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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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(In the order of their
publication dates)

Cabernet Sauvignon
& Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2014

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2014

Oyster and Mussel Wines
A 4-Part Series
Published Sept & Oct 2014

Red Rhone Varietals
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2014

Pinot Noir & Salmon
A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Versatile Chardonnays
A 3-Part Series


Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


































Wines of the Week
Published February 27, 2015

Italian Varietals Come to America
Part 4 of a 4-Part Series  (See Part 1)  (See Part 2)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

Every year, it seems that Northwest vintners make strides in producing finely crafted wines from grapes of Italian origin.  Sangiovese and Barbera are being vinted in a more Old World style, highlighting delicate complexities and striving for ample acidity for food friendliness.  As for white wines, America has embraced Pinot Gris/Grigio, and the international style is settling somewhere between the rich pear and floral “Oregon” style and the light and delicate style formerly found in Italy.  Muscat (Moscato) of various types have always had a following and I review three good examples in this column. 


Kitzke Cellars
2012 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Paul and Vickie Kitzke work with their winemaker Charlie Hoppes to produce often spectacular red wines, and this Sangiovese is an elegant example.  The wine comes from the Kitzke Estate Vineyard on Candy Mountain.  Look for aromas of cherry, red currant and cranberry with notes of lead pencil and baking spice.  The flavors echo the nose with classic Chianti structure and weight on the palate – a number one pick among tasters. 

2009 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

This bottling from the Reininger Winery of Walla Walla is a very successful blend of Old World and New World styles.  Aromas and flavors of black cherry, tar and violets are laced with vanilla oak and baking spice, full bodied and flavorful. 

Brian Carter Cellars
2010 Tuttarosso
Columbia Valley AVA

Washington’s master blender, Brian Carter, crafts this wine annually with this vintage comprised of 67% Sangiovese, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah.  Aromas and flavors of dark cherry, plum and spicy berry mingle with notes of earthy mineral, cinnamon and dark chocolate. 

Leonetti Cellar
2012 Sangiovese
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Leonetti Cellar explores their Italian heritage with Sangiovese from their estate vineyards.  New for the 2012 bottling is the addition of 8% Aglianico, a southern Italian variety planted in Leonetti’s Serra Pedace Vineyard.  Winemaker Chris Figgins found, “it fits like a glove, adding structure and a firm core of austere fruit.”  Look for aromas and flavors of rich dark Bing cherry with notes of cranberry, spice and mineral. 


Maryhill Winery
2011 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

As spring comes to the Columbia Gorge, visitors flock to the area to enjoy the spectacular vistas and the fine wines available from more than three-dozen wineries located in the region.  Maryhill Winery offers the grand vistas from their winery perched above the Gorge and a wide selection of fine wines in their elegant tasting room.  The 2011 Sangiovese shows an Old World tendency with spicy red cherry fruit, black pepper and complex nuances of strawberry, tar and earthy mineral.  

Novelty Hill Winery
2012 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Mike Januik crafted this flavorful wine from grapes grown at Novelty Hill’s estate Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope of the Frenchman Hills.  The wine is 100% Sangiovese from clones 19 and 23 grown in the excellent 2012 vintage to yield a dark and juicy wine.  Aromas of fresh strawberry mingle with caramel and toasty oak, leading to the palate of cherry and red currant with a spicy, toasty finish. 

2010 Conti di Val Seriena Sangiovese
Red Mountain AVA

The special Brunello clone of Sangiovese is planted at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Washington’s Red Mountain, and Alfredo Apolloni used these grapes to craft this signature wine. This rich Sangiovese offers aromas of dark cherries, berries, vanilla and citrus leading to a complex palate with spicy black cherry, tobacco and earthy mineral. 

Walla Walla Vintners
2012 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

The winemakers at Walla Walla Vintners blended 83% Sangiovese with 11% Syrah and 6% Malbec to craft this full-bodied wine from fruit grown at vineyards in both the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley AVAs. The wine is ripe, but not overripe, featuring aromas and flavors of black cherry, lead pencil, cocoa and anise with a dollop of toasty oak. 

Tamarack Cellars
2010 Sangiovese, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
Red Mountain AVA

From the same vintage and same vineyard as the Apolloni wine above, Tamarack Cellars’ Sangiovese offers the same Old World style of complexity and restraint.  A vein of citrus and earthy spice runs through the core of red plum and dark cherry with notes of dark chocolate and anise. 

Brandborg Winery
2012 Sangiovese
Umpqua Valley AVA - $26.00

Terry Brandborg crafted this wine from grapes grown at Scott West’s Amaranth Vineyard east of Oakland, Oregon in the Umpqua Valley AVA.  The wine is on the lighter side, more of an Old World style showing a translucent garnet color.  Aromas of strawberry, floral perfume and spice lead to a palate with flavors of red cherries and strawberry with a juicy mouthfeel and good acidity on the finish – a great food wine. 


