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Winemaker's Journal — Trio of Italians

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Italian trio
Three exotic Italians walked into a market.


My red wine heart belongs to Washington's wonderful young wine industry, but I often enjoy expanding my palette with a new wine from the old world and other parts of the globe. I've found the most affordable way to do that is to check out the wine aisles at our local Grocery Outlet store.

I've found great deals on some very nice wines from France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Germany and Portugal. The shelves are always heavy with California bargains. I look for familiar Washington labels that they've been able to get on close-outs.

There are plenty of so-so and worse wines to be found, so understand a bargain is not always the bargain it seems. New wine savvy GO owners Mike and Michelle Martin are trying to fill the shelves with something for everyone. Mike is often to be found in the wine aisle and eager to make suggestions.

My latest attraction has been to an interesting group of Italian wines he's brought in. Over the past month I've tasted an estate bottled Barolo, an exotic Valpolicella Ripasso and a rare Montefalco Sagrantino from the store. These are hard to find wines in these parts and usually quite expensive. They were fairly expensive for Grocery Outlet too, in the $8 to $12 range, but a lot better than the $30 or so you might pay at Seattle wine shop. And better examples of these wines will cost you far more than that.

I'm usually looking for good wines for under $5 at Grocery Outlet, so these were splurge wines. Mike was interested in what I thought so gave me a discount on one bottle and gifted me with another. I've since gone back and happily purchased additional bottles of each at full price. Each was good and two of them, I thought, were very good. But they won't suit everyone's tastes. These aren't smooth-sipping bulk wines made for the mass market. They're gutsy, earthy and complex wines worthy of study as much as simple enjoyment. Think fine cigars rather than bowls of ice cream. All of these wines need lots of air to expose their full character.

Consider them an introduction to world wines. If you like them, you can visit local wine stores like The Wine Thief in Wenatchee or Monaco's Corner Store in Leavenworth and purchase the next step up.

Here's my notes:

Giormani 2012 Valpolicella Ripasso:  Ripasso is a process of processing new wine with the "re-passed" seeds and skins from a previously fermented Amarone, an intense, high alcohol wine that's made from partially dried, raisin-like grapes. The result is a rich, earthy and intensely-flavored wine that is much celebrated. 

This is certainly a fair example of a Ripasso for the price. Lots of dark fruit flavors, leather and smoke. The 14-percent alcohol wine is made up of three ancient varieties from the northern Italian Valpolicella region: 50 percent Corvina, 20 percent Vandinella and 30 percent Corvinone.

Ottomonte 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino: This was my favorite of the trio and the most expensive. There are a lot good choices in wine at $12, but not in a Montefalco Sagrantino. This has become a cult wine for some and is fairly hard to find. It's made from 100 percent Sagrantino grapes, which are only grown in the land-locked state of Umbria. It's deep garnet color offers complex notes of ripe berries, fig, cedar, tobacco, leather, tar and black pepper.

La Loggia 2005 Barolo: Barolo is said to be the wine of kings. This one isn't the king of Barolos, but for $8 it's quite okay and very intriguing. Trader Joe stores have carried it for a number of years at about $15. Good Barolo usually starts at $50 and goes up from there. 

Barolo is made principally from the hard to grow Nebbiolo grape, the main grape of the Italy's Piedmont region. There's lots of gritty, earthy things going on in this wine, but it's not real big on aroma or flavor. I'm looking forward to trying another bottle, but not ready to run out and buy a case.