By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
Facing the reality of a cold Seattle winter is made a little easier with thoughts of sunny Italy. While wind and wet lurk just beyond the front door, the miracle of central heating allows dreams of warm Tuscan afternoons and colorful waterfront cafes on the southern Italian coast. Add to these daydreams the reality of flavorful wines from Italian varieties and tasty foods based on regional food specialties from Italy’s north and south. I’ve been tasting pastas with rich meaty sauces and lighter dishes featuring fish, shellfish and chicken to find the best wines for you to enjoy on your imaginary Italian holiday.
This week’s red-wine offerings originate in northwest Italy in the Piedmont region. Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo have been grown in this famous region for hundreds of years, and the grapes have translated well into the wine regions of America.
Rick Small grows Barbera at his estate vineyard on the hillside northwest of Lowden. He has experimented with two different clones, fermentation strategies and oak-aging techniques for more than a decade. The balance of the sweeter (I call “cherry candy”) clone with the heartier, darker clone make for a balanced, enjoyable wine featuring ripe cherry and plum with notes of spice, vanilla and earthy mineral – very nice with hearty meats and pastas.
Hard Row to Hoe
The grapes for this tasty wine came from Veranda Beach Vineyard in Oroville, Washington near the Canadian border. The vineyard is one of the northernmost in the state and enjoys a microclimate by being next to Lake Ososyoos and surrounded by steep mountains. Winemaker Judy Phelps used a whole-berry fermentation to give the wine lots of juicy berry and currant aromas and flavors, and aged the wine in neutral oak allowing for food-friendly flavors and a balanced finish.
Winter’s snow and ice are still plaguing the Columbia Gorge and
neighboring communities, but you can enjoy the warmth of Maryhill's
large fireplace while you look forward to warm summer months
on the terrace at the winery. Maryhill just announced their
first summer concert date: Santana is coming on Sunday, June 25! Meanwhile, enjoy a sip of Maryhill’s earthy and fruity Barbera – just
right to accompany a winter-to-spring Italian inspired menu!
The Ponzi family celebrates their Italian heritage with their second
varietal from the Old Country (their first was Arneis). Dolcetto grapes
are grown at their Aurora Vineyard in Chehalem Mountain AVA where they
were first planted in 1992. Enjoy complex aromatics of floral perfume,
spice and cocoa leading to a rich and fruity palate of cherry and plum
with a clean finish of chalky mineral.
This wine is produced from Abacela’s estate Fault Line Vineyards in the warm Umpqua Valley of southern Oregon. As the Dolcetto name implies – sweet, little one, you’ll find bright raspberry and cherry on the nose mingling with spice. The balanced palate offers cherry and berry flavors with tempting notes of cocoa and mineral and velvety tannins.
Whidbey island Winery
Winemaker Greg Osenbach advises that this wine will be released for sale in February of 2017 – make a note and be sure to track it down. Fruit was sourced from Yakima Valley vineyards – Elephant Mountain and Crawford – and gave the wine its aromas and flavors of ripe red currant and cherry with dusty spice and mineral on the finish – great with Italian cuisine of all types.
Peter Dow began making his Maddalena Nebbiolo when he was still the owner of Café Juanita in Kirkland, Washington. I was there decades ago when he proudly fermented the wine in the restaurant’s basement – a fond memory. Today, Precept Brands continues the Cavatappi tradition with counsel from Pietro. Look for ripe dark cherry and raspberry with notes of earthy spice and tobacco – serve with spicy Italian meats from the grill.
It seems like just yesterday that the King family established the landmark King Estate Winery south of Eugene, Oregon, but in fact, it was 25 years ago! Wow! Many great wines have come from this operation, including this latest version of their Pinot Gris. Look for aromas and flavors of mineral, melon, and mango; a well-balanced wine with flavors a bit toward the rounder side of the spectrum.
This wine topped the list in a prestigious flight of highly regarded Pinot Gris/Grigio. This variety has evolved to stellar status, and winemaker Luisa Ponzi continues her string of superb wines. Racy and savory, with crisp acidity, but body and complexity to match. Layered flavors of citrus, mineral, and baking spice.
Elk Cove Vineyards
Speaking of long-established wineries with a reputation for crafting the best in the state, Elk Cove Vineyards was founded in 1974 – now 42 years young! Winemaker Adam Campbell has always had a deft touch with Pinot Gris and this vintage was a favorite as well. You’ll enjoy pear, mineral , and citrus flavors that work well with food or as a sipper on its own.
We’ve been enjoying Attems Pinot Grigio for a number of years, and each vintage impresses the tasters more and more. The old days of light and insipid Italian Pinot Grigio are gone as this excellent wine illustrates. Look for delicate, mineral and cream, with flint and a hint of gooseberry.
Here is another wine that is the antithesis of bland Italian Pinot Grigio. Deliciously complex with grapefruit, gooseberry, melon, and tropical fruit, the wine is very slightly phenolic, adding to its appeal for pairing with richly flavored light meals.
Sartori di Verona
This wine knocked the socks off my tasters for its quality and complexity. Valpolicella is from the northeast of Italy and is crafted from Corvina, Rondinella and Croatina grapes. This fruit-forward style is just one of the variations that the region is famous for, but why look further? Great price and juicy black cherry, berry and earthy mineral – also great with food.
The more elder tasters in my group (like me!) appreciate the Old World versions of Italian varieties for their bright fruit, racy palate and lingering complexity. This version offers ripe cherry and strawberry with notes of spice and hints of cola – a perfect accompaniment to pasta Bolognese.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
As we move to the New World, we find Italian varieties catering to the American palate – preferring more ripeness (and attendant higher alcohol) and some toasty oak for added complexity. It is a different style, but one worth enjoying with hearty meats from the grill and other smoky delights.
To find contact information for most of the wineries
in the above text,
March, 2017 Chuck Hill
March, 2017 Chuck Hill