Friday, September 21, 2012

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards – A Taste of Italy in Sonoma, California

After visiting Viansa Winery I headed down the road to visit their neighbor who also specializes in Italian varietals – Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Most wineries that claim to focus on Italian wines or are members of Cal-Italia tend to only produce a couple wines, namely Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio or perhaps Barbera. Jacuzzi, however, produces many Italian varietals many of which are somewhat obscure and hard to find as very little of it is grown in California. So visiting the tasting room is a very unique opportunity to sample Italian varietals you may have never even heard of, let alone tasted.
The winery is owned by Fred Cline of Cline Cellars (located on the other side of the road) which specializes in Rhone varietals. It is named after Fred Cline’s maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, who manufactured water well pumps and the bath and spa that bears their name.
The architecture of the winery was inspired by medieval monasteries of the Jacuzzi family home in the northern Italian city of Casarsa. It consists of a complex of smaller sand-colored stone and stucco-clad structures organized around a romantic central courtyard. It has a large barrel room used for special events and an observation tower that provides fantastic vistas of the courtyard below and the surrounding vineyards. The interior of the facility features Venetian-style glass chandeliers, behind the courtyard near the vineyards is a 17-foot stone-cast fountain imported from Italy, and an 80-year-old fig tree.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

My first pour was the 2009 Tocai Friulano. This wine is also known as Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse and it is the most widely planted grape throughout the areas of the Friulia region of Italy.  Its name is said to be derived from the local word for the small juice-style glass used to serve wine in Friulian taverns and restaurants. The grape and the wine has no connection to Tokajii or to France’s Tokay d’Alsace A dry white wine with faint notes of pineapple, dried apricots and peaches on the nose with just a hint of smoke. On the palate it is slightly tart and tangy with spicy notes followed by apricots, peaches, and a touch citrus. This wine retails at $17.50 but was on sale for only $12 so I brought one home.

The second wine was the 2010 Tocai Friulano – Carneros. This wine is more floral than the ’09 with a hint of lilac soap and aromas of fresh peaches and tropical fruits. On the palate it is softer and creamier which is probably more pleasing to the average consumer but I actually preferred the ’09. This wine sells for $22 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2010 Arneis – California. The grape originates from Piedmont, Italy where it is most commonly found in the hills of the Roero, northwest of Alba. The name means “little rascal” in Piedmontese and is so called because it is a difficult variety to grow. There is very little of this grape varietal being produced in California. It is a very light wine with subtle notes of lemon-lime, grapefruit, and honeysuckle. A pleasant wine but nothing about it really stands out to make it distinct from many other varietals. I would have great difficulty identifying this wine in a blind taste test, but this is true for many of the lesser known Italian varietals. A pleasant summer wine that sells for $24 a bottle.

The fourth pour wasn’t a true Italian blend as it had a bit of Chardonnay in it. It is the 2010 “Gilia”, a proprietary blend of 90% Vernaccia and 10% Chardonnay – Carneros. Vernaccia is a white wine grape that is found in many Italian wines but is most commonly associated the Tuscan wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I have NEVER come across Vernaccia at a California winery before. This is a white wine with subtle notes of lemon meringue followed by hints tropical fruits. It is very light with good acidity and a medium length finish. A nice alternative to the ocean of Chardonnay on the market. I brought a bottle home for $24.

The fifth wine was the only estate Italian wine in the line-up, the 2011 Pinot Grigio - Sonoma Coast. This wine has a light floral bouquet with hints of peach and lemon zest. It has medium acidity and medium (-) intensity in the nose and on the palate. This wine sells for $21 a bottle.

The sixth sample was the first red wine, the 2010 Sangiovese – Sonoma Coast. Light ruby red in color, but it has a pronounced nose that is floral, spicy and bursting with cherries and a hint of, sandalwood. On the palate it is dry, light is body, with berries, cherries and medium (+) acidity. A nice wine for $22 a bottle.

The seventh 2009 Aglianico – Paso Robles. Aglianico is a black grape grown in the Basilicata and Campania regions of Italy. I have come across this grape a few times in California, but it is rare. On the nose I picked up hints of sage and anise followed by blackberries. On the palate it has pronounced tannins and medium acidity. This wine could probably use another 5 years of ageing in the bottle. I brought one home for $28.

Keep in mind that I am NOT swallowing the wine!

