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Great Northwest Wine: Wineries turn Washington into own Little Italy

Paul Beveridge, owner and winemaker for Wilridge Winery, stands in his estate vineyard in Naches Heights, an area of Washington wine country that is near Yakima. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine) (ANDY PURDUE / ANDY PERDUE)
Paul Beveridge, owner and winemaker for Wilridge Winery, stands in his estate vineyard in Naches Heights, an area of Washington wine country that is near Yakima. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine) (ANDY PURDUE / ANDY PERDUE)
By Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue Great Northwest Wine

Italy, one of the world’s largest wine-producing nations (along with France and Spain), is home to more than 1,000 wine grape varieties.

Only a few have made their way to the New World, and they tend to grow beautifully in Washington. Grapes such as sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera can be found in wineries across the state. And zinfandel – also known as primitivo – can be counted among them.

We recently tasted several examples of Northwest wines made from Italian varieties. The full results of our blind judging can be found in the latest edition of Wine Press Northwest magazine (and at

Here are a few of our favorites.

Coyote Canyon Winery 2013 Zephyr Ridge Vineyard Primitivo, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: This luscious primitivo provides aromas and flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and dark-roasted coffee. It’s a rich, chocolaty red with hints of fig in the finish and ample acidity backing up all the delicious flavor. (15.7 percent alcohol)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2014 Wine o’Clock Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $24: Ron and Susan Bunnell not only run their eponymous winery in the Yakima Valley community of Prosser, but they also own and operate Wine o’Clock, the best restaurant in the valley. This deliciously spicy sangiovese goes with many of their dishes, thanks to aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry and hints of cardamom. (14.9 percent alcohol)

Cavatappi 2013 Maddalena Nebbiolo, Yakima Valley, $25: Peter Dow, a legend in the Washington wine and restaurant industries, named this winsome nebbiolo after his daughter. It’s a charming example of the Italian grape, thanks to aromas of bright cherry, vanilla and cocoa, followed by bright flavors of cranberry, red currant and pomegranate. (12 percent alcohol)

Jones of Washington 2012 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $17: Winemaker Victor Palencia unleashes his prowess with another red variety as this bright, racy sangiovese is one of the best we’ve tasted. Aromas of red plum, strawberry and pomegranate give way to flavors of mouth-filling red fruit, including Rainier cherry and cranberry. (14.3 percent alcohol)

Saviah Cellars 2013 Barbera, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Walla Walla winemaker Richard Funk excels with this rich red wine typically associated with Italy’s Piedmont region. It’s a plush wine with aromas of black cherry, black currant, mint and milk chocolate. On the palate, it offers marvelous balance and harmonious structure backing big flavors of black and purple fruit. (14.3 percent alcohol)

Yakima Valley Vintners 2014 Primitivo, Columbia Valley, $18: The students at Yakima Valley Community College crafted this Primitivo, and it provides aromas and flavors of cocoa, vanilla, black raspberry and plum. (14.9 percent alcohol)

Wilridge Winery 2013 Estate Sangiovese, Naches Heights, $25: Longtime Washington winemaker Paul Beveridge has always enjoyed working with Italian varieties. Aromas of strawberry, raspberry and allspice give way to rich, amiable flavors of cherry, strawberry and white pepper. (13.2 percent alcohol)

College Cellars 2014 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $25: Tim Donahue and his students at Walla Walla Community College brought in grapes from famed Seven Hills Vineyard to craft this beautiful Sangiovese. Aromas of dusty herbs, blackberry and minerality lead to flavors of strawberry, red currant and blueberry. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Tsillan Cellars 2013 Estate Sangiovese, Lake Chelan, $28: If any winery in Washington should be making Italian varieties, it should be Tsillan Cellars on the south shore of Lake Chelan with its Tuscan theme. This pleasing example provides aromas and flavors of blueberry, strawberry and a hint of earthiness. (14 percent alcohol)

Harbinger Winery 2013 Primitivo, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Winemaker Sara Gagnon’s first vintage of Primitivo is a superb wine, thanks to a little expert blending with syrah and cabernet sauvignon. Aromas of raspberry jam, vanilla and blackberry give way to rich flavors of bold blue and purple fruit, including huckleberry. (14 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company. Learn more about wine at

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