In Sonoma, an Italian Wine Renaissance

Step aside, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

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By David Hammond

If you're over 50, the likelihood is high that the first wine you saw in your house was a bottle of Gallo, or Rossi, or some other low-priced Italian red, unless your dad was fancy, in which case you probably saw wines from Mondavi, another Italian.

In the post-War II era, it was pretty much the Italians who revved up the wine industry in California.

Then things changed. The French were the respected world leaders in wine, the ones to beat, which California did in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris, when California trounced France with their whites and won best of the reds.

Still, we (including me) have always held French cuisine and wine to be either at the pinnacle or at least very close to the pinnacle of culinary and oenological achievement.

Chardonnay, a Burgundian grape, held strong sway for years, and Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is still the top-selling wine in the world (2.2 million cases per annum). Now Pinot, also Burgundian, seems to rule.

However, there are rumblings of a renaissance in California-made Italian wines, which I find very interesting and refreshing.

Out to visit my daughter's family in Berkeley, California, I took advantage of an offer to visit a few wineries in Sonoma.

One of the more interesting small boutique wineries was Portalupi [], owned by husband-wife team Tim Borges and Jane Portalupi. They served us a number of their wines, along with some very Italianate sausage (boar, hunted locally: awesome), many of which I liked.

"I'm not a Chardonnay guy," Tim said to me, though his Chardonnay wines have won "a few awards." His tastes, like mine, tend more toward the reds, specifically the Italian reds. He said "In the last 8-10 years, there's been huge growth in Italian varieties."

We tried a Barbera at Portalupi that we liked a lot, and it's being shipped to us, along with a number of other wines we bought along the Wine Road. I'm looking forward to trying it alone, rather than as one of several dozen wines I tried that day from multiple vintners. My experience with Sonoma wine tastings is that even when just taking sips, and maybe spitting out some, after a dozen wines, my buds are whacked. I simply lose the ability to discern subtle flavors.

So I'm looking forward to the Portalupi wine. Marion Street Cheese Market carries a wild boar sausage from Criminelli. Viva italia!

Reader Comments

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Angry Internet Guy from Oak Park  

Posted: April 11th, 2014 12:44 PM



Posted: April 11th, 2014 8:49 AM

After your Chipolte article I decided I don't really care what you say. Have a good life.

Reviewers editor  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 9:10 PM

Sorry. I misspelled "faaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrt."

The reviewer reviewed from Oak park  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 8:40 PM

I'm old and we drank bad wine in the 70s. California makes better wine now. Something also basic about French wine. Barbera me likey. Did I mention I'm old and my taste buds are shot?  Local biz plug. Faaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I'm David Hammond.

Your accountant  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 8:28 PM

And another vacation gets a write-off. Another pointless article which says exactly nothing about Italian wine. Your accountant must be proud.

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