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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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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


Index to Archived
Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


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Last Week's Reviews
Published January 18, 2016

Italian Varietals for 2016
Part 1 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 2)
By Chuck Hill

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 the colorful waterfront cafes of the Italian Riviera. Add to these daydreams the reality of flavorful wines from Italian grape 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. 


Tranche Cellars
2013 Dolcetto, Blackrock Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

Three series of wines are released by Tranche Cellars of Walla Walla. Their Rhone series includes varietal blends utilizing grapes of the Rhone Valley. Their Estate series includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Syrah and Chardonnay from estate grown grapes. This delicious Dolcetto is in their Mediterranean series, which also includes Barbera (see below), Sangiovese and Tempranillo.  My tasters rated this wine highly for rich, spicy cherry and earthy mineral notes – perfect complements to meaty pasta and artisan bread. 

Whidbey Island Winery
2013 Dolcetto
Yakima Valley / Rattlesnake Hills AVAs

Tied at the top of the rankings is Greg Osenbach’s Dolcetto from Crawford Vineyard (Yakima Valley AVA) and Elephant Mountain Vineyard (Rattlesnake Hills AVA).  This is Whidbey Island Winery’s most awarded wine and is a superb accompaniment to Italian cuisine.  Ripe cherry and plum mingle with dusty mineral and hints of floral perfume.  Excellent acid balance on the palate ensures food affinity. 

Delfino Vineyards
2012 Dolcetto
Umpqua Valley AVA

Terri and Jim Delfino craft estate wines from their vineyard in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley AVA.  Their 18-acre vineyard is planted to seven varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel and Muller Thurgau.  Their guest cottage is a popular rental with wine country travelers.  The 2012 Dolcetto is bright with aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry candy.  Hints of licorice and sweet herbs give the wine a food-friendly finish. 


Tranche Cellars
2011 Barbera
Columbia Valley AVA

This wine is also part of Tranche Cellars Mediterranean Series as described above.  From the cooler 2011 vintage, the wine was sourced from vineyards in the warm Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope AVAs.  Extended aging in neutral French oak gave the time to gain complexity, adding leather, spice box and dark berry to the variety's naturally bright cherry and raspberry fruit. 

Oak Knoll Winery
2011 Barbera, Goose Ridge Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Oak Knoll Winery was one of Oregon’s first to craft award-winning Pinot Noir in the state’s earliest days of viticulture.  Decades of production have centered on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and other wines from berries and labrusca hybrids like Niagara.  In recent years, wines have been crafted from Columbia Valley grapes including Syrah and Barbera.  This rich Barbera wine indulges the taster with dark fruits of berry and dried plum and stands out when enjoyed with rich pastas in meat sauce. 

Woodward Canyon Winery
2013 Barbera, Estate
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Owner/winemaker Rick Small has been growing Barbera at his estate Woodward Canyon Vineyard for 16 years.  Two distinct clones of the variety are grown and blended for complexity and balance.  The wine is aged in predominantly 500-liter Italian barrels and a small portion of new French oak. This recently released vintage offers aromas and flavors of dark fruits, blackberry, earthy mineral and cocoa – a great pairing with our meaty pasta entrees. 

Pinot Gris/Grigio:

Left Coast Cellars
2014 Pinot Gris, The Orchards
Willamette Valley AVA

Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris Vineyard is planted on the site of an historic apple and pear orchard dating back to the pioneers who settled Oregon.  The Pinot Gris wine is crafted with ample acidity for pairing with lighter foods such as our Italian-inspired seafood appetizers.  Look for aromas and flavors of pear and citrus with hints of tropical fruits and crisp flinty mineral. 

Locati Cellars
2014 Pinot Grigio
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Locati Cellars winery is located in Milton Freewater, Oregon, the southern portion of the Walla Walla Valley AVA, but their tasting room is open in downtown Walla Walla at 6 West Rose Street.  The Italian heritage of the family inspires the varietal selections including this Pinot Grigio crafted from grapes grown at the Breezy Slopes Vineyard.  Fragrant aromas of pear and vanilla lead to a crisp palate of citrus, kiwi, apple and zesty mineral. 

A to Z Wineworks
2014 Pinot Gris

A to Z Wineworks offers the slogan: “Consistently well-made wines that represent the essence of Oregon.™”  Indeed, the wines are well made and are among the best values in Northwest wine.  Fruit is chosen from a variety of Oregon appellations and then vinted and blended to provide good sipping and superb accompaniment to foods.  The 2014 Pinot Gris offers aromas of spicy pear and apple with floral notes leading to a crisp palate of pear drop, mineral and hints of citrus. 

Other Whites

Ponzi Vineyards
2014 Arneis
Willamette Valley AVA

This rare and special Italian variety is traditionally planted in the northern Piedmonte region of Italy.  The Ponzi family discovered the grape on one of their many visits to the Currado family of Vietti Winery; cuttings were obtained and planted at their vineyard in 1991.  Aromas of green herbs, gooseberry and spicy pepper lead to a complex palate of tropical fruits, vanilla and a hint of sweetness on the finish. 

Wines from other areas:

Coppo L’Avvocata
2013 Barbera d’Asti
Italy - $15.00

This wine is grown in the clay and chalky soils around the town of Canelli in Piedmont.  It serves as a great ambassador for the Barbera varietal - and Italian reds in general – showing that balance and structure are the keys to enjoying a wine with all parts of the meal.  Aromas and flavors of ripe cherry and strawberry mingle with spicy notes finishing with cherry cola.  Pair with pasta with meat sauces, meats from the grill and fine cheeses. 

2014 Dolcetto d’Alba

The translation for Dolcetto from Italian is “sweet, little one” as the traditional Piedmontese grape has become known.  Modern vinification techniques and skill in the vineyard produce a wine that has more to offer than the name implies.  Look for spicy pepper and berries with black cherry and hints of violets.  This delicious medium-bodied red can serve admirably throughout the meal. 

2014 Pinot Grigio
Venezie, IGT

Grapes for DaVinci Pinot Grigio are sourced primarily from the high-altitude Alto-Adige and Trentino districts in the Delle Venezie region.  These Pinot Grigio grapes are blended with 10% Chardonnay surmaturo to intensify tropical fruit character.  Pear and mineral aromas lead to a complex palate of citrus, chalky mineral, pear and apple – a nice sipper and pleasant with seafood or chicken pastas. 

Gnarly Head
2014 Pinot Grigio

The name Gnarly Head refers to head-trained, ancient grape vines that were once the norm in California vineyards.  Grapes for Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio come predominantly from the warm Lodi area, with a portion from cool-climate vineyards near Monterey.  Aromas of spicy floral perfume, stone fruits and pear lead to juicy flavors of citrus, peach and honey on the palate.

Marchesi Fumanelli
2009 Terso Bianco
Verona, Italy

The Marchesi Fumanelli Squarano estate is located in the heart of Valpolicella – eight miles from Verona - where the family has cultivated grapes and produced wines since 1470!  Terso Bianco is a blend of 50% Garganega and 50% Trebbiano grapes yielding a rich and complex wine, aided by barrel aging with lees stirring (batonage).  On the nose, you’ll find orchard blossom and honey with citrus and white peach.  The palate offers flavors of green apple, herbs and citrus – a perfect pairing for seafood and lighter entrees.

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All rights reserved.  Last revised: 01/25/2016