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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived February 22, 2017
Originally Published January 23, 2017

Italy Comes to America
Part 1 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 2)  (Part 3)  (Part 4)
By Chuck Hill

This is my eighth annual evaluation of wines made from Italian grape varieties – a comparison of those vinified in the Pacific Northwest and California with authentic Old World selections from Italy. 

Today I take my first look at Sangiovese wines – the red grape of Tuscany – and how winemakers on U.S. shores have interpreted the wine known in the old country as “Chianti.”  Like most European countries, Italy defines wine names by place of origin.  Wines may only be called Chianti if the grapes came from the Chianti region of Tuscany, and the wine must be made primarily from Sangiovese.  American winemakers and grape growers face no such restrictions. 

I am also including the first of several reviews of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines. 

Whidbey Island Winery
2014 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Greg Osenbach has a love for Italian varieties and a talent for creating ripe and fruity wines that are restrained and true to the variety.  His 2014 Sangiovese comes from three vineyards in the Columbia Valley: Coyote Canyon (Horse Heaven Hills), and Crawford and Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Yakima Valley. Cherry and berry are bright on the nose and palate with hints of mineral and herbs.  Great balance and ample acidity make this a perfect pairing for pasta Bolognese a la Chef Ted! 

2011 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Chuck Reininger crafted his Helix Sangiovese from grapes grown at the Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope.  The cooler 2011 vintage produced a lean wine with intriguing aromas and flavors of cherry, pomegranate, herbs and olives.  The palate has excellent acidity making the wine a great complement for any Italian fare. 

Domaine Trouvere
2013 Sangiovese
Rogue Valley AVA

Winemaker Jesse Lange from Lange Winery in the Willamette Valley sourced grapes from the warmer Rogue Valley to create this flavorful Sangiovese.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and dried strawberry with hints of anise and spice.  Enjoy this bottling with meats from the grill or pasta with rich sauces... perhaps at the Lange & Co. wine bar and café in downtown Dundee, Oregon. 

Mercer Estate
2013 Sangiovese
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This wine comes from Mercer Estate’s Spice Cabinet Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  Partial whole-berry fermentation retained great fruit character of ripe cherry with notes of caramel and dark chocolate.  The wine is rich and fruity on the palate with ample tannins that demand meats from the grill or hearty sauces. 

Kriselle Cellars
2013 S/CS
Rogue Valley AVA

Scott and Krisell Steingraber dreamed the dream of winemaking and their own winery and now have a producing vineyard and a sparkling tasting room and winery just north of Medford, Oregon.  Scott blended 53% Sangiovese with 47% Cabernet Sauvignon to create this rich and fragrant Super Tuscan-style wine from the Rogue Valley.  Look for cherry, blueberry, baking spice and hints of olive. 

Novelty Hill Winery
2014 Sangiovese, Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

The south-facing Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope is Novelty Hill’s estate vineyard, but also a favorite for many Washington winemakers who purchase fruit from this reliable source.  Mike Januik’s 2014 Sangiovese offers a bit of Old World style, showing elegant fruit of cherry, strawberry and plum with notes of dried herbs and a soft finish. 

Terra Vina Wines
2013 Sangiovese
Rattlesnake Hills AVA

Carole and Karl Dinger are the proprietors of Terra Vina Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, located on Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  They seek fruit from other areas for their wines including this Sangiovese from Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills AVA. 

Pinot Grigio

Lange Winery
2015 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

I’ve been talking Pinot Gris with Don Lange for more than a decade, and now his son is making the wine along with dad.  Lange Pinot Gris is always a fresh and flavorful sip with aromas and flavors of pear, spice and hints of tropical fruits.  Visit their Lange and Co. Café in Dundee for a gourmet meal, excellent service and superb wines. 

Waterbrook Winery
2015 Pinot Gris
Columbia Valley AVA

The Waterbrook Winery was originally founded in 1984 – the early years of Washington winemaking and heady times for both pioneer winemakers and journalists covering the rapid growth of the industry. Ownership of the winery is now with Precept Brands, and they have taken the property to elegant new heights.  Look for this off dry Pinot Gris to offer aromas and flavors of Asian pear and melon with notes of mineral, white flowers and spice. 

Brandborg Winery
2015 Pinot Gris
Umpqua Valley AVA

More than 40 years ago, Terry and Sue Brandborg began their search for a cool coastal-climate terroir that would produce harmonious, distinct wines.  Their journey of discovery led them to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley where they founded Brandborg Winery near the town of Elkton.  Terry’s Pinot Gris is a favorite with wine lovers looking for fruity aromas and flavors of pear, orchard blossom, baking spice and hints of citrus. 

2015 Pinot Grigio
Columbia Valley AVA

The Anew brand from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates offers light and fragrant wines crafted from fruit grown in Washington’s Columbia Valley.  The Pinot Grigio is delicate in the Italian style, featuring floral and citrus aromas leading to off dry flavors of melon, pear and tropical fruits.  It is a delightful accompaniment to lighter Northwest seafoods and salads featuring lighter meats. 

Wines from other areas:

Castello di Gabbiano
2013 Chianti Classico, Riserva

Castello di Gabbiano was established in 1124 and is a superb example of an Italian estate.  (You can discover the details at  My Old-World-educated tasters reveled in this classic Chianti Riserva featuring complex cherry and berry mingling with restrained hints of oak and mineral, and finishing with bright acidity; perfect for pairing with pasta Bolognese. 

Guglielmo Winery
2012 Sangiovese, Private Reserve
Santa Clara Valley

The Guglielmo family has been producing wine in the Santa Clara Valley since 1925 - a winemaking tradition that has spanned three generations.  They farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in the valley with brothers George E. Guglielmo, Gene and Gary overseeing the vineyards and winemaking.  This Sangiovese nods to the Old World style with cherry, herb and mineral, but adds a little toasty oak and vanilla in the mix – a modern twist that gives the wine added appeal. 

Il Bastardo
2015 Sangiovese di Toscana
Tuscany, Rufina District, Italy

Cute little Rubio is “fruity, a tad fleshy and full of fun,” as you see from the picture on the label.  This Sangiovese from the Rufina district is just like Rubio, offering fruity cherry and berry, a full mouthfeel, and a fun and easygoing finish. 


Castello Banfi
2014 Chianti Superiore
DOCG, Italy

The label is graced by a famed Leonardo painting – Lady with an Ermine – that evokes classical times in the Old Country.  The wine is perfectly balanced in the Chianti style and reminds the taster of checkered tablecloths and a guttering candle burning in a fiasca…ahh romance!  (Enjoy a screening of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp for additional emotion.)  The wine is sure to please with aromas of spicy cranberry, cherry, herbs and ample acidity on the finish to cut your richly sauced pasta. 

Villa Trasqua
2011 Chianti Classico Evoluto

Villa Trasqua includes some of the best vineyards in Tuscany and produces Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Gran Selezione and Toscana IGT.  This Chianti Classico Evoluto is dedicated to the processes of nature and nurture that transform Sangiovese fruit into wine and evolve in the bottle.  Red cherry, plum and herbs mingle with hints of cocoa and olives and finish with balanced tannins; great with Neapolitan Pork Chops.

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To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above text,
visit our alphabetical lists for Northwest States.



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