By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
Since by example today’s wine reviews illustrate the following discussion, I’ll jump right into the meat of the muddle. European countries organized their wine industries about 200 years ago. Regions were delineated in France and Italy where specific grape varietals were to be grown, and laws were enacted defining what to call the resulting wines. In the case of Italy, Chianti was made from Sangiovese grown in Tuscany; Barolo was made from Nebbiolo grown in the Piedmont, etc. Only recently has the Italian wine industry sidestepped this convention by blending in Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to make “Super Tuscans” and other non-traditional wines. The new IGT designation (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) formalized in 1992 gave respectability to wines from broader geographic areas and those containing more liberal varietal blends.
In America, the grape varietal is King of the Label. While growing regions have become more and more important, the first laws of our wine industry - in our modern era - have called for wine names by grape type, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc. Whether the Pinot Noir was grown in Oregon, Idaho or Texas, it was still Pinot Noir. With Italian varietals grown in the U.S., the grape names don’t communicate the same power or romance as the Italian Chianti, Barolo and others.
Several wines below are blends of Italian varietals (unheard of in Italy) that are seeking approval and recognition from consumers.
So we come to the most popular advice from wine writers to consumers: drink what you like…and the resulting question from the novice wine lover, “What should I like?” Here are some selections that will pair well with your seafood (white) and meat-pizza-pasta (red).
Lake Chelan Winery
Lake Chelan Winery is the pioneer of the Lake Chelan Valley Wine Industry. Long time local farmers Steve and Bobbi Kludt planted the first commercial vineyards in the Chelan Valley in 1998. The winery offers expansive grounds for wine tourists, and operates its own barbecue restaurant offering ribs, salmon, chicken, burgers and more for hungry wine lovers. This Lake Chelan Pinot Grigio shows us the balanced and flavorful food wine that can be crafted from Lake Chelan grapes. The wine offers aromas and flavors of apple, pear, peach and citrus with ample acidity and just a hint of residual sugar for balance.
One of the Northwest’s largest wineries, Columbia Crest's wines are popularly priced and are distributed widely throughout the U.S. These wines are often the first taste of Northwest wine that passes the lips of non-Northwest wine lovers. Winemaker Juan Munoz Oca crafts this wine from grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA as well as other quality vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA. Look for aromas and flavors of pear and apple mingling with notes of melon, citrus and mineral – a tasty pairing with lighter seafood and poultry.
This variety of Muscat is a rare planting in the Northwest. Wade Wolfe used fruit from the Lonesome Spring Vineyard near Benton City, Washington to craft this refreshing bottling. Aromas of peach and tropical orange lead to flavors of stone fruits, citrus and talc with crisp acidity to pair with lighter foods of all types – also a good sipper for a warm afternoon.
Wind Rose Cellars
Winemakers David Volmut and Jennifer States craft this Orange Muscat in the Italian tradition of being slightly “frizzante” or sparkling. The wine’s effervescence tingles in the mouth, refreshing the palate while dining and distributing the flavors and aromas of the wine. On the nose you’ll find honeysuckle, Mandarin orange and lilac. The palate offers tropical fruit flavors with hints of spice and creamy orange.
Wind Rose Cellars
David Volmut crafted this propriety blend from 46% Primitivo, 44% Barbera and dashes of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon. He describes the wine as a “Vino Fresco” - meant to be consumed young, within 4 to 5 years. It offers aromas of cherry jam, vanilla and earthy spice, leading to flavors of Bing cherry, toasty oak, plum and spicy pomegranate. Serve with rich pasta dishes, pizza or meats from the grill.
Upon hearing the Native American pronunciation for Lake Chelan, a 19th
century explorer charted it as “Tsillan” meaning deep water. The
name is pronounced “chelan,” but the native spelling is used for the
name that Dr. Robert Jankelson gave to his Italian-style country retreat
in the Chelan Valley. Estate vineyards above the lake shore
complete the picture. Sinistra is a blend of 42% Barbera, 42%
Sangiovese and 16% Nebbiolo. Look for aromas and flavors of cherry
and cranberry, with notes of earthy herbs and toasty cedar.
Walla Walla Vintners
Italian heritage and Italian inspiration combine at Walla Walla Vintners as owners Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson work with their winemaker Bill von Metzger to craft this annual Super Tuscan-style blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from Sagemoor Vineyard and 50% Sangiovese from Kiona and Dwelley Vineyards. The aroma opens with candied cranberry and black cherry, evolving with spicy oak and caramel. The palate offers rich flavors of blackberry, spicy oak and earthy herbs and cassis.
We continue to be impressed by Gino Cuneo’s wines and their old world character. Veteran tasters on the panel ranked this wine at the top of the red category. Those who seek out lighter-style reds that offer complexity instead of power would do well to give Tre Nova wines a try.
Ripasso is an Italian technique where finished wine is “passed” through the grape skins used to make Amarone or Recioto to give more structure and flavor. Look for complex aromas and flavors of earthy cherry and spice with notes of floral perfume, cola and lead pencil.
