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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 January 24, 2015

Italian Varietals for the New Year
Part 1 of a 4-Part Series
Chuck Hill 

American wine lovers are seeking new experiences, and they are finding them in new interpretations of classic varietals and blends from the Old World.  Grapes from Southern France, Spain and Italy have made their way into our vineyards, and winemakers are creating new wines to inspire and attract the thirsty consumer. 

Is it the romance of Pinot Grigio compared with Pinot Gris?  Does the attraction of sunny Tuscany inspire production of Sangiovese and Super Tuscan blends?  Some Northwest winemakers are taking cues from the Old World in producing food-friendly reds and whites with less oak and less alcohol.  Others stand firm that the New World should blaze a new trail by exploring powerful styles of Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto and other varietals. 

Today, we begin a four-part look at Italian varietals from the New World with some comparisons to Italian wines to promote realistic balance. 

Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris

Terrapin Cellars
2013 Pinot Gris

Rob Clarke and Brenda Kidder are the owners of Terrapin Cellars as well as vineyard managers for several growers in the Willamette Valley.  They crafted their first wine in 2000 from grapes grown at vineyards that they manage.  That continues to be the operating plan.  Their 2013 Pinot Gris was lauded by my tasters for purity of fruit and balance on the palate.  Look for spicy pear, floral notes and hints of earth and mineral – great with Chef Ted’s smoked salmon crostini. 

Wine by Joe
2013 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley AVA

Oregon wine legend Joe Dobbes crafts his Wine by Joe brand to be “delicious, but never pretentious,” and the three selections are all excellent everyday wines.  Wine by Joe Pinot Gris offers round aromas of apple and pear with a fresh palate that echoes the nose.  Excellent acid balance makes this another fine food wine. 

Brandborg Winery
2013 Pinot Gris
Umpqua Valley AVA

Terry Brandborg crafts a wide variety of flavorful wines from his winery and vineyard near the southern Oregon town of Elkton in the Umpqua Valley.  His Pinot Gris offers a wider range of aromas than most, adding tropical notes of pineapple and honeysuckle to green apple and pear on both nose and palate.  Terry always recommends oysters on the half shell to accompany this crisp wine. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2013 Pinot Gris
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Bob Bertheau from Chateau Ste. Michelle enjoys this 2013 Pinot Gris with halibut or scallops, and suggests the wine weighs in somewhere between the lighter Italian style (Pinot Grigio) and the rounder Alsatian version.  Either way, my tasters enjoyed the aromas and flavors of melon, pear and spice with notes of stone fruits and citrus. 

Wine O’Clock
2011 Pinot Gris
Columbia Valley AVA

Wine O’Clock is the name of the wine bar and bistro created by Bunnell Family Cellars and located at Prosser’s Vintners Village just off Highway I-82 in the Washington’s Yakima Valley.  From Antipasto, salads and pizza to sophisticated entrees, each can be paired with individual wines or tasting flights.  Ron Bunnell’s Pinot Gris is crisp and bright with a bit of frizzante offering aromas and flavors of green apple, citrus and mineral. 

Pend d’Oreille Winery
2013 Pinot Gris

Steve and Julie Meyer are celebrating the 19th anniversary of their winery located in Sandpoint, Idaho – just across the state line from Washington’s northeast corner.  Sandpoint is a beautiful place with snow sports nearby in the winter and water sports on lakes and rivers in the summer.  Excellent restaurants cater to the throngs of tourists, and Pend d’Oreille wines await to be discovered and enjoyed.  The winery’s Bistro Rouge Café is also a popular choice for dining.  Look for aromas and flavors of citrus, honeysuckle, herbs and apple that pair well with lighter cuisine. 

Willow Crest Winery
2013 Pinot Gris, Willow Crest Estate Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

David Minick planted his vineyard near Prosser, Washington in the early 1980s and has been very successful selling grapes to area wineries.  He began his own winery in 1995 north of Prosser along Snipes road and later moved it to the Vintners Village in downtown Prosser.  Willow Crest Pinot Gris is bright and fresh with pear and apricot aromas mingling with green apple and hints of herbs – a nice pairing with smoked salmon crostini. 

Agate Ridge Vineyard
2012 Pinot Gris, Estate
Rogue Valley AVA

Agate Ridge Vineyard is located east of Interstate 5 in the Rogue River Valley community of Eagle Point, Oregon.  The winery was constructed to accept the estate harvest in 2005 from 14 varietals grown on the 30-acre vineyard.  The 2012 Pinot Gris offers aromas of pear and pineapple leading to a crisp palate showing flavors of stone fruits, wet stone and green apple. 


Whidbey Island Winery
2012 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Greg Osenbach is really enjoying working with Italian varietals, so much so that he named their cat Sangiovese!  He blended a little Primitivo (8%) and a little Merlot (4%) into this bottling, and my tasters found the result irresistible.  The wine dances between bright cherry character and more complex notes of leather, anise and cocoa and was a great pairing with Chef Ted’s pork tenderloin in red sauce. 

Cavatappi Winery
2011 Sangiovese

Many years ago, Peter Dow owned Café Juanita restaurant in a remodeled house north of Kirkland, Washington.  As the Washington wine boom took off, Peter began making wine in the basement of the restaurant, naming the brand Cavatappi after the Italian word for corkscrew.  He procured Italian varietal grapes from Red Willow and other vineyards in Eastern Washington.  Fast forward to 2014, Peter has joined in an association with Andrew Browne of Precept Wines to continue the Cavatappi story.  Look for his tasty Sangiovese at the new Browne Family Vineyards tasting room in Walla Walla.  The wine offers red cherry, light toast and hints of herbs to accompany light meals and conversation. 