The eighth pour was the 2008 Nebbiolo – Carneros. This wine is predominantly associated with the Piedmont region of Italy. Rarely do I ever come across this grape in California wineries.  It is a funny grape, light in color and thin skinned and yet it is BIG on tannins so if you’re not familiar with this wine it will catch you off guard. These wines easily age 15-20 years. This wine has a pronounced bouquet of intense cherries, licorice, and pomegranates.  The tannins are refined but will make your gums stick to your teeth a bit and it has fairly high acidity (medium +). A really nice wine, I bought two of them to lay down for a while in my cellar for $24 each.

My ninth sample was the 2009 Nero D’Avola – Tracy Hills. The name of the grape means “Black of Avola” in Italian and it is the most important red wine grape in Sicily and is one of Italy’s most important indigenous varieties. I have NEVER had a California version of this wine before. Although I frequently pass through the Tracy area I have never had a wine from this region before as it is one of the newest California AVAs. If you travel from the San Francisco Bay Area east on Highway 580, after you pass through the Livermore AVA you’ll climb over the Altamont Pass (1,000 foot elevation) and then drive into the Central Valley. When you do, the first town you pass through is Tracy. It is medium intensity in color with light cherry and blueberry notes on the nose and palate, medium tannins and acidity. In a blind taste test I would guess that it was a Syrah. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The tenth sample was my favorite in the line-up, the 2010 Barbera – Mendocino. The two most commonly found Italian varietals in California are Sangiovese and Barbera. In fact, there is quite a bit of OLD vine (50+ years) Barbera in Lodi and in the Sierra Foothills. This wine has a BIG nose, exuding blackberries, raspberries, and cherries with a hint of smoke that I have come to expect and love in this varietal. This wine has supple tannins, medium (+) acidity and a hint of cocoa on the very long finish. I loved this wine so I brought two bottles home for $25 each.

My eleventh pour was the 2009 Dolcetto – Sonoma County. Garnet in color, it has aromas of red currants, sherry pie, vanilla bean and anise. It is somewhat soft with medium tannins, medium (+) acidity and it has a long finish. If you know someone who doesn’t like red wine because of the tannin, this is a great introductory to red wines. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The thirteenth sample was the 2009 Sagrantino – Tracy Hills. It is indigenous to the region of Umbria in Central Italy. It is grown primarily in the village of Montefalco and its surrounding areas, with only 250 acres dedicated to the grape in the hands of about 25 producers. With such small production, the wine is not widely known outside of Italy, even though it was granted DOCG status in 1991. In fact, before visiting Jacuzzi I had never heard of let alone tasted this varietal before. The nose on this wine was somewhat muted but it was very dark ruby in color and notes of raspberries, blackberries and a touch of vanilla. Since I have never had this grape before I didn’t have anything in my repertoire of wine knowledge to evaluate the wine. But if I tasted it blind I’d have great difficulty finding anything about it that made it stand out as distinct from just being a generic red wine. It wasn’t bad, just sort of non-descript. I need to buy some imported versions and see how they compare. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The fourteenth wine was the 2010 Lagrein – Paso Robles. Pronounced lah-GRAH’EEN, it is a red grape variety native to the valleys of South Tyrol, northern Italy. Along with Marzemino, it is a descendant of Teroldego, and related to Syrah, Pinot Noir and Dureza. This is another “new” wine to me so I didn’t have any basis for comparison to evaluate it. It is dark purple with a big intense nose of blackberries and yet it is light in tannin, very soft and round with medium acidity. It seems like it would be best utilized as a blending wine to add color and soften other red wines.  If I were tasting it blind I might have thought it was a weak version of a Petit Sirah. This wine sells for $28 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2011 Aleatico – Sonoma Valley. It is grown most commonly in the Puglia and Lazio region of Italy. It is suspected that this grape varietal is a dark skin variant of the French wine grape Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or Muscat Noir. It has a Muscat-like nose, with aromas of blackberry jam, roses and cherries. On the palate it has hints of sweetness, not enough to be a dessert wine so it would probably pair well with red sauced pastas and would be favorable to people who don’t like tannic red wines. It has medium weight and it is silky and not cloyingly sweet so it makes for a good sipping wine. I really liked it so I bought a bottle for $24.

To visit or for more information:

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
24724 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, California 95476
Phone: 1-707-931-7575

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