Oct 9, 2012

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Exploring Italian Varietals: Part 1

Here in Oregon, I’ve noticed an increasing presence of Italian varietals being grown and produced in some of the well known wineries of the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon. Apolloni Vineyards offers a Sangiovese while Ponzi Vineyards and Abacela Winery both offer a Dolcetto. There’s even Nebbiolo, Barbera and Vermentino. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, I tried an incredibly delicious Vermentino produced by Troon Vineyards located in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Perhaps it’s not an actual increase in Italian varietal production – maybe it’s just an increase in curiosity on my part. As a Snooth Mentor, I recently participated in a Snooth.com live virtual tasting of two Italian varietals from the Alto Adige region of Italy: a luscious LaGrein from Manincor and a vivacious Pinot Grigio from Castelfeder. Either way, I’ve been really enjoying Oregon’s Italian-style wines; in addition to, the wines of Italy. These recent tastings have prompted me to do some exploring of Italian wines.

A few days ago, I tried a Pecorino from the central Italian region of Le Marche produced by Saladini Pilastri. Saladini Pilastri is located in the beautiful Italian town of Spinetoli, and the history of the Count Saladini Pilastri dates all the way back to the year 1000. Agricultural activities for this noble family began three centuries ago, and due to the the limestone hills, climate and rolling hill that slopes down to the Adriatic Sea, conditions are optimal for growing grapes. Much like most of the wineries in Oregon, Saladini Pilastri focuses on sustainable, low-impact organic farming.

The Pecorino varietal is a white grape that ripens early and is mainly grown in the Abruzzo, Marche, Lazio and Umbria regions of Italy. It was thought to be extinct, until a few vines were discovered on a farm in Italy’s Le Marche region in the early 1980’s. Clippings were taken and grafted onto new rootstalk, and worthy harvests were yielded in the 90’s.

The 2011 Saladini Pilastri Pecorino Affido DOCG had incredible aromas of bananas with a hint of pineapple which followed through to full-bodied similar flavors. A nice acidic backbone rounded out the fruit-filled banana flavors while adding some zestiness to the finish. This is lively and very refreshing, and if you like bananas, you’ll love this uniquely delicious white wine. I instantly had a craving for walnuts or pecans, and I can imagine walnut or pecan bread would be an excellent pairing. I wonder, would the Pecorino varietal thrive in Oregon’s climate? Maybe I’ll need to contact vineyard managers and winemakers at Ponzi Vineyards or Abacela Winery and see what they think.

Another Italian wine I recently tried was the Barba Vasari Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo DOC. Montepulciano is a grape grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy, where the Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo wines are produced. This grape commonly gets confused with the more expensive Vino Nobile d’ Montepulciano, made in Tuscany (Montepulciano is a town in southern Tuscany). The Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo is considered an affordable hearty red wine.

The winery Fratelli Barba is run by three brothers, which Fratelli in Italian translates to English as brothers or brothers and sisters. Located in the northern part of the Abruzzo region, situated along the Vomano River and surrounding hills, the Barba family is considered to have some of the best vineyards in the area. The winery uses the latest technology, including a system that controls the temperature of the must which allows regulation of the fermentation process – ending in high quality wines.

The 2010 vintage Barba Vasari Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo had slight floral aromas with the addition of  black cherries and plum. On the palate, dark fruit flavors were accented by licorice and fresh tobacco. Medium in body, the finish had pretty robust tannins. This was my first experience with Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, and I haven’t been able to compare it’s characteristics to anything I’m more familiar with here in the Pacific Northwest – it truly had it’s own unique personality.

My quest to discover Italian varietals has only just begun, so this is Part 1 of a series on Italian and Italian-style wines. I’ll be tasting and sharing my experiences and discoveries along the way, from Oregon’s finest Italian style wines to discovered gems from Italy, stay tuned for Parts 2, 3 and 4 (and maybe more)! Cheers ~