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swirl and savor

"What's Your Favorite Wine?"

Beth Ribblett

Picking grapes in Yamhill Carlton a question you get asked a lot in this business.  My standard answer is that there is no one answer!  It's all about what is happening during a particular moment  in time - what I'm eating or doing, who I'm with and where I am. When Kerry and I grilled steaks at home a few weeks ago my answer would probably have been that 2005 Bongiovanni Barolo Pernanno.  Hanging out in Portland and salivating over plank roasted salmon?  My answer would be the 2010 Alloro Riservata Pinot Noir from Oregon.  Sitting at a seaside restaurant with friends on the Amalfi Coast?  The inexpensive house Falanghina served in a ceramic carafe tastes like the best wine on earth!

But what is an easy thing for me to talk about is my favorite red varieties, all of which will be featured in one event or another this month at the shop.  Because while I credit Sangiovese as the grape that got me into the wine business, it's my love of these 3 reds that keeps me here.

Volcanic Soils of the Etna
Nerello Mascalese
The first time I tasted a wine from the Etna, I knew that something very special was happening in the eastern part of Sicily.  We were in New York in late January 2009 for an Italian Trade Commission wine event and we needed a bottle of wine for our friend Lisa's birthday party. I had become intrigued by the region while researching the wine producing areas of the island for our first wine and culinary tour later that year with Cynthia Nicholson and The Farmhouse Table.  But there was nothing from the Etna in any of our wholesaler's portfolios because, like me, most had never really heard much about the region until I started inquiring about the wines.  

So, needing a bottle of wine to take with us to a little party, we popped into a shop in the East Village, that actually had a decent selection of Sicilian wines and there on the shelf was a wine by one of the producers I had been researching, Terre Nere.  The 2006 Etna Rosso was under $20, which was very reasonable for anything coming from the area, so I was really excited to try it.  And needless to say we were all impressed as it was lush (a prominent quality in the 2006 vintage) and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, it had an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy but is distinctly Sicilian. Made with Nerello Mascalese, a native grape to the region, I was now completely obsessed  and have been ever since.  

Holmes Hill in Eola-Amity
Pinot Noir
Oregon Pinot Noir had been slowly, subtly, seeping its way into my wine consciousness since I met James Moises in the summer of 2009.  Wrongfully lumping it into my not so favorite category of new world wines, it has always been lurking just a bit under the radar for me.  And even though our wine reps have been bringing me Oregon Pinots for years, it was my personal relationship with James that made me want to learn more about this place that was drawing him away from his lifelong medial career and home town of New Orleans to make wine.  

So when James asked us to visit him in Oregon we got to experience first hand the really special things that are happening in the Willamette Valley. While there are a handful of big money, fancy wineries in the area, the majority of the producers are small and passionately making artisan wine from tiny, individual plots of land that they are farming themselves or from carefully selected purchased fruit. Fantastic wines without pretense where quality over quantity is the rule, sustainability is a lifestyle and where visitors always feel welcome and the winemaker is never far away… I have to admit, I thought I would get bored with drinking Pinot for 5 days straight, but I didn't, not in the least.  The wines are the the perfect blending of the old and new world; subtle, elegant, higher acidity levels but still with beautiful, intoxicating fruit.  The different vineyard sites and vintages offered such unique expressions of the grape that I just couldn't, and still can't, get enough.  

It seems that anyone in this business who loves old world wines, tastes and drinks wines from all over the planet, eventually end up in either the Burgundy or Piemonte camp or both.  For me and my love of Italian wine it is Piemonte and the Nebbiolo grape that currently have my full attention. How can you not get completely intoxicated just on the perfumey aromatics alone of a good Barolo or Barbaresco? With their hedonistic mix of sweet and savory flavors of leather, spice, tar, rose petals and dried red fruit on the nose combined with an array of flavors that explodes across the palate - they are the stuff that wine enthusiasts' dreams are made of!

But the difficult thing with these wines is having the patience to wait until they are ready to drink.  Even the production standards alone for Barbaresco and Barolo require it; 2-3 years between oak and bottle for the DOCG and the riserva wines require up to 4-5 years of total aging respectively.  Young nebbiolo from these regions can be fiercely tannic, which then allows you to explore Piemonte's other regions like Gattinara, Ghemme, Roero and Langhe for younger wines that are softer and more accessible. 

So in following suit with my first two favorites, I now find my self planning a trip to Piemonte this spring.  And through researching this trip, I have again reached that turning point where interest becomes obsession.  I tend to immerse myself fully in that place; learning the history, cooking the food and of course drinking the wine as I patiently wait for April to arrive.  Because when you visit the region itself, there is nothing quite like the connection to its people, its land and its culture that solidifies that place in your heart, mind and palate.  So I'm quite sure you'll be hearing a lot about Piemonte in the coming months...

But in the meantime I've scheduled some events to help curb my appetite a little; a seated Nebbiolo and cheese pairing with Italian Wine Specialist Antonio Molesini & St. James Cheese; a seated wine and cheese session with winemaker Kevin Wiles of Raptor Ridge in Oregon and St. James Cheese; and fun Wednesday Nite Flite this week featuring the wines of Sicily!  

If you are interested in attending any of these click on the links below for more information!

-Wednesday Nite Flites - Sicilia!  January 8, 6-8pm.  $15, reservations are not required but you are sure to get a spot if you do!
-Nebbiolo, The Noble Grape of Piemonte, January 23rd, 6-8pm.  $33, reservations are required.  Limited seating
-Raptor Ridge Wines with Kevin Wiles, January 30th 6-8pm, $28 reservations are required.  Limited seating