We toured through the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy and through Tuscany, in Chianti and along the coast, but we never left Northern California.
On a sunny Saturday in San Francisco, friends old and new came together for wine, food, laughter, and an afternoon away from the kids. During this unique in-home wine tasting experience, we tasted through four wines from the Luna Vineyards’ Black Label collection which is available only at the winery.
Private in-home wine tasting exploring Italian varietals of Luna Vineyards
Italian varietals are not commonly grown in the Napa Valley, but Luna Vineyards, located in the Oak Knoll AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Napa Valley, tried something different by growing Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese.
If you’re wondering how they have been able to successfully grow Italian varietals here in Napa Valley, it’s all about the location. Temperatures tend to be hottest in northern Napa (Calistoga) and coolest in southern Napa (Carneros) because of the cooling effects of the San Pablo Bay. The Oak Knoll district is located in the southern part of the Valley, so it gets cool at night and warm during the day in the growing season, similar to some of the hills in Tuscany.
As we gathered around the table in SF, we started our tasting by discussing the 5 S’s of wine tasting: sight, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor. A quick Cliff’s Notes version of the 5 S’s if you need a refresher: Sight is looking at the wine in the glass to note the clarity and color. Swirling the wine allows oxygen to enter which better releases aromas and flavor. Sniff detects scent in the wine which can help identify the varietal. Sip is to taste the wine and experience its body, acidity, and tannin levels. Savor, is of course, enjoying the wine!
Photo Credit: Raylen Vineyards
As we talked through our senses, we started with the lightest of the wines, the 2016 Pinot Grigio Reserve. On the nose, it had rich scents of lemon zest and was delightfully oily with citrus flavors and high acid on the palate. It paired perfectly with the lighter cheeses we tried.
Arguably the best Pinot Grigio in Italy is in the northeast. Dry, light to medium bodied, with high acid is its typical characteristics. It’s an early budding, early ripening grape which does well in cooler climates because it can ripen fairly easily. Grown in Napa Valley, it retains flavor and acidity from the cool temperatures at night and misty morning fog.
The 2015 Sangiovese Classico was next up. It had scents of dried cherries, black pepper, and herbal notes. On the palate, it has notes of vanilla and plum with high tannin and high acid, perfect for pairing with harder cheese as well as roasted almonds and charcuterie.
If you’re drinking a Chianti, the grape is Sangiovese. Sangiovese is the grape, and Chianti is the region.
Sangiovese needs a warm climate to ripen. Northern Chianti is mountainous and southern Chianti has hills and valleys like Napa. The varietal usually has high levels of acidity (as most Italian varietals do) and high tannin. It is late ripening so it needs sun and heat to grow. Tuscany and Napa both provide sunny, warm days to ripen the Sangio grape.
The next wine, the 2015 Sangiovese Riserva, was a one of the group’s favorites. It was richer than the Classico, had notes of dried cranberries, clove and cinnamon, and tasted of red and dark fruits such as raspberries and blackberries. It was fuller bodied, medium plus acid, and less tannic than the Classico. We continued eating the cheese and charcuterie while sipping this wine.
The beautiful Chianti region of Italy | Photo Credit: Show Me Italy
One thing to note about Italian varietals is that Italian wine is meant to be experienced with food. Think of the culture: nightly outings are based around meals, and meals are experienced with wine. The higher acid wines are best enjoyed while eating fatty cheeses and meats. The fatty foods cut the acid to make the entire experience bellissimo.
Photo Credit: Vinepair
For our final wine, we drank the 2014 Canto Super Tuscan. So, what exactly IS a Super Tuscan?
Super Tuscans are from the coast of Tuscany in flat regions cooled by seabreezes. They are blends and are predominantly Sangiovese, the typical grape of that region, combined with Bordeaux, France varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The first Super Tuscan was made with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Super Tuscan from Luna Vineyards had scents of ripe cranberries, clove, and nutmeg. It was the most complex of the wines we tried that day because it was a blend of different grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a splash of Cabernet Franc. Dark red fruit and chocolate aromas were released as we swirled, smelled, and sipped.
Luna Vineyards has proven that you don’t need to leave the country to experience a bit of Italy. Their wines are delightful, and they are located a short drive away from San Francisco. They’re open for visitors daily from 10:30am to 6pm, so go try a taste of Italy in the Napa Valley!
If you'd like to book a private in-home wine tasting with Rachel DiMattia, customized to your wine preferences, check out her exclusive experience today!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With previous experience working in the wine industry abroad (Australia and Italy) as well as close to home, at Caymus Vineyards, Salem Oak Vineyards and currently working at Wattle Creek Winery in Ghirardelli Square, Rachel's rich history in working with wine and passion for continuing to learn about wine, allow her to provide guests with a unique approach to wine as she guides them through an interactive tasting experience. Check out her Exclusive Private In-Home Wine Tasting Experience here.