California vintners are an experimental lot, always looking for the next big thing. Sometimes they succeed in pushing the boundaries: Witness the recent success of the many fine Syrahs from the Golden State. Sometimes they don’t—the prime example being the attempt to grow the Italian red Sangiovese. Try as he might, even Tuscan superstar Piero Antinori couldn’t find success with the grape in Napa Valley at Atlas Peak winery. He’s now producing Cabernet Sauvignon at the site under the name Antica.
But I’m always interested to see what California vintners are up to with grape varieties not traditional to the state. On a recent trip to northeastern California’s beautiful Surprise Valley (which looks more like Montana and is closer to Boise than to San Francisco), I spied a bottle of Pinot Grigo on a local store shelf for $20. This wine is made by Luna Vineyards, which is located in Napa Valley. It was co-founded in 1996 by former Beringer executives Mike Moone and George Vare with an emphasis on non-traditional varieties.
The wine was not your average light and crisp Italian Pinot Grigio. Rather, it was rich and thick in a definitely California style, filled with almond, spice and ripe citrus flavors with hints of savory herb and smoke. Eighty percent of the wine was fermented in stainless-steel barrels, with the remainder barrel-fermented in neutral French oak barrels. The latter was the source of the wine’s richness. Also, 30 percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation, the method winemakers use to soften natural acidities, and five percent Chardonnay was added to the blend. The end result was an interesting California interpretation of this Italian varietal, which I rated 87 points, non-blind.
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