Old World Italian Varietals and Their New World Makers

I understand. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me. But now you come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather.…. (Ooohhh, chills).

Well, last night marked the (hold for pensive moment…23rd? 57th? 134th?) time I’ve watched “The Godfather”. How does one describe a movie like this to someone who’s never seen it? Well, if you’re me, your eyes bulge out of their sockets and you stammer out something like What!? How have you never seen this movie?! It’s like, it’s uh… I mean, it’s just really good.

Enough said, right?

OK, for the sake of conversation, you could say it’s the 3-part story of an old world family making their mark on new world soil. Oooh, more chills. And so, it is with this story (and all the delicious details) fresh in my mind that I felt inspired to pay homage to a trilogy of wines with Italian bloodlines but domestic zip codes. The following wines aren’t your typical let’s-take-a-stab at “Cal-Ital” and see what happens type of thing. NOT at all. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the creative minds behind the bottles wouldn’t be too keen with such a quaint categorization of what is not only their professional passion, but their personal identity.

P A L M I N A
Ex-surfer/rockstar/Italophile, Steve Clifton (of the Brewer-Clifton fame) and his wife Chrystal (fluent Italian speaker and former wine manager at Bouchon) are the the heart & soul behind Palmina in Santa Barbara, where they make wines that not only represent the varietals indigenous to Italy, but also the culture & lifestyle surrounding the consumption of wine. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen another domestic winemaker so insistent upon the fact that they make wines meant to complement food… in addition to “conversation, celebration, and love.” (I don’t know if that’s more Californian or Italian but I like it!). Based on the two wines we have from them, I’d say they ain’t kidding. Both the Palmina 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio and the Palmina 2009 Santa Barbara County Barbera are in a nutshell, wildly unexpected. The fruit shows through in a way that suggests they’re not trying to hide their Santa Barbara upbringing, yet they have that undeniable acidity & finesse one finds in their quality Italian cohorts. Both were picked from various cool-climate vineyard sites throughout the area and whole cluster-pressed directly after picking in order to retain the cool evening temperatures. The Pinot Grigio is lively and aromatic (two qualities often missing in P.G. on this side of the pond) with hints of lemon curd, quince, and a bit of mineral flintiness that I like quite a bit. While the Barbera is a melange of dark plummy and more tangy cherry/rhubarb fruit underlined by medium tannins and enough earthiness to give it some street cred.

PETRONI VINEYARDS 2006 Rosso di Sonoma
Most people know Lorenzo Petroni as the face behind the San Francisco institution known as North Beach Restaurant, which serves authentic Tuscan cuisine t
o weary travelers and eccentric locals alike. However, rumor has it that Lorenzo’s first love is the grape. More specifically, his dream was to be the first California vintner to grow the prized Sangiovese Grosso clone from his native Tuscany in Sonoma soil. Lofty, but apparently not impossible. In the Spring of 1992, Lorenzo & his wife stumbled upon a vineyard site on the red, rocky, mineral rich terrain of the Mayacamas Range, bought it the next day, and began growing grapes. His Rosso is a Super Tuscan-like blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet. Again, a wine that aptly reflects both its Italian heritage and its high elevation Sonoma home. Dense blackberry & dark cherry, cedar, spicebox, and hints of the volcanic soil from which it hails are the hallmarks of the Rosso’s aromatics. On the palate the tannins are soft & rich, but again, the old world structure hasn’t been lost to a heavy, overly-extracting hand.

In keeping with my old-world-meets-new-world theme today, I’m going to grab a bottle each of these wines and head out to watch the Brew Crew play the Giants and eat some sausages…. Italian sausages, of course! – Emily Crichton

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Filed under Emily Crichton, Italy, Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County

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