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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
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2015

 Thanksgiving Wines
Published Nov 16, 2015

Meat My Merlot
A 4-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2015

Bordeaux Buddies
The Blending Grapes

on their own
A 4-Part Series
Published Aug & Sep 2015

Wines for Oysters
and Mussels

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2015

Pinot Noir & Salmon
A 4-Part Series
Published June & July 2015

Red Rhone Varietals
A 4-Part Series
Published Apr & May 2015

50 Shades of Chardonnay
A 4-Part Series
Published Mar & Apr 2015


Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal



















Wines of the Week

Published February 8, 2016

Italian Varietals – Primitivo, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo & More!
Part 3 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 1)  (Part 2)
By Chuck Hill

Both Primitivo and Zinfandel are genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crijenak Kastelanski.  Extensive research during the 1990s revealed that Primitivo and Zinfandel are clones of the same grape and one parent of the modern Croatian variety Plavac Mali.  Whatever the esoteric history, both wines are now quite popular in the United States with Primitivo finding fans in just the last 10 years. 

Nebbiolo is a major grape in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, responsible for such famed wines as Barolo and Barbaresco.  Despite a mental association that many wine lovers have for Nebbiolo being a ripe and powerful grape, it is not.  In Italy, it produces light- to medium-colored wines with aromas and flavors of tar, roses, cherries and raspberries.  Like Burgundies, it requires age to show its complexity and ultimate quality.  

In America, Nebbiolo is often grown alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other varietals that enjoy hot climates.  Wines are made from very ripe Nebbiolo grapes in the New World style to produce intense and deeply colored wines.  This American style of Nebbiolo is different from the Italian style, and some growers and vintners are working to create more authentic versions. 

Primitivo / Zinfandel

Locati Cellars
2012 Primitivo
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Locati Cellars is in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, along the Oregon/Washington border.  Winemaker Jason Fox crafts both white and red Italian varieties including this ripe and spicy Primitivo featuring dark cherry fruit, dried herbs and hints of toasty cedar. 

Angel Vine
2012 Primitivo, Coyote Canyon Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Winemaker Ed Fus produces Zinfandel and Primitivo wines from grapes grown mostly in Eastern Washington.  He recently partnered with several other small wineries to open Urban Crush in downtown Portland.  His Coyote Canyon Primitivo opens with plum and vanilla leading to earthy spice and notes of savory herbs and cherry. 

Angel Vine
2012 Primitivo, Stone Tree Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Ed’s Primitivo from the StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope is a standout selection in the New World style.  The wine is inky in color with intense aromas and flavors of black fruits and dark spices.  Toasty oak, leather and vanilla mingle with the rich flavors on the finish. 

Whidbey Island Vineyard
2013 Primitivo, Coyote Canyon Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Whidbey Island Winery crafts their Primitivo in a slightly Newer World style than some of their other Italian varietals.  It is rich and fruity with black pepper notes and a core of raspberry and jammy plum. 

Angel Vine
2012 Zinfandel, Les Collines Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

I used to do a Zinfandel extravaganza each summer, but other varieties now dominate our tasting time.  Ed Fus’ Angel Vine Zins are always a favorite for their blackberry bramble character and this one from Les Collines in Walla Walla adds a touch of tar and some floral notes to boot! 


Seven of Hearts
2013 Nebbiolo, Coyote Canyon Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Winemaker Byron Dooley notes that the Nebbiolo at Coyote Canyon Vineyard is planted in the coolest corner of the vineyard, possibly validating my comments about Old World/New World styles above. His Nebbiolo is exemplary tasting not unlike a Pinot Noir with strawberry and cherry notes augmented by spice, earthy mineral, violets and hints of buttered toast. 

Cavatappi Winery
2012 Nebbiolo, Maddalena, Red Willow, Alder Ridge

Winemaker Peter Dow has been inducted by Precept Brands into a new group of vintners dubbed “Associated Vintners,” trading on the original name of Columbia Winery.  His original Maddelena Nebbiolo was the first of that variety ever commercially produced in the Northwest.  This 2012 version is bright with cherry and spice with a complex palate of mineral, baking spice and floral notes. 

Cotes de Ciel
2012 Nebbiolo, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
Red Mountain AVA

Winemaker Richard Holmes crafted his Ciel du Cheval Nebbiolo in the New World, reserve style and makes a case for the varietal taking its place alongside other powerful wines from Red Mountain.  Dried cherry and dried plum waft through the mélange, and the palate is braced with dark fruit flavors, earthy spice and notes of toasty oak and vanilla. 

Other red varieties

Brandborg Winery
2012 Lagrein
Umpqua Valley

Terry Brandborg grows this rare variety in his vineyard in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon. (His vineyards are located in the Elkton Oregon AVA established as a sub-appellation of the Umpqua AVA in 2013.)  Lagrein is thought to be a distant relative of Pinot Noir and Syrah and originated in the South Tyrol at the foot of the Dolomite Mountains. True to the grape’s reputation, Terry’s Lagrein offers floral and herbal character with austere cherry and berry fruit and a crisp acidic finish – very good with food and a nice introduction to the variety. 

