Italian varietals are some of the more uncommon grapes grown in the wine world. Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Malvasia, just to name a few of the thousands of Italian varieties, are fairly rare in most places other than Italy. Compared to French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay they are hardly grown at all. However, the Santa Cruz Region does have some audacious grape growers out there and it is in our blood to expand our horizons, right?
Bonny Doon, one of our most famous wineries, makes a plethora of different wines with out of the ordinary grape varieties. One of the more interesting wines they make is called Nebbiolo, meaning “dark fog.” Nebbiolo, alongside Sangiovese, is the most important grape in Italy and the most difficult to grow outside of its natural regions. It is the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the most important tiny areas in the Piedmont region in Northwest Italy. Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to get right, but when you do it can be magical. The grapes for Bonny Doon’s Nebbiolo come from the Santa Ynez Valley, a place that they feel has a similar terroir to that of Piedmont. Bonny Doon’s Nebbiolo is a pretty good specimen; with dark fruit notes and even a bit of tar or leather it should be enjoyed with a heavy meal like Steak or Stew.
Salamandre (pronounced Salamander) produces a Primotivo that is also worth checking out. A little known fact is that the Italian grape Primotivo is actually almost genetically identical to our Zinfandel. In past years Salamandre has produced nefariously good, knock-out Primotivos and their current vintage lives up to the older ones. Get ready for big grapy flavors and an almost syrupy texture; it’s perfect for the zinfandel lover.
These are just two of the many prime examples of Italian grapes being grown in the Santa Cruz wine region. The next time you’re out tasting look out for some of these eclectic varieties. Cheers!