I love Italian wines. The French put the snobbery in wine and the Italians put the love into it. Honestly, I do think the French are historically better at winemaking, but I’d rather drink Italian wines with friends and family. Trying to explain French AOC wine laws at gatherings make most people’s heads explode.
Italian varietals have been popping up all over America—for a lot longer than we might have realized.
In the last few years, zinfandel has been linked through DNA testing to the Italian varietal primitivo, which grows all over southern Italy, and to take it one step further, is theorized to originate in Croatia.
Zinfandel is planted all over California’s Sonoma County, especially in the Dry Creek Valley, which was settled by Italian immigrants who brought many vine clippings with them from the Old World. The history is still open for much debate.
There are some zinfandel vineyards in Sonoma that are over a century old. The “Jackass Vineyard” of Martinelli Winery is one of the oldest at 130 plus years. Another great Italian winery in Sonoma is Seghesio. They produce many zinfandels as well as a sangiovese blends.
A pair of wineries in Santa Barbara County that produce Italian varietals are Palmina and Clendenen Family Vineyards. Both produce an outstanding nebbiolo, a traditional varietal from northern Italy’s Piedmont. The Clendenen Family nebbiolo can easily be mistaken for a Barolo. They also produce an old school Friuli varietal called tocai friulano.
Palmina produces a pinot grigio that is clean, crisp and exudes minerality. Palmina also produces some more obscure Italian varietals like dolcetto and arneis.
There are some really neat Super Tuscan styles being produced in the mountains of Arizona. Arizona Stronghold and Dos Cabezas are producing blends of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon that have good texture balanced with acidity. They have also successfully grown the white varietal malvasia.
Winemaker Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards has been producing Italian style wines in Virginia for over 25 years. He is a classically trained Piedmontese winemaker—his family has been producing wines in Italy for several generations. Paschina vinifies nebbiolo, barbera and pinot grigio on a plantation designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Many of these wines are available at local wine retailers, are reasonably priced and are helping to shape America’s emerging vino-scape.