Counoise, Mourvedre and others). This is lighter, juicier Sangiovese featuring red cherry, vanilla and light herbs – a nice complement to seasoned chicken dishes or lighter red meats.
Winemaker/owner Gino Cuneo celebrates his Italian heritage in his life and in his wines. He has spent the last 20 years striving to unlock the secrets of growing Italian varietals in the Northwest and crafting them into wines worthy of Italian enologic and gastronomic culture. His winemaking venture is called Tre Nova – three stars – and features blends of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera, some made in the traditional Italian style of combining dried grapes with fresh wine to add depth and character. Bonatello is 100% Sangiovese and offers a Chianti-like freshness and complexity featuring aromas and flavors of earthy forest floor, strawberry, baking spices and notes of field flowers and citrus.
I was expecting a much heavier, much more oaky wine when I pulled this cork, but was pleasantly surprised to find true varietal character and a very approachable weight and balance. The nose offers raspberry, strawberry and vanilla with notes of earth and spice; the palate has flavors of berry, spice and hints of toasty cedar. The wine is medium bodied with ample acidity to complement Bolognese and other pasta dishes.
Whidbey Island Winery
Greg Osenbach of Whidbey Island Winery admits that his favorite red varietals are the Italian ones and he sources Sangiovese, Dolcetto and Primitivo from vineyards in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs. The Sangiovese came from Elephant Mountain Vineyard (Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley) and Coyote Canyon in the Horse Heaven Hills. Look for aromas and flavors of red cherry, minty herbs, spicy plum and strawberry with hints of vanilla and toasty oak on the finish.
Paul and Vickie Kitzke have been involved in Columbia Basin agriculture for many years and have gradually transformed their orchards into vineyards. Their tasting room is at their home at the foot of Candy Mountain near Richland, Washington. This is the next “mountain” east of Red Mountain. Their Sangiovese offers aromas of strawberry and cherry with notes of toasty oak and caramel. The palate shows flavors of berry and dark cherry with notes of chocolate and lead pencil. It is a full-bodied wine that accompanies rich pastas or meats from the grill.
The nine renowned winemakers of Long Shadows’ signature wines discover after each harvest that a percentage of their resulting barrels are more than they require to achieve that perfect balance in their final blends. These extra barrels produce Nine Hats wines. This blend of 77% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Syrah was sourced from Boushey, Candy Mountain and Alder Ridge Vineyards. Bright aromas of raspberries and strawberries with notes of mineral and spice lead to a medium-bodied palate with flavors of dried fruits, mocha and dark berry.
Paul Portteus is a Rattlesnake Hills pioneer, first planting his vineyard along the ridge in the early 1980s. Thirty years later, his wines show the terroir of the vineyard site, and the location provides the heat necessary to make rich and hearty red wines with each vintage. This young Sangiovese shows strawberry and cherry aromas with hints of baking spice. The palate offers berry and cranberry flavors with light notes of toasty oak.
Walla Walla Vintners
The owners and winemakers are very keen on wine and food pairing, and Sangiovese (or Italian Chianti) is often considered one of the great wine varieties to accompany gourmet cuisine. This blend of Sangiovese with 12% Syrah and 7% Malbec “comes alive with many classic rich Tuscan dishes,” according to owners Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson. Aromas of dark fruits, leather and earthy spice lead to a rich palate of black cherry, smoked meats and sweet oak flavors.
Wines from other areas
Castillo de Gabbiano
One can 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 of light pear, peach and citrus lead to a medium-bodied palate adding spicy herb and mineral to the flavor mélange.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
Yes, this is the same Jacuzzi name that is famed for elegant rejuvenating spas that soothe your tired muscles. Wine is also a source of warmth and soothing, so the two go together. The Jacuzzi family were farmers in Northern California before their pump and spa business led to fame and thus the connection to wine is made. The Jacuzzi Pinot Grigio offers the typical citrus and stone fruit flavors but adds some nice tropical notes and ripe fruit complexity
Sera Fina Cellars
Paul Scotto founded his winery in Amador County in 2010, but he is the fifth generation of a winemaking family that owns Scotto Cellars and its attendant brands. In addition to experience gained from a childhood and adolescence working around the winery, Paul attended U.C. Davis and worked for one of California’s premier Pinot Noir producers. Look for aromas and flavors of sweet pear, apricot, spicy citrus and notes of floral perfume – a flavorful accompaniment to seafood and chicken.
This Pinot Grigio is created by two winemaking families - Italy’s Franceschi family and the Terlato family from America. The relationship has flourished for more than 35 years when the Terlato’s began importing Franceschi Brunellos into the United States. This Tuscan Pinot Grigio offers aromas of ripe apple and tangy citrus that lead to a refreshing palate that adds tropical fruit complexity to the citrus and pear flavor profile – a good match for rich seafood dishes.
Castillo di Gabbiano
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 impressed my tasters with its classic, complex flavors and impeccable balance on the palate. Aromas and flavors of red berry, tobacco leaf, sweet spices and anise lead to complex flavors of berry and plum with spicy oak notes on the finish.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
The Jacuzzi Winery grows a wide variety of Italian varietals in their vineyards in the Carneros and Sonoma Coast AVAs. The Sangiovese offers aromas and flavors of cherry and strawberry with hints of vanilla and floral perfume. The wine is medium bodied and pairs very well with a wide variety of pastas and meat dishes as well as with Italian-inspired chicken preparations. Visit jacuzziwines.com for a selection of over two dozen Italian recipes.
The Sierra Foothills wine country was developed after the California Gold Rush had come and gone. The Boeger Winery sits on a site that was homesteaded by the Fossati-Lombardo family in the 19th century near the modern-day town of Placerville. Greg and Sue Boeger purchased the ranch in 1972 and opened the winery in 1974. The winery’s 2010 Sangiovese shows aromas of spicy cherry and pomegranate with notes of citrus and mineral. The palate offers bright cranberry and plum flavors with a finish of medium tannins – a good food wine.
© 2013 Chuck Hill