USA: Red Cal Itals (Italianate Varietals)
What About These New Wave Italians in the U.S.?
In the 19th century California had a great deal of Charbono and Barbera planted. This was in great part due to the Italian heritage of many of the areas wine makers. These men were no fools. They planted varietals which grew well in Californias Italianesque climate, and made pleasant every day wines. While todays producers of Barbera and Charbono are a direct link to that lineage, Italys glamour grapes, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, are being planted with ever increasing frequency.
The beauty of Sangiovese in particular is its diversity. In its Tuscan home it produces not only simple Chianti but also powerful Brunellos and innovative "Super Tuscan" blends. With as much clonal diversity as Pinot Noir (quite a bit indeed), Sangiovese can be made into a wide variety of wines. From lighter-styled reds with a food friendly streak of edgy acidity, to Cabernet enhanced cellar candidates, California Sangiovese should offer a lot to vintner and consumer alike. Surprisingly, however, the results have so far been spotty.
As for Nebbiolo, the jury is still out. Notoriously difficult to grow, the wines produced thus far in California have ranged from brutal to decent but overpriced. At no time has Piedmont seemed in danger. There has however, been signs of life on the horizon. Martin Brothers 1994 Nebbiolo "Vecchio" from the Central Coast was the first Nebbiolo that we have tasted from California that was actually a dead ringer for a solid Barolo. (Its all in the bouquetthat unmistakable yet rarely seen "tar and roses" aroma.) A fluke perhaps, but Martin Brothers (renamed Martin & Weyrich in Spring 99) has been working with the grape since the mid-80s and has recently been finding more and more success with some of their other Italianesque bottlings, such as their now consistently excellent Moscato dAsti knock-off, Allegro. Perhaps its a bit early to say that Nebbiolo, like Sangiovese, is showing signs of taking off, but remember Sangiovese itself has come a long way in five years. After all, stranger things have happened.
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