Januik Winery
2013 Muscat Canelli, Champoux Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Here is a combination that can’t be beat.  Combine one of Washington’s most accomplished and revered winemakers (Mike Januik) with fruit from one of Washington’s oldest and most respected vineyards (Champoux – formerly Mercer Ranch) to create a superb wine!  Mike’s Muscat Canelli offers the classic floral, lychee, citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavors that endear wine lovers to the variety – great with lighter foods. 

2013 Muscat, Estate Grown
Umpqua Valley AVA

This wine from Abacela’s estate Fault Line Vineyards is a blend of two Muscat varieties: Early Muscat (76.4%) and Muscat Blancs a Petits Grains (23.6%).  The delightfully fragrant nose of lychee, roses, baking spice and citrus lead to a palate with a rainbow of similar flavors with tart acidity mellowed by 3.5% residual sugar.  Owner Earl Jones suggests pairing with Asian foods with heat or tapas featuring Serrano ham. 

Fourteen Hands
2013 Moscato
Columbia Valley AVA

This food-friendly and wallet-friendly Moscato is vinted in the Old World style with low alcohol (10.5%), crisp acidity and a dollop of residual sugar to balance.  If you ever get the chance to wander through a Muscat vineyard just before harvest, you’ll enjoy the heady perfume of lychee, rose petal and orange blossom – just the same aromas that winemaker Keith Kenison captured in this delicious wine. Flavors on the palate include ripe peach, melon and mandarin orange.  Serve with lighter cheeses, fruit salad or charcuterie. 

Pinot Gris

Oak Knoll Winery
2013 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

Oak Knoll is one of Oregon’s pioneer wineries, founded in 1970 by Ron and Marjorie Vuylsteke in Washington County near Portland.  Pinot Gris has been on their wine list for decades and is always a pleasure to taste.  The current vintage offers aromas and flavors of pear, lychee, apple and apricot.  Ample acidity with a hint of residual sugar to balance makes this a great food wine. 

Rolling Bay Winery
2013 Pinot Gris, Upland Vineyard
Snipes Mountain AVA

Winemaker Alphonse de Klerk works almost exclusively with Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA to get grapes for his Rolling Bay wines.  His soft and fruity Pinot Gris from the 2013 vintage offers aromas of apple, pear and stone fruits with notes of floral perfume.  The palate shows similar flavors with hints of citrus and earthy mineral on the finish – a good sipper or serve with lighter meals and appetizers. 

Wines from other areas:

Castello Banfi
2009 Brunello di Montalcino
Poggio alle Mura, Italy

Brunello di Montalcino is the undisputed king of red wines from the Italian region of Tuscany.  Crafted from select clones of Sangiovese and aged in oak for 24 months this wine combines power with finesse.  Aromas of berries and cherries dance with notes of violets, spice and hints of toasty cedar.  On the palate, flavors of plums, blackberries and anise are held in check with a finish of velvety tannins – superb with red meat, savory game and aged cheeses. 

Castello Gabbiano
2011 Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione

In 2014, the Chianti Classico region created a new top designation known as Gran Selezione.  According to the region, Gran Selezione accounts for 10% of the Chianti Classico production.  Wines must meet certain chemical and organoleptic characteristics and undergo minimum aging requirements.  This is Gabbiano’s first Gran Selezione bottling, showing aromas of berries, mineral and floral perfume.  The palate is rich with black fruit flavors, spicy pepper, and baking spices with a lingering palate of modest tannins and hints of toasty oak. 

2013 Sangiovese, Rosso Pacific Rim

This Super Tuscan Blend combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano, Merlot and Sangiovese to create a complex red wine to accompany everything from spaghetti with meatballs, to grilled chicken to your favorite cheeses.  Cinnamon and vanilla aromas lead to flavors of cherry and blackberry laced with vanilla, nutmeg and other baking spices.  

2012 Sangiovese
Dry Creek Valley

The Pedroncelli has been producing fine table wines in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County continuously since the repeal of prohibition.  I have enjoyed Pedroncelli wines for their quality and value since the 1970s.  My wife and I toasted our engagement with friends in 1975 with Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon.  Romantic memories aside, this Sangiovese offers great Italian character: plum and Bing cherry tickled with notes of tar and anise, and medium body highlighted by balancing acidity. 

Principessa Gavia
2013 Gavi
DOCG, Banfi, Italy

The romantic story of Principessa Gavia tells of a girl defying her father, the king, to elope with her chosen beau.  They fled to this corner of the Piedmont but were found by the king.  Realizing how happy the couple were, the king relented and named the region and its local wine in her honor.  Ahhh, love.  Share a bottle of this spritely and refreshing wine with your love to enjoy aromas and flavors of lemon zest, flinty mineral and green apple.

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©  February, 2015  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 02/27/2015