Italy's winemaking history goes back millennia, and today the Mediterranean country produces about a third of all the wine in the world.
When Italians emigrated to the United States, they brought their winemaking prowess with them. As early as the 1850s, Italian immigrants arrived in Walla Walla Valley and began growing grapes and making wine.
Today, Italian varieties of wine grapes are grown throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington's Columbia Valley. Among the most popular is Sangiovese, the noble grape of Tuscany. But winemakers also enjoy working with such red varieties as Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Zinfandel and Barbera.
We recently conducted a tasting of more than 100 examples of Italian red wines made from Northwest grapes -- a number that greatly surprised us. The complete results are in the fall issue of Wine Press Northwest magazine, but here is a sampling of some of the top wines. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Roland Wines 2011 Dolcetto, Yakima Valley, $15: This Longview winery used grapes from famed Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. The wine reveals high-toned red fruit notes, such as cranberry, pomegranate, raspberry and red cherry. It also offers flavors of blueberry and a hint of plum and earthiness, all backed with bright acidity and mild tannins, making this a delicious, food-friendly, drink-now red.
Tsillan Cellars 2010 Estate Sangiovese, Lake Chelan, $28: Owner Robert Jankelson planted his grapes where some of the world's best Red Delicious apples once stood, and winemaker Shane Collins has crafted a superb Sangiovese from them. This opens with aromas of cherry, rhubarb and oak, followed by flavors of red cherry, pomegranate, chocolate and mint. It's a nicely structured and well-balanced red.
Leone Cellars 2009 Nebbiolo, Columbia Valley, $29: This label for Silver Lake Winery in Woodinville, focuses on Italian varieties, and this Nebbiolo is about as good as it gets in the Northwest. It is beautifully structured with breadth and depth with a lengthy finish. It casts out aromas of cherry, strawberry and fruit leather, followed by flavors of rich dark chocolate, coffee, a hint of cedar and cherry -- all backed with Nebbiolo's distinctive tannin structure.
Pontin del Roza 2009 Angelo Pontin Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $21: This wine is named for owner Scott Pontin's grandfather, who emigrated from Italy. It shows off inviting aromas of cherry, chocolate and oak, followed by big, dark, chewy flavors of rich red and dark fruit. It's all supported with balanced tannins and acids, making it an attractive and well-managed red.
Trio Vintners 2010 Flash Point Reserve Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $28: This wine from a boutique Walla Walla Valley winery opens with aromas of Bing cherry, chocolate and mint, followed by bright flavors of cherry, plum and chocolate. It provides a rich mouth feel without overwhelming tannins.
Kyra Wines 2011 Purple Sage Vineyard Dolcetto, Wahluke Slope, $20: This beautiful Dolcetto comes from a Moses Lake winery and spins out aromas of clove, Rainier cherry, red plum and cranberry, followed by flavors of cherry, spice and a hint of earthiness. It's all backed by moderate tannins and a lengthy finish.
Yakima Valley Vintners 2010 Primitivo, Horse Heaven Hills, $18: Let's hear it for the next generation of Washington winemakers. This gorgeous Primitivo was produced at Yakima Valley Community College. It begins with aromas of spice, cherry syrup and oak, followed by flavors of rich dark chocolate, cherry and raspberry. Its well-managed tannins and acidity lead to a lengthy and delicious finish.
Zerba Cellars 2009 Estate Barbera, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Winemaker Doug Nierman blended in 15 percent Sangiovese for complexity. It kicks off with aromas of coffee, chocolate and strawberry notes, following through with flavors of dark chocolate, raspberry and strawberry, all backed with beautiful richness on the midpalate and a wonderfully silky mouth feel.
-- Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.