Gecko Cellars
2011 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Brad Sherman was a member of the Boeing Winemaking Club before going pro and starting Michael Florentino Cellars and the second-level label Gecko Cellars.  He makes wines and offers tastings at his winery in the warehouse district of Woodinville.  This unique Sangiovese doesn’t necessarily look good on paper – 18% Cabernet Franc – but it sure tastes good and pairs well with food.  It turns out Cab Franc brings some nice olive and pepper notes to the plum and cherry of the Sangiovese.  Serve with all manner of Italian specialties or even something American! 

Claar Cellars
2009 Sangiovese, White Bluffs
Columbia Valley AVA

Claar Cellars is part of the Claar Wine Group, headed by Bob and Crista Whitelatch and family members John and James.  They are innovative marketers, taking hints from the big boys by expanding their brands.  This flagship brand is distinguished by its source of grapes at the estate vineyards above the Columbia River at White Bluffs near Pasco.  The wine offers ripe aromas of black raspberry and cherry mingling with toasty oak.  On the palate you’ll find the same fruits with added nuances of citrus, black pepper and hints of vanilla. 

Vin du Lac of Chelan
2009 Sangiovese, LEHM
Lake Chelan AVA

The LEHM wines from Vin du Lac are made exclusively from grapes grown in the Lake Chelan AVA of north central Washington State.  Owner/winemaker Larry Lehmbecker was an early champion of the Lake Chelan winegrowing area, starting his winery in 1998 and planting the winery vineyard in 2002.  This complex Sangiovese offers raspberry and cranberry fruit with notes of earthy bread, vanilla, herbs and toasty oak.  Firm tannins suggest a rich cut of meat as an accompaniment. 

Coyote Canyon Winery
2010 Sangiovese, Estate
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Mike Andrews grows the fruit for Coyote Canyon wines at his family vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills of Washington State.  Many other Northwest wineries use Coyote Canyon grapes for their wines as well.  Quality attracts many followers.  Coyote Canyon Sangiovese is made in the New World style with lots of dark fruits, black pepper and toasty oak.  Serve with hearty meat dishes and spicy sauces. 

DiStefano Winery
2011 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley AVA

Owner/winemaker Mark Newton and Associate Winemaker Tracey LaPierre craft the wines for DiStefano Winery, one of the first five wineries in Woodinville, founded in 1983.  The winery has relocated to a spot south of the Woodinville Warehouse Wine District with tasting room hours on Fridays and Saturdays.  From a cooler Washington vintage, this Sangiovese conveys a sense of Old World style with bright aromas of raspberry and cherry mingling with baking spices and just a hint of vanilla – very tasty with Neapolitan Pork Chops. 

Eight Bells Winery
2012 Sangiovese, Red Willow Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

Those with a nautical bent will recognize the name of this winery representing the changing of the watch aboard ship.  This changing of the watch also symbolizes a changing of career focus for the partners in the winery.  Tim, Andy and Frank moved into their commercial space in 2009.  The 2012 Sangiovese is all about dark cherries.  Dark cherry aroma leads to dark cherry candy flavors on the palate, but the wine also offers notes of dark spices, vanilla and mineral. 

Spangler Vineyards
2012 Sangiovese

Winemaker/owner Patrick Spangler crafts his wines in a style somewhere between Old World and New World, cleverly finding a balance of power and finesse in his red and white wines.  His rich and flavorful Sangiovese offers baskets of ripe red and black fruits and a nice balance of toasty oak lending a spicy note to the middle palate and finish.  It is a very tasty accompaniment to meat dishes and spicy sauces. 

Cana’s Feast
2010 Bricco
Columbia Valley

The word Bricco in Italian has two meanings.  In the vineyard, it refers to the highest point of the site, where ample sunlight first warms the vines.  In the kitchen it can mean kettle or cauldron, another warm place!  Cana’s Feast Bricco is a blend of 87% Sangiovese with small amounts of Barbera, Syrah, Primitivo and Nebbiolo.  The wine is generous in the New World style with ripe plum and cassis massaged by ample toasty oak with finishing notes of smoky mineral and firm tannins. 

Wines from other areas

Santa Cristina
2012 Chianti Superiore DOCG

This affordable and easy-to-drink Chianti (5% Merlot) offers a glimpse into the Old World style of winemaking where balance and fruitiness take the fore over oak, power and high alcohol.  For the price, there are ample notes of complexity like earthy mineral, spicy pepper and even a hint of tar on the finish.  Forward aromas of cherry and berry come through as the wine breathes up. 

2013 Pinot Grigio. Lumina
Venezia, Italy

The prolific Ruffino winery sells more than a million bottles of Lumina Pinot Grigio each year, testament to its quality and attractive price.  It is usually seen on the store shelf at a discounted price from the company’s listed $13.   Look for it at $11 or even $9.99.  The wine is clean as a whistle with light citrus and floral notes – a great pairing for almost any light meal or snack. 

Bota Box
2013 Pinot Grigio
$23.00 / 3-liter box

Are you looking for a wine to serve when friends come over for an informal meal?  Do you appreciate the convenience of having a quality “wine on tap” tucked away in your ‘fridge for everyday sipping?  Bota Box offers quality and consistency in their fresh and fruity Pinot Grigio featuring notes of peach, citrus and floral perfume – a great value!

Belle Ambiance
2013 Pinot Grigio

Many, many, MANY women like the label of this wine.  Pretty in pink, it conveys the sense of a beautiful place with a decidedly feminine touch.  The wine offers aromas of pear and floral perfume, like enjoying a picnic in an orchard in the summer.  Hints of tropical fruits and a bit of citrus on the finish make it a fine wine for the next ladies night of Bunco, just roll the dice! 



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©  January, 2015  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 01/27/2015