Adrienne and Russell Claar developed the first farm in the White Bluffs area in 1950 and planted the first wine grapes in 1980. Their daughter Crista Claar Whitelatch and her husband Bob Whitelatch came to the farm in 1983 and have since developed over 120 acres of premium vineyards. In 1997, they founded the estate Claar Cellars winery. Their rich and flavorful Sangiovese offers earthy black fruits, plum, spicy oak and a finish of cocoa, caramel and vanilla. Enjoy this wine with meats from the grill or your favorite pizza or pasta.
This partnership between the pioneering Hogue and Mercer families in Eastern Washington continues the tradition of farming in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA where their Spice Cabinet Vineyard is the grape source for this Sangiovese. Aromas of cranberry and cherry lead to a full-bodied palate featuring flavors of smoky berry, cedar, earth and citrus notes.
Whidbey Island Winery
Winemaker Greg Osenbach celebrated the 20th anniversary last year of his winery near Langley on Washington’s Whidbey Island. Greg has a soft spot for Italian red varietals and crafted this excellent Dolcetto from grapes grown at Crawford Vineyard north of Prosser. It features bright aromas of dark cherry, baking spice and plum leading to sweet cherry flavors with notes of vanilla and black pepper.
Cana’s Feast is located in a Tuscan-inspired winery just a few blocks north of downtown Carlton, Oregon. If you are so inspired – and happen by for tasting on a dry day – you can play a game of bocce on one of their two regulation courts. The Italian feel of the place is unmistakable. Grapes for their 2010 Barbera came from the Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Aromas of earthy herbs mingle with cherry, plum and notes of tobacco and spice. Bright cherry flavors on the palate promise good acidity for food pairing or further aging.
Primitivo is the grape best known for being the Italian version of Zinfandel – a genetically identical pair with subtle clonal differences. Primitivo has been planted in a number of locations in the Northwest and California and wines are produced in styles ranging from light and fruity to intense and powerful. Winemaker Steve Meyer crafts his Primitivo in a middle ground style showing aromas and flavors of Bing cherry, earthy herbs, red licorice, vanilla and spicy cedar.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
When Primitivo reaches an advanced stage of ripeness, some of the fruit character shifts from red berries to blueberry and dark fruits. This version from the Agate Ridge Vineyard in Southern Oregon is ripe and intense with blueberry, cocoa, herbs and smoky oak aromas. The palate adds flavors of plum and raisin with spicy tobacco and currant flavors on the finish.
Hard Row to Hoe
Here is another blockbuster Primitivo, this time from the warm Wahluke Slope AVA of Washington State. Ripe aromas of black raspberry, anise and dark cherry lead to a powerful palate with dark fruit flavors and firm tannins on the finish. Steaks from the grill would be a good pairing with this rich wine.
Whidbey Island Winery
Greg Osenbach suggests pairing his ripe Primitivo with rich meat dishes
or with your favorite dark chocolate dessert. The nose is a
spicebox with pepper, anise, and clove dancing with dark cherry and
blueberry. The palate is rich with dark berry flavors and notes of
toasty cedar and vanilla.
Wines from other areas
Tuscany, just outside the tiny town of Vinci, local winegrowers joined
together to form Cantine Leonardo da Vinci, a growers’ cooperative
committed to producing authentic Tuscan wine. Families with dozens
of years of Tuscan winegrowing history are the heart and soul of this
brand. This Pinot Grigio is richer than most from Italy, mostly
due to the addition of 10% Chardonnay “surmaturo” grapes, picked after
the regular harvest for greater complexity and mouthfeel. Look for
aromas and flavors of fresh apple, citrus, dusty mineral and crisp
Big House Winery
Head “warden” Georgetta Dane makes sure that good wine and good humor go hand in hand at Big House Winery near Soledad, California. Each bargain bottling takes a good-natured poke at some aspect of prison lore, this Pinot Grigio targeting The Birdman of movie fame. Richer than Italian Pinot Grigios, this wine offers ripe aromas of melon and citrus leading to flavors of pear, grapefruit and mineral. Warden Dane suggests pairing The Birdman with goat cheese, pancetta and arugula pizza.
Martin & Weyrich
This wine wowed the panel with bright Moscato character – the Muscat Canelli variety – and a palate with low alcohol, noticeable sweetness and a bit of frizzante bubbliness. Complex aromas and flavors of floral spice, honey, lychee entice another taste; ample acidity balanced the residual sugar on the palate. Bella!
Though this Chianti offers the classic aromas and flavors of the region, it is blended with 10% Merlot. In the old days, it was permitted to blend small percentages of other varietals with the base of Sangiovese Grosso, but it was most often Italian varietals – even white grape like Trebbiano. Pair with this your pasta for aromas and flavors of earthy plum and cherry, anise, peppery mineral and soft tannins.
The Buttitta family has been growing premium wine grapes in California since 1953. Today, the focus is on making classic Italian varietals from their winery in Kelseyville, Lake County. The winemaker’s Italian heritage leads to a statement that, compared to Zinfandel, Primitivo is considered to be more feminine and rustic. From his lips to the grapevines… This is indeed a feminine Primitivo (much different that those reviewed above) offering strawberry and cherry fruit with sweet berry flavors and notes of citrus and floral perfume.
© 2013 Chuck Hill