The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2014

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40  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2014 W hether still or sparkling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay may be Mendocino's calling cards, but a handful of varieties closer to the region's Italian roots showed particularly well at the 36th annual Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. A group of Italian reds includ- ing Aglianico, Barbera, Dolcetto, Negroamaro, Primitivo and a Sangiovese-dominant blend (Sangiovese had a separate category) held its own alongside the region's sparkling and late harvest wines, which are regulars on the medal podium. Notoriously temperamental, Nebbiolo wasn't among the mono-varietal wines being evaluated, but it is produced by Greg Graziano who uses it in his Monte Volpe Primo Rosso Blend. This Piedmontese variety is named after fog—nebbia—of which Mendocino has its share. Graziano, who has been making wine in Mendocino for 40 years, said that the majority of the vineyards sourced for these varieties are ten to 15 years old with the exception of Barbera, which is longer lived due to its preference for sandy, Pinole white clay loam soils that don't harbor phyl- loxera. "Winemaking and extended barrel aging have more influence on wine quality for these varieties than vine age," he said. But, winegrowing is also playing a role. Close to 30 percent of Mendocino's wine grapes are certified organic or biodynamic—the AVA and its nine sub AVAs, with Pine Mountain– Cloverdale being the newest, account for one third of the state's organic acreage. Across Mendocino's sub-regions there are more than 300 acres devoted to Italian reds, and Graziano estimates less than ten acres of that are Negroamaro, which isn't listed on the 2013 California Wine Grape Acreage Report. His 2011 bottling won the palates and support of judges earning a Double Gold for its cooler-climate varietal expression. "2011 was difficult for these varieties, and we declassified a considerable amount of fruit for quite a good result." In an effort to gauge varietal expression and address what Graziano contends is Italian elitism on behalf of buyers—who view domestic Italian wines as less than authentic—we're putting our notes for recent top picks from Italy up against notes from Mendocino's winners to see how they measure up. Your challenge: match the variety to the correct pair of notes. Mendocino's Heritage Displayed in Italian Reds 1. Red cherry, boysenberry, char, earth and dark spice with ripe, dense, medium tannins. 2. Floral and beeswax aromas, red and black cherry, blackberry, black pepper and medium tannins. 3. Tart cherry and leather with bittersweet chocolate, dark spice, medium tannins and a stony mineral finish. 4. Bright red currant, savory tobacco, shoe leather aromas with darker fruit flavors and medium tannins 5. Earth and cranberry with black pepper and blackberry flavors, medium plus acidity and tannins. 6. Earth, tobacco, sour cherry with smoke, licorice and black cherry flavors, medium plus acidity and tannins. 7. Tart red and blue plum, black tea, lean black plum and dark spice flavors, high acidity and medium granular tannins. 8. Crisp red plum, tea, ripe plum, cinnamon and leather with high acid and medium granular tannins. 9. Resinous, orange aromas with dark fruit, deep tannins, leather and coconut with medium acidity. 10. Green spice, rich, deeply extracted dark fruit, dark spice with medium-plus acidity and warm finish. The Reveal: 1. Monte Volpe 2011 Aglianico; 2. Cautiero 2010 Aglianico Fois; 3. Coppo 2010 Pomorosso Barbera; 4. Enotria 2010 Barbera; 5. Enotria 2010 Dolcetto; 6. GD Vajra 2012 Dolcetto d'Alba; 7. Monte Volpe 2011 Negroamaro; 8. Soloperto 2011 Negroamaro IGT; 9. Schola Saramenti 2011 Old Vine Primitivo; 10. Brutacao 2010 Primitivo. Primitivo ❱ Dolcetto ❱ Negroamaro ❱ Aglianico ❱ Barbera

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