Among the fascinating themes to emerge from this fall’s Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition was the delicious interest in red Italian varieties among some of our region’s top winemakers.
The recent string of warm vintages has proven advantageous to those with the passion to work with grapes native to Italy. Varieties such as barbera, montepulciano, sangiovese and zinfandel now are thriving in hot pockets of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, the Wahluke Slope and the Snake River Valley don’t have the history or reputation of Piedmont, Abruzzo, Tuscany and Puglia, but talented growers and winemakers are achieving success and finding an audience for their work with these varieties.
Helping to lead this charge is the iconoclast Charles Smith. Brennon Leighton and he combine to produce seven Italian-inspired bottling under the CasaSmith brand, which is part of their portfolio Wines of Substance.
Last year, winemakers in Washington crushed 1,700 tons of sangiovese, which ranked sixth among red grapes. It’s difficult to foresee sangiovese overtaking fifth-place Malbec (3,900 tons), and much of sangiovese is devoted to the production of rosé.
Maryhill Winery used Italian varieties to win a trio of gold medals at this year’s Great Northwest Invite, including a red table wine example of sangiovese and a rosé. Both are available at Craig and Vicki Leuthold’s tasting room in Woodinville’s Hollywood Schoolhouse, which opened Nov. 16.
More than a dozen of the Pacific Northwest’s most influential wine merchants, restaurateurs, sommeliers and journalists meet at Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon, to judge the Great Northwest Invitational, so consumers can expect to see these gold medal winners on wine lists and in wine shops and grocers in our region.
This fruit-forward, well-balanced wine runs the red fruit spectrum, showing cranberry, red cherry and raspberry, as well as blueberry. It was chosen as best of class and earned a rare and unanimous double gold medal. Fortunately, there were more than 3,000 cases produced.
The fruit comes from Gunkel Vineyard near the Goldendale vilification facility, and 40% of it was aged in new oak for 18 months. It offers pleasing acidity, flavors of raspberry and red cherry and a pinch of leafy herbs on the finish.
His latest example opens with dark cherries, sarsaparilla, rosemary sprig and crushed rocks. The palate shows the same cherry fruit, adding increasingly savory notes like tobacco and earth. It’s oh so mineral-driven with subtle, yet building, tannins to finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.
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