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris

King Estate
2014 Pinot Gris, Signature

This wine from one of Oregon’s most prolific producers was fermented in stainless steel, then aged four months on the lees.  Aromas of citrus, pear and ginger lead to a rich and complex palate that adds mineral and tropical fruits, and a zing of crisp acidity.  Enjoy with light pasta dishes with fish or fowl.  Also look for King Estate’s Acrobat Pinot Gris in lighter style for $13. 

Carabella Vineyard
2014 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

The Hallock family makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris at their vineyard in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Winemaker Mike Hallock fermented 25% of this Pinot Gris in neutral barrels to add some weight and complexity.  Look for aromas and flavors of Asian pear, melon and notes of apricot. 

Hogue Cellars
2014 Pinot Grigio
Columbia Valley AVA

One of Washington’s best values in white wine, Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio gets the green light for versatility and style.  I recommend this light and fragrant sip with everything from oysters to turkey to light Italian pastas!  Enjoy it for aromas and flavors of pear, melon, citrus and notes of mineral. 

Elk Cove Vineyards
2014 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

Elk Cove Vineyards is one of Oregon’s pioneers, having been founded in the western part of Yamhill County in 1974.  Winemaker Adam Campbell’s 2014 Pinot Gris was crafted partly from the original estate vines, planted in 1985, some of the oldest Pinot Gris in Oregon.  The wine features ripe stone fruits and tropical notes and spicy ginger.  A crisp finish ensures food friendliness. 


Anne Amie
2014 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

Dr. Robert Pamplin purchased the pioneer Chateau Benoit winery in 1999 and has continued the excellence in Pinot Noir and a variety of white wines.  The 2014 Pinot Gris opens with white peach and green apple, evolving with exotic floral notes of orchard blossom and jasmine.  The palate adds flavors of fragrant apples and pear. 

Wine by Joe
2014 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

From one of Oregon’s wine masters, Joe Dobbes, this fruity Pinot Gris is part of his entry level Wine by Joe brand.  Look for aromas and flavors of white peach, melon and tropical notes – great with lighter fare or springtime sipping. 

Wines from other areas

Dry Creek Vineyard
2013 Zinfandel, Old Vine
Dry Creek Valley

Although there is no legal definition for the term “Old Vine,” Dry Creek Vineyard defines it as having vines more than 50 years in age.  In fact, the vines producing this wine are more than 95 years in age.  This classic Zinfandel offers aromas of mineral and spice, yielding to dark fruits and pepper. On the palate, rich flavors of blackberry, blueberry and cherry mingle with toasty oak – serve with steaks from the grill accompanied by pasta with rich tomato sauce. 

Pedroncelli Winery
2013 Zinfandel, Mother Clone
Dry Creek Valley

Pedroncelli’s historic Zinfandel vineyards are located on the hillsides surrounding the winery, on the ranch originally purchased by John Pedroncelli, Sr. in 1927, and planted to Zinfandel since 1904.  The wine from vineyards planted from these “Mother Vines” offers ripe berry and dark plum with brambly notes that add black pepper, fig and intense blackberry on the palate – serve with your favorite meaty pasta or lasagna. 

Bota Box
2013 Old Vine Zinfandel
$20.00 – 3L

This is darn tasty wine, and that’s even before you appreciate the bargain price and green attributes of the packaging (no glass, recycled/recyclable box and liner, biodegradable inks).  BB Old Vine Zinfandel offers the jammy blackberry and cherry flavors that you expect from the varietal and hints of black pepper and toasted oak.  This brand has recently expanded to include a dozen varietals including a fresh and fragrant Pinot Grigio that will pair with your lighter dishes. 

2013 Primitivo
IGT, Puglia, Italy

Tormaresca was founded in 1998 with the investment and vision of the Antinori family in Italy’s Puglia.   Grapes for this wine came from the Masseria Maime Vineyard in the Salento region.  This Old World style wine offers bright cherry and plum fruit with spicy notes leading into the palate where flavors of red fruits dance with black pepper and toasted hazelnut. 

Feudo Sartanna Zirito
2013 Grillo Terre Siciliane
IGT, Sicily, Italy

The grape variety Grillo is able to withstand very warm climates such as those found on the volcanic slopes of Sicily.  It has been one of the main grapes used to make Marsala, though, in recent years, this pleasant dry white table wine has found quite a following.  The wine is light and fresh offering aromas and flavors of herbs and mineral with delicate notes of citrus and pear. 

2011 Rosso Verona
IGT Bolla

This wine is made in a style similar to “Ripasso” where dried grapes are fermented and then fermented a second time with the addition of fresh wine.  In this case, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are dried to remove 30% of their water weight and then pressed and fermented with 65% Corvina wine.  Extracted aromas of black plum, dark cherry and herbs carry into the palate where fleshy blackberry and baking spices add to the elegance.

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©  February, 2016  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 02/08/2016