Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Viansa Winery – A Taste of Italy in Sonoma, California

When I was introduced to wines and began visiting wineries on a regular basis back in the last 1990s, my first love was the Italian varietals. I was enamored with a Dolceto that I tasted at Callaway Vineyards in Temecula California and then went on to love a Sangiovese that I tasted at Orfila Vineyards in Escondido. I then became familiar with other Italian grapes such as Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. These wines were ripe with cherries and had high acidity and they were a perfect match for the foods I loved to eat – Pizza, Spaghetti, Ravioli, Lasagna.

After moving back to the San Francisco Bay Area I began exploring the surrounding wines countries and then entered into an Old Vine Zinfandel phase, particularly from Lodi and the Sierra Foothills. These were BIG, zesty, robust fruit bombs that packed a lot of punch and went well with other foods I loved to cook and serve, particularly barbequed meats.

Then over the years went through a Bordeaux blend phase (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot) and loved the Napa Cabs and blends. Then I went through a Rhône varietal phase (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne) and really loved the wines of Paso Robles. This was followed by a very long Pinot Noir phase.

Well, now I have gone full circle and for some unknown reason I have really been in the mood for Italian varietals again and have been buying imports and really loving Amarone della Valpolicella. If you haven’t tasted one before, they’re a BIG sturdy red wine that pairs well with very hearty Italian dishes.

I hadn't be out to the wine country in over a month due to being out of town on business which was followed by a fly bug I picked up on United Airlines on my way back to California from Virginia. But I was feeling pretty good this past weekend so I visited two neighboring wineries in Sonoma that specialize in Italian varietals - Viansa Winery and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.

My first stop was at Viansa Winery which I first visited many years ago. The winery is perched on a hill overlooking the Carneros AVA and wet lands. It is a very touristy type of place that tends to be really crowded on weekends with loads of tour busses and limousines parked out front and it is a popular place for weddings.So, I arrived 30 minutes before they opened so I could take pictures before the mobs filled up the tasting room. The tasting room is FULL of chachkies which is a sure sign that a winery is a tourist magnet. Sure enough, 10 minutes after the doors opened a huge herd of travelers rolled in and bellied up to the tasting bar.

Although they produce other varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon I was only interested in their Italian varietals. So while visiting I
sampled the following wines:

My first taste was the 2011 Pinot Grigio – Sonoma County. This wine has pronounced aromas of apricots, peaches, nectarines and melon and just a touch of tropical notes. On the palate it is dry and slightly tart with peach skins and apricots, medium acidity, medium bodied and a medium length finish. This wine sells for a fair price at $22 a bottle.

My second pour was the 2011 Arneis. This wine is not listed on their web site so it is only available at the tasting room. Very little of this grape is grown in California so it is a rare opportunity to experience it. The white wine is very light and refreshing with aromas of fresh peaches and canned pears. It is light bodied, has medium acidity and on the palate it has additional notes of grapefruit and a chalky minerality. It has a medium (+) length finish and it finishes very clean. This wine sells for a fair price at $22 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2010 Reserve Vino Bianco - Sonoma Valley. This is a white wine blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, and Arneis. On the nose I picked up baked apples, marzipan, crème soda, and a hint of butter. On the palate this wine is medium bodied, slightly creamy and has a very long nutty finish. The wine is rich and elegant and is an excellent alternative to the oceans of Chardonnays on the market. This wine sells for $27 and I brought one home.

My next wine was my first red, the 2010 Barbera - Morning Sun Vineyard, Sonoma County. This wine was Barrel aged for 17 months in 30% new oak. It has a very big and fresh berry nose with the hint of smoky cherries that I love! On the palate it is medium bodied with supple medium tannins, medium (+) acidity, and a prolonged dried cherries finish. A really nice wine at $36 a bottle and I brought one home.

The next red was the 2010 Estate Sangiovese. This wine has a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Primitivo which grounds the intense acidic cherry components to the wine and adds some spiciness. I have a friend who bought a case of their Signature 100% Sangiovese and he has brought a couple bottles over to my house to share with dinner and they’re absolutely superb. They have very intense Cherry notes, high acidity and although they have 15% alc. They are really well balanced. This wine in comparison is more of an everyday drinking wine that goes with casual Italian fare served at the family dinner. A really nice wine for $30.

My final wine was imported by Viansa, the 2007 Signature Series Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. It is a blend of 80% Corvina Veronese and 20% Rondinella and it is the most prestigious wine made in the Veneto region in northeast Italy. It is produced by drying the grapes to concentrate the sugars and intensify the flavors. This wine is DARK with intense earthy notes and an underlying waft of beef jerky and seductive layers of ripe cherries and plums. On the palate it has just a hint of sweetness which might be from the 15% alc. This is an absolutely phenomenal wine but is insanely expensive at $70 a bottle. I have recently tasted a few recently under $30 that were comparable.  

To visit or for more information:

Viansa Winery and Marketplace
25200 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, California 95476
Phone: 1-800-995-4740
Open